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Syracuse men’s basketball: Buddy Boeheim is slowly working his way up the hill

Buddy Boeheim has been slogging his way through, and last Saturday against Pitt showed something important.

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Life tip: if your wheels start spinning in the snow of a winter-wrapped road, you likely only have a couple of options.

You could try to pull over and turn around. (Good luck with that one.)

Or you could give it a little gas, not too much but just enough to slowly work your way through until one or more of your wheels can truly catch and get you back along. Your engine might rev like you’re ripping around a NASCAR track and it still might look like the Earth is spinning around without you, but you’ll get out of it eventually.

This is not advice for anyone who actually has their car or truck stuck in a snowbank or extreme amounts of snow. In that case, try to rock it back and forth and hope someone can help push you to safety.

But let’s say you’re driving up a hill that has a couple of inches of sloppy snow that’s covering ice-cold pavement. And let’s throw in the fact that you’re behind the wheel of a rear-wheel drive vehicle, like a truck that’s sans the ability to kick it in to four-wheel.

Don’t panic. Don’t gun it. But don’t completely let off the gas. Ignore the cars behind you, lining up as though they’re elementary students waiting for the lunch lady on pizza day. Just stay in your lane and work your way up the hill; steadily stay on the gas. And assuming your tires aren’t as bald as Dick Vitale, you can get there.

What does any of this have to do with Syracuse Orange basketball?

Well, the other day, as my truck suddenly had some trouble on the Massey Street bridge—one of the steeper inclines here in the beautiful city of Watertown—I thought of Buddy Boeheim.

Okay, that’s a lie. The truth is, at the time, I was thinking, What in the f%$^?! Why is my four-wheel-drive truck having a hard time getting up this friggan hill?!” It’s a four-lane stretch of road and as I watched cars and other trucks rip on by me, I was red-faced and hoping that my back end wouldn’t slide out and clip someone.

But I knew that I would eventually get to more level ground, so long as I didn’t panic and slap the gas pedal. Nice and easy I stayed on it even when it felt like I was going nowhere, and I got out of it.

Then later is when this all hit me: Buddy Boeheim is this year’s version of the guy trying like hell to get his vehicle through the frozen slop while it feels like the rest of the world is watching it all play out. A young role player never has it easy. Especially so in this case.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

First off, has anyone truly addressed the ridiculous amount of pressure he must be facing?

Every time he checks into a game, every time he shoots the damn ball it practically brings the Carrier Dome to a collective standing ovation. And if that ball just so happens to find itself on inside of the net? It can be damn near pandemonium, score of the game being played be damned.

It’s not quite like dealing with passing motorists judging you and your inept vehicle. It’s obviously worse. Buddy is most certainly not the first son to face the heat of playing for father. But it’s still tough because for every impending cheer, there is also the inevitable, inherent groan.

Shot goes up: crowd gets ready to explode.

Shot misses: crowd lets out exhale and sits back down.

That’s hard to block out.

The younger Boeheim has a couple of DNPs in his game log. He’s shown basketball IQ, and it’s clear his shooting form is as textbook as textbook can practically get, but right now he’s hitting at only 30.8 percent from three, just 29.7 percent from inside the arc.

Truckin’ on up that freshman hill.

Then there was that game this past Saturday against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Buddy erupted, hitting four three-pointers in the Orange’s 74-63 win. As Andrew wrote, the performance was a “sign of growth for a freshman who hasn’t found his way just yet.” (Read Andrew’s take on the game if you somehow haven’t already.) Buddy’s last shot last Saturday, a corner ball that didn’t look right from the second he let it go, was the only miss he had that game. The other four? It’s what fans have been so anxious to see.

It was if as Buddy put the other games, some of those early-season misses and miscues, to the side and kept slowly in motion.

As we all know, Buddy isn’t playing at Syracuse University because of Jim. He is where he is because of his talents. Other Division One programs were in on him during his high school days. Gonzaga’s Mark Few even offered Buddy a scholarship. No, Buddy isn’t some legacy. He’s a basketball player. And when it comes to fan’s expectations, there’s no pity involved. He’s Jim and Juli’s son, and the Orange faithful have adopted him as their own, too. Hence the reactions during home games. It’s all a form of love.

Buddy’s not the first to be indoctrinated by the fans, as we all know. Plenty of players have become part of the program, part of the city, part of this huge, crazy family. But with Buddy, through no fault of his own, it’s just different.

And, after slipping and sliding up Massey the other day in the middle of another wonderful Watertown winter, where it can snow a foot overnight while the thermometer never reaches above zero, I thought of SU hoops and of the Boeheims and the crowds and the three-point attempts.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jim? He gives no Fs. Hasnt’ in decades. Although, he does still have a balancing act with team chemistry. Like any other coach. Do I think the Hall of Famer actually worries about stuff like the mental makeup of his team? I’m no expert, but I’m betting that’s more of a “Gerry, Adrian and Allen” type of problem to solve. Yet, he has to know which buttons to push and when to push them for every player. And in doing so, when it comes to Buddy he must think about how every interaction, every minute of playing time, has to fit with the rest of the team. No picnic.

Then again, as we all know, Jim’s been through it all.

Which makes him probably the best possible passenger for Buddy. Want to freak out and gas it? Want to stop all together and hope someone else can do something to get you unstuck? Dad/Coach is a resource in the slog of the season.

Meanwhile, that Pitt game could be followed up with a clunker or two. We know Buddy didn’t beat the Panthers outright anyway. His shots didn’t come late in the game. Plus, Tyus Battle was a man possessed. And Marek Dolezaj was the glue. Paschal Chukwu continued to his rise from the basketball dead. It was a team effort unlike what was witnessed in some early-season losses. All very positive signs for the Orange.

But don’t forget: Buddy’s shots mattered. They showed Buddy can keep the pedal steady and keep the car on the road. IT’s the same for him, Jim and the team. All parts trying to not get bogged down, wheels spinning at a steady rate. All parts desperately wanting to get to the top of the hill together.