The Syracuse Orange men's and women's basketball programs are both playing in the Elite Eight on Sunday and hope to make even more history together. For the women's team, it's the best season in school history. During his press conference on Saturday, head coach Quentin Hillsman took time to give credit to an unlikely source. Jim Boeheim.
"We were watching the end of the men's game. I heard Coach Boeheim's press conference. He said vice versa, (he) was watching the women's game,'' Hillsman said. "We really do root for each other. Coach is a special guy. Not too many places in the country where a men's basketball coach would allow you to work. Men's basketball coaches can really stifle women's programs. He promotes our program.
"He does nothing to take advantage of our programs, put his foot down, kind of say, 'This is mine.' I know when the Melo Center opened, he called me and said, 'We're splitting this facility down the middle, half is yours, half is ours.' He's allowed me to work. I can't praise him enough for that. He could make it a difficult situation, but he makes it so easy for us. I give him a lot of credit for our success.''
One specific thing that Hillsman said he's picked up from Boeheim is the trademark zone defense, something he wasn't initially a big fan of.
"No, I wasn't a zone coach at all. I was a total full-court, man-to-man pressure coach,'' Hillsman said. "When you look out of your (office) window, you see all those banners, and none of them are yours, and all are men's basketball and Coach Boeheim, it makes you start to peek downstairs when they're in practice. In our first year we had a lot of injuries. There was one very good player, Nicole Michael, she was tremendous for us. We had other players that were solid, but she was definitely our go-to player. I was trying to find ways to keep her out of foul trouble.
"I was watching coach (Boeheim). I walked in coach's office, I go, 'Coach, tell me all about the zone, why you play zone.' He said, 'Go shoot the ball.' OK. That was my zone clinic. I started watching practices and trying to figure it out. As we started to play, coach kind of would come to me and say, 'Hey, make sure you get the high post covered.' He would give me nuggets of things. I would get one question in a year to try to get my zone better.
"Over time we've been developing to that. You can watch them every day, watch their staff, how they break it down. He's a master of that. It's amazing just watching what they do day in, day out. I remember when they played Florida one year, Florida was No. 1 in the country, I thought, 'We're in trouble.' Florida was 4-37 (shooting threes). Michigan State was next in the Garden. They were like 5-40. He never panicked. He never came out of the defense. People say, You got to get out of that zone and play man. No, just play a better a better zone. We just try to stick to what we do. Coach Boeheim is the best. You have to watch the best in the business.He totally converted me. 10 years later, this is what I'm still doing.''
The two also have a pretty congenial relationship.
"I always tease him. I say, 'When the zone wins it's on me. When the zone loses, it's on you because it's your defense,''' Hillsman joked. "Hopefully he doesn't get the credit for any other losses over the rest of the season. Hopefully I'm going to keep winning.''