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Remembering Syracuse MBB legend Louis Orr: the greatest man Coach Boeheim ever knew

A tribute to the first-ever recruit of the Boeheim era and the legend who started it all.

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USA TODAY Sports Images-Historical Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Just two weeks after securing the head coaching job for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program in 1975, coach Jim Boeheim ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio for one of the first recruitment trips of his career. There, he would meet who he called the greatest of all the people and players he’s met.

“The guy had told me he was 6-8... and he weighed 160 pounds, maybe,” Boeheim said at the postgame press conference after Saturday’s win versus Cornell. “He got knocked down about six times in five minutes while I’m watching him. But the interesting thing: he got up every time.”

Boeheim begins to choke up, before gathering himself and muttering his next five words.

“And that kid was Louis Orr.”

On Thursday, two days before Syracuse’s game versus Cornell, Orr died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was part of Boeheim’s first recruiting class, a key prospect moving forward with Syracuse entering the Boeheim Era. Orr played four seasons with the Orange between 1977 and 1980, forming an iconic duo next to Roosevelt Bouie called the “Louis and Bouie Show.”

In his tenure with the Orange, Orr averaged 12.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 2.2 APG, suiting up in 116 games for Syracuse. Basketball-wise, he was the first of a wave of athletic, jack-of-all-trade forwards who could do it all: rebound, score inside, pass, and defend. In 1980, Orr peaked with averages of 16 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, earning a nod for first-team All-Big East.

Orr’s play helped the Louis and Bouie show come to life from day one, sparking the beginning of the Boeheim era for Syracuse basketball.

Orr, Boeheim, and company reached the NCAA Tournament in four straight seasons. During the regular season, Orr’s toughness and leadership on the court fueled the Orange to finish three times in the AP Top 10, peaking with Syracuse ranking as high as second during Orr’s senior year in 1980. With Orr gluing all the pieces together in the early days of the Boeheim era, Syracuse finished 100-18 overall in the regular season.

Orr’s lengthy basketball career really launched after his time with Syracuse. Drafted in the second round of the 1980 draft by the Indiana Pacers, Orr played eight seasons in the NBA as one of the league’s first forwards who blended power and polish. Saddled next to Georgetown phenom Patrick Ewing with the New York Knicks, Orr averaged 23.4 minutes and helped revive Knicks basketball for the next two decades in the process.

After retiring, Orr went around the college basketball map pursuing an over 30-year coaching career, serving as the head coach for three programs (Siena, Seton Hall, and Bowling Green) and as an assistant for four other teams including Syracuse, his last job was with the Hoyas since 2017.

Orr already spent five years in the league when Ewing made his debut for the Knicks back in 1985. Still learning his way around the league, it was the superstar in Ewing who looked to Orr for guidance.

“We developed a friendship and a brotherhood,” Ewing said in a statement. “He was always someone I could talk to — we would talk about life, we would talk about basketball, we would talk about family. He will be truly missed and he will forever be part of this (Georgetown) program.”

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse retired Orr’s No. 55 jersey alongside Bouie’s No. 50 jersey in a joint ceremony in 2015. The Orr-Bouie-Boeheim trio that ignited the next five decades and counting for Syracuse men’s basketball, was finally together at long last.

Not even five minutes into the postgame press conference, coach Boeheim admitted it was hard coaching on Saturday, then simply wrapped things up and walked away amid the silence.

One day after Orr’s death, coach Boeheim texted The Athletic a brief but humble message in response to the news.

“The best of us.”