Don’t look now, but the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is back in the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. This time, Jim Boeheim is doing it with family as he’s 3-0 in getting to the second weekend as a 10- or 11-seed.
Buddy Boeheim saved his best for last as he turned up his play in the month of February. Back in December, he tested positive for Covid-19 and needed almost all of January to get his legs back. He turned his shooting around in February and in the month of March he’s evolved into something entirely different.
Boeheim’s confidence has grown, he’s improved his game off the bounce and his shooting has gotten even better. In post-season play, Boeheim is shooting a torrid 60.0% from the floor (39/65) and 55.8% from the three (24/43).
How did he get here?
To suggest it’s been a process for Buddy Boeheim to arrive at this point would be underselling the work.
There have been growing pains to get to this point. In eighth grade, Buddy Boeheim didn’t start on his AAU team. Slow and undersized, it took time for Buddy to develop into a player. Jim Boeheim told him to just keep working, however. He told Buddy he could be one of the best players out of Syracuse.
“You’re going to be good. You’re going to be better than these guys someday,” Jim told Buddy.
Buddy, with an effervescent smile and affable personality, strikes as something of opposite of his father. He wasn’t always confident growing up and Jim needed to boost his self-esteem.
“To describe Jimmy,” Jim Boeheim stated as he began to describe his first son. “He plays golf. He hits 10 out of bounds in a row, he thinks the 11th one is going in the next hole on a par four. Buddy can play 10 good holes and one bad one, he thinks the next one is going to be bad. They just have a different level of confidence. But Buddy has gotten better. He believes in himself now 100%.”
“He believed in me before I believed in myself,” Buddy said after Syracuse’s win over San Diego State.
It’s taken a while for Buddy for get to this point. When he first arrived at Syracuse, he acknowledged there was pressure to perform. When you come into Syracuse, play for one the most storied programs in college basketball and do it for a Hall of Fame coach, there’s a burden to bear for anyone. In Buddy’s case, there was also a sense of heritage. To some, it was downright nepotism.
Buddy was an exceptional shooter but other areas of his game were lacking.
“When I first got here I needed some advice. I needed help. Partly because I wasn’t that quick and not a good defender. I think I’ve improved a lot over the years. But I had guys like Frank Howard and Tyus Battle helping me every day,” Buddy said.
That pressure to perform has since faded. Buddy has earned his spot through his industriousness and will to win. There’s no question he’s earned his time now. He’s built his reputation on work-ethic around the Syracuse program.
Buddy doesn’t take a week off, according to his father. He works out with former Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf with great frequency. He’s spent countless hours in the gym with Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara and he works out with Syracuse’s strength coach. Even after games he’ll go home and shoot at the gym in the Boeheim household for a few hours on the shooting gun.
“He works out with our strength coach three or four days a week during the season and in the offseason. He doesn’t take a week off. He shoots after games. If we play three games in a week and we don’t have practice Sunday, he lifts with the strength coach and he shoots,” Jim says.
All that hard work is finally paying off.
In the NCAA Tournament, Buddy passed his father in scoring for tournament play. He also passed Andy Rautins, another great shooter at Syracuse, in all-time scoring. Boeheim’s 220 made 3s at Syracuse already have him fifth on the all-time list, passing the aforementioned Devendorf earlier this month. And Syracuse is back in the Sweet 16.
Jim says the fruits of Buddy’s labor are well-deserved. He’s earned it.
“He not only listened to me but he went to work and made it happen. That’s why I’m proud of him. It’s not that he’s good. Jimmy’s good too. But they both work. They just work hard at the game,” Jim said.
Buddy Boeheim has put together all-time performances in March. His shooting percentages are through the roof. He’s scored at least 25 points in four post-season games. He dropped 30 points on San Diego State and followed that up with 25 against West Virginia.
The broken records keep coming in various forms. The list goes on.
Buddy Boeheim is the 2nd player in Syracuse history to score at least 25 points in each of his first 2 games of a NCAA Tournament.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2021
He joins Gary Clark, who did this in 1957. pic.twitter.com/TYqU1iB8hm
Sunday’s Round of 32 matchup didn’t start so well for Boeheim, though. He made his first shot of the night, a 3-pointer on the right wing, but missed his final five shots of the first half. Shots that had previously not touched rim were now clanking off the front of the rim. Perhaps tired legs would prove to be his undoing.
Not so fast.
“At halftime Gerry talked to him,” Jim Boeheim said.
Gerry McNamara knows how to motivate Boeheim. They’ve spent countless hours in the gym together and McNamara tells Boeheim he’s the best shooter on the planet. At the half, Boehiem went back to the well of McNamara.
“Keep going. I don’t care if you miss 200. Just keep shooting,” McNamara instructed him.
Boeheim turned it around immediately out of the break. Marek Dolezaj found him on a dribble handoff for a three. Then West Virginia hard-hedged and doubled Joe Girard on a ball screen from Dolezaj. Girard passed to Dolezaj, the help came and Dolezaj kicked to a wide open Boeheim in the corner.
“Eventually he’s going to make those,” Jim Boeheim said. “Then he made one really tough three that we had to have right over the guy. Then he made a tough pull-up on the guy. These guys are really good defensive players.”
Syracuse’s situation looked dire for a stretch. Dolezaj and Jesse Edwards both picked up their fourth foul with over 11 minutes to play. Boeheim elected to play Dolezaj with foul trouble, but Buddy’s offense saved Syracuse as he made two shots over Sean McNeil.
Of his 25 points, 22 came in the second half. He was locked in and wasn’t afraid to let West Virginia know it. He’s been waiting for these moments all his life. Buddy has said countless times that putting on a Syracuse jersey and playing for his dad mean everything to him.
“I’m just having fun now,” Buddy said. “Why not keep going?”
West Virginia made a late push, but Syracuse survived to give Jim Boeheim his 20th Sweet 16 appearance. In the post-game press conference, Boeheim spoke candidly of family. He’s proud of Buddy. But he’s proud of all of his kids. Even if there is a friendly sibling rivalry.
“I admire both my sons but I really admire both my daughters because they’re hard workers, Jim said. “Sissy [Jamie] tells everybody she’s got three state championships and they don’t have any. She’s not even giving a little bit to her brothers.”
Buddy and Jim will have their accolades together. The rest of the family is accomplished too. But at the end of the day, what could be more important than family?