NEW YORK — Anyone who has watched Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for the past year or so can plainly see that the man is deeply conflicted.
He has spent virtually his whole career coaching in the Big East Conference, and now the only thing he has known in terms of basketball is coming to an end.
Boeheim, 68, has expressed his sadness at Syracuse’s exit from the league for the greener pastures of the ACC, and his anger that the powers-that-be let Dave Gavitt’s Big East collapse at the hands of football greed.
He has dropped hints that he might retire, saying recently that he was “ready to go play golf.” Various Internet reports and Tweets in recent days have suggested that Boeheim is on the brink of retirement.
But as he coaches in his last Big East Tournament ever, Boeheim doesn’t sound like a man who will retire after this season.
“I told [Tom Coughlin], I’m not going to retire until you retire,” Boeheim said of the New York football Giants head coach and his old high school basketball rival.
He made the comments outside the Knicks locker room — where his old star Carmelo Anthony dresses after every home game — and after Syracuse beat Seton Hall, 75-63, to advance to a quarterfinal showdown with future ACC rival Pitt on Thursday.
Asked point blank how much longer he would coach, Boeheim smiled and said, “I’m going to do it until definitely tomorrow, through tomorrow for sure. For sure tomorrow. I never think about the season until after the season because during the season I want to quit every single game, even when we win.”
He did say that he is “definitely going to play golf this summer” but that that didn’t necessarily mean this would be his last season.
“It’s not that I don’t think that I’m going to retire, I do think I’m going to retire,” Boeheim said. “But I never think that it’s soon.”
Boeheim sounds excited about the recruits he has coming in for next year and in 2014, a group that includes St. Benedict’s Prep point guard Tyler Ennis and Roselle (N.J.) Catholic forward Tyler Roberson in 2013 and Brewster (N.H.) Academy forward Chris McCullough of New York in 2014.
“I’m excited about the future,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got one of our better recruiting classes coming. We’ve got commitments from underclassmen that I think are very, very good players.”
Syracuse will lose seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland — potential second-round picks – and likely sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, a projected lottery pick who tied a Big East Tournament record by going for 14 assists with just one turnover.
But they return a strong group that includes Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita, Trevor Cooney and probably C.J. Fair.
“Hopefully, we’ve got a lot of these guys coming back if they’re smart and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “It will be a great challenge playing down there.”
Syracuse associate head coach Mike Hopkins, Boeheim’s heir apparent, has been linked to the USC job and one has to wonder what that is all about.
Does Hopkins know something we don’t? Does he think that Boeheim plans to stick around for a couple more years and so it makes sense to jump at a head coaching job in the Pac-12 instead of waiting around on Boeheim?
And what happens at Syracuse if Hopkins takes the USC job, and Boeheim does decide to retire?
All those are questions for another day.
For now, though, Boeheim expressed his mixed emotions about playing his last Big East Tournament at the Garden, while being sure to point out to reporters that Syracuse will still come back here for games with St. John’s and other non-conference events.
“In the locker room before the game, I was thinking about all the times coming here,” he said. “I first came to the Garden when I was a sophomore in college, the old, old Garden. Seems like about 50 years ago. Oh, it was 50 years ago.”
He talked about Lou Carnesecca and Gavitt and how what Gavitt did in putting the Big East together was something special.
“Dave Gavitt did something that nobody could have done ever, no one,” he said. “You can pick anybody.”
He added: “Nobody should ask how the Big East was broken up. People should ask how did it stay together with the differences, the schools.”
And while he laments the end of the Big East, he also sounds intrigued and excited about coaching against Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams in the ACC.
“The reason I never wanted to go to the ACC years ago when it first came up was I didn’t want to be the only team in, and I don’t think that’s been a good thing,” he said. “I think that’s hard. I think we’re going in, six or seven Big East schools are going to be there in two years when you look around.”
By 2014, Syracuse will not only have Pittsburgh and Notre Dame with them, but Louisville, too. Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College are all former Big East members.
“I think it was inevitable,” he said of the Big East’s collapse. “There was no way this wasn’t going to happen. It’s a miracle that it didn’t happen sooner.”
There’s no way of telling what Boeheim will do, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him coach for one or two more years at least.
Just listen to him.
**For more on Boeheim’s thoughts about bringing the ACC Tournament to MSG, click here.