ATLANTA – For Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the 61-56 defeat to Michigan in the Final Four was dispiriting, a game begging to be won, an opportunity lost, the run of one of his most enjoyable teams done.
Then the 68-year-old saw his part of the formal postgame interview session open with a question about retirement, a topic he had zero interest in addressing at that particular moment. And so he did what Jim Boeheim always does and went right back at the reporter, in this case Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com.
Doyel: When do you think you'll decide, announce, whether or not you're coming back next year?
Boeheim: Why would you ask that question? I expect it from you. I know you. Why ask that question? Are you going to ask John Beilein that question?
Doyel: We ask 19‑year‑olds questions and they handle it better than you are.
Boeheim: You ask a 19‑year‑old kid if he's going to retire? Really?
Doyel: If they're going to be back next year.
Boeheim: If you're going to say something smart, at least be smart.
Doyel: I said be back next year, I didn't say retire. If you're going to be smart, at least get it right.
Boeheim: I am right.
Doyel: Are you going to be back next year or not?
Boeheim: I'm not going to answer that question unless you ask every coach that question. Are you going to ask John if he's going to retire or not coming back next year? I've never indicated at any time that I'm not coming back next year – ever.
There were a few words not fit for print later. There were a lot of scowls and shrugs, of course. It was classic Boeheim. He never gives an inch. Never. If he thinks it’s a dumb question, he’s not going to just play along.
That’s the way he’s coached, the way he’s lived, the way he’s answered questions and the way he got himself to all these wins and all these Final Fours at Syracuse.
After a frustrating semifinal loss, he wasn't interested in talking about whether he'd ever coach in the ACC, where the Orange program heads next season. Even if, according to Boeheim, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has a bet on him never showing up.
Minutes later, leaning slightly against a concrete wall just outside the shower room of the Syracuse locker room here at the Georgia Dome, Boeheim's tone was calmer, his voice softer and, if anything, his commitment to return for at least a 38th season was clearer than ever.
"I'm as energized as ever," Boeheim told Yahoo! Sports. "At the end of the year I'm normally tired. I'm energized. … I guess I understand why there is speculation, but there really isn't any basis for speculation. I've never said anything about not coaching in the ACC. Or anything like that. Honestly I don't know where that comes from."
Boeheim has a knack for news conference confrontations, but grudges don't normally last long. His friends say he winds up wishing they never happened, that he'd handled the moment better. Whatever, he's too old to care much at this point. He is who he is.
He looked ready to move on. His voice was barely above a whisper. No, he wasn't going to 100 percent promise he'd coach next season because he thinks an answer like that is dishonest. Who ever really knows? If anything, though, this NCAA tournament run with a limited team, has lifted his spirits.
"I've said this so many times, 10 years ago I didn't think I'd be coaching four or five years," Boeheim said. "It just taught me a lesson not to say anything. If I even say that I am even thinking about it, it turns into 20 more questions. But I have no plans to not coach. None. None whatsoever.
"And this year, if anything, look, I hope every team we have can go to the Final Four. But we've had 20 teams out of 37 that should've gotten here above this team. At least. They did an incredible job."
Boeheim remains disappointed the Big East that he worked in for so many years has splintered. A new basketball-only group will keep the name and the rights to the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. Then there is another group that will also play football, it looks a lot like the old Conference USA and will be called the American Athletic Conference, or, as Boeheim called it, "American whatever."
"I think the ACC is probably more familiar than playing Houston and SMU and all of those schools [that will be in the American]."
Soon, Boeheim was talking about some of his incoming recruits and a talented player that was sitting out and even some of the excitement that comes from a new day and a new league. He didn't want it this way, but it's not all bad.
"I think the ACC is a great opportunity," Boeheim said. "I think it's a great challenge. We've been in a great conference and we're going into a great conference. It's a challenge. It's interesting. Carolina and Duke. Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech [all former Big East members], we played all those guys. And Pitt and Notre Dame and Louisville in two years. It's going to be a great conference."
He sighed. He talked about this summer – no USA Basketball means more time to watch his kids play on summer teams, maybe get in a little golf and, other than that, "nothing."
This was the 313th loss of Boeheim's career. There have been 920 victories and an untold number of run-ins with the media.
Jim Boeheim didn't look or sound like a guy who was tired of any of it, or a coach who was looking to get out, or a competitor that isn't willing to give as good as he gets. It's a new league and new challenges for the old coach.
No, there are no guarantees that Boeheim will be pacing the sidelines in Cameron or the Dean Dome next winter, no guarantees at all. But as he stood there in a quiet moment after a satisfying season, he sounded like a man eager for the next adventure.
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