Syracuse, N.Y. — After the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball game against Notre Dame on Saturday, Jim Boeheim followed up on his comments from earlier in the week regarding Duke freshman Jalen Johnson.
Johnson, a five-star recruit at Duke, decided last Monday to forego the remainder of his freshman season to prepare for the NBA Draft. Johnson is a projected lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He was averaging 11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
This past Thursday — as part of his weekly radio show — Boeheim suggested that Duke would be better off without Johnson. Before ending Saturday’s press conference by stating, “If you have to use my talk show to get stuff to write, you ought to be in another profession,” Boeheim attempted to clear the air regarding his comments from Thursday.
Jim Boeheim on Duke star freshman Jalen Johnson's decision to opt-out: "That guy was hurting them so they actually are much better now without him. He was just doing some things & keeping other people from playing that are good. They've had two monster wins since he's opted out."— Mike Curtis (@MikeACurtis2) February 19, 2021
Following Saturday’s game Boeheim walked back those comments, stating it had nothing to do with his relationship with Mike Krzyzewski and how he hasn’t even seen much of Johnson this season.
“I have a talk radio show. I just talk about stuff. Nobody’s ever listened to it,” Boeheim said. “Now people in the media are taping it and play by play. This is a talk show. What I said the other night about Duke, who we’re going to play, had nothing to do with my friendship with Mike Krzyzewski. Nothing to do with Jalen Johnson at all.”
The comments generated backlash amongst media members, Jay Bilas chief among them. Bilas said he thought the comments were inappropriate before segueing into the rhetoric vis-à-vis Johnson’s family. Some think coaches shouldn’t comment on players or other teams outside of their own.
“I thought the comments were inappropriate, frankly. Jim Boeheim has done this before. When James Akinjo left Georgetown he has the exact same things to say about James Akinjo. That somehow Akinjo was selfish, never passed the ball, all he wanted to do was shoot it and they were better off without him,” Bilas said.
Jalen Johnson does not have a “camp,” “people in his ear,” or a “posse.” He has a family. He has a mother and father helping him, with his best interests in mind, making decisions. We can differ with the decision, but the undertones of the criticism of Johnson are concerning. pic.twitter.com/icKqC9u0Cp— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) February 19, 2021
Boeheim did not use the word “camp,” but others have. He emphasized, however, that he hasn’t seen much of Johnson this year before going on to say he’d be a great pro.
“What I saw — and Seth Greenberg saw too — they played the best I’ve seen them play this year. Wake Forest just lost in overtime at Florida State. Duke had them down 30. NC State’s a good team. They just beat Pittsburgh. I think they’re pretty good. They beat North Carolina. They crushed them in the second half without Jalen Johnson. This is no dispersion, casting dispersion, on Jalen Johnson. I haven’t even seen Jalen Johnson play this year to be honest. He’s a tremendous player. Will probably be a great pro. I just made the observation, my opinion, that I thought they played better without him in those two games,” Boeheim continued.
Bilas disagreed with Boeheim on the notion of Duke being better without Johnson, stating: “The idea that somehow they are better without Jalen Johnson, I think is patently false.”
But Boeheim remained steadfast on Saturday, saying he didn’t say Duke would be better without Johnson.
“Jay Bilas said I said that they’re a better team without him. Permanently. I didn’t say that. I didn’t mean to say that. Just in those two games — game and a half — they were a better team than I’ve seen this year. ... I was not trying to downgrade Jalen Johnson in any way, shape or form. Jay Bilas is flat wrong if he thinks I did that,” Boeheim concluded.
Syracuse plays Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night. ESPN will air the game as part of Big Monday, typically headlined by the broadcasting duo of Sean McDonough and Bilas.