Confession: For someone who works in radio and is essentially making a living off of using words verbally, I'm really bad at small talk.
"Hey, how are you?"
That's my opener, no matter what. Every. Damn. Time. Whether I know you or not, recognize you or not, I'm relying on the old classic: asking about your well-being. Guaran-damn-teed.
It's after that crutch of a greeting when I struggle to really find something, anything to say.
"Um. So, yeah. Well, that's good that you're doing well."
Essentially, if I don't talk to you on a daily basis, if you're not a family member or a close friend, I'll be begging you to pick up the conversation I so clearly dropped and watch shatter on the ground. It's not that I hate people or hate social situations, it's really the opposite. I love catching up with or meeting new people. It's just, on-the-fly in person, I either over think or just lock up mentally. I'm probably not alone here, either. But luckily enough for me, and anyone else in and around this part of New York, everyone's "team" is seemingly Syracuse basketball. In these parts, everyone can relate to it in some way.
Soon enough, the latest version of the team will be brought up in a way the weather is brought up in most other places. And it's not just this particular team or year. Any of them, throughout time. Every fall, or early winter, a stalled-out discussion is started back up again by an orange-tinted common Orange bond. Sometimes, for me, I'll talk about how I think the team is going to be great. Other times not so much. Regardless, SU hoops is always entertaining and always fodder for most of the inhabitants of the upstate section of New York (an area I consider anywhere north of Albany, and that's not even really open for debate).
In fact, just the other day, I was asked about Jim Boeheim's team a couple of times. I was at party for my wife's family, and let's just say I unintentionally had some awkward back-and-forths that needed a little shot of Syracuse.
The fun part right now is, while it's still a big collection of variables thrown together, talking about what lies ahead is a really positive process. I mean, it was just a couple of seasons ago we were all burdened with talking about the NCAA and the penalties and the potential death of SU Basketball as we knew it. Also, not to mention, while the last six or seven years have been really great to Syracuse and its fan base, some of the teams haven't been the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye ball.
Really, in a lot of ways, this season that starts up next week has been what we've been waiting for.
That whole NCAA thing was like an albatross on everyone. A tiny version of hell that could only be best described as a precursor to the 2016 Presidential election. It was bad news and hot takes everywhere you turned.
"Boeheim needs to go: my column on why Syracuse needs to fire its coach:"
"The NCAA just crushed Syracuse. That program is done!"
The small talk for Orange followers then was...different.
In retrospect, sitting here, nearly two years later, it's obvious that Boeheim's job security was as solid back when the penalties were announced as it has ever been. And as far as the "program being done"? I'm not even so sure you can call what the NCAA did to it a "setback." Boeheim, his assistants and the administration have all collectively done an amazing job navigating the murky waters of bad public relations and scholarship restrictions. Somehow, about 600 days after the penalties were made public, Syracuse hoops is an a better place than it was back in March of 2015.
The other interesting part of the state of Syracuse basketball is how recruiting has shifted over the last few years. SU has seemingly gone from concentrating on the freakishly long guards and bigs to zeroing in on athletes and shooters. It's not that SU doesn't still have size (Hi, Paschal Chukwu and Taurean Thompson!), but Boeheim and company also have players like Tyus Battle and Frank Howard and Tyler Lydon and...
Okay, there is still a lot of size, I understand, but there's just something a little more "fun" about this team, right? That grit and grind style has been replaced with a more Golden State space and pace. A change overseen by Boeheim, that same guy who has constantly evolved with the evolving game of basketball. The same guy ridiculed for being set in his ways, choosing central New York over Maui or a Denny's over some local eatery. The same guy some experts figured would be gone long ago, forced into golf trips in late October instead of hanging out with Jadakiss and a bunch of college kids.
Actually, one of the reasons this team and its potential is so easy to talk about, even to people you otherwise wouldn't really speak to unless it's over forced conversation, is how it has the feel of it being all-in for the old coach.
Part of that switch in philosophy includes the additions of two grad-transfers. TWO?! Sure, we can all rattle off the names of a Chukwu, Wes Johnson and Mike Gbinije as impact transfers, maybe even Leron Ellis if you're inclined, but Syracuse University isn't exactly like Transfer U. Yet, there will be two transfers, each only having one season of eligibility to offer up, who are going to be on the roster, occupying key roles. Some people I speak with aren't quite familiar with John Gillon and Andrew White III, other than knowing they're the transfers. But by the time the clocks read zero on the final game, whenever and wherever that will be, everyone will know their names by heart.
This all has my gut telling me Boeheim may be going for that upper cut. That Boeheim likely activated FU Mode a year ago, but he's only now truly armed and prepared for war. Maybe he's been gearing up to bow out after the year? Maybe he's simply just competitive as all hell and he knows what it takes to win?
I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that I'm more than a little excited by the thought of what will happen. Hell, this coming season could end up leaving us all speechless. In a very good way, even for me.