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February 20, 2012
Riding a new hero almost every night, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has turned what might have been a team ripped by turmoil into another title contender
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February 20, 2012

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Riding a new hero almost every night, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has turned what might have been a team ripped by turmoil into another title contender

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Look at Melo, or what's left of him. He slimmed down to 245 pounds last summer and went from overwhelmed freshman to overwhelming sophomore. He ranked second in the nation in block percentage through Sunday (he blocks 15.23% of opponents' two-pointers when he's on the court), takes charges and only cares about two stats: how much he plays, and how much he wins. Jardine and Melo played in the World University Games in China last summer, Jardine for the U.S., Melo for Brazil. Jardine saw a thinner Melo—another reason he lost weight: "The food was horrible," he says—and a hint of the season to come. "I was texting back home, 'Yo, Fab got better!'" Jardine says.

Then look at Waiters, a superquick 6'4" slasher with the upper body of a heavyweight champion. Boeheim says the guard "can get a shot anytime he wants. Here, the NBA—he can get a shot." The problem is that Waiters knows it. He admits that as a freshman, "I let my attitude get in the way of everything." He coasted on defense and mouthed off when Boeheim pulled him from games.

Last spring Waiters considered leaving. Faced with the potential loss of a game-changing talent, Boeheim told Waiters he had two choices: Transfer or shut up and come off the bench.

Waiters stayed, partly because he wanted to play one more year with Jardine, who is not his cousin, no matter what news stories and the Syracuse media guide say. They have just been tight since they were kids in Philadelphia, and they like when people call them cousins. Jardine knew why Waiters was frustrated. Early in his Syracuse career, Jardine had felt the same way. He says he never thought Waiters would leave because "he knew where he wanted to be. We made a pact."

Now Waiters is scoring, creating and, most impressively, keeping his mouth closed. Against Florida, he shot 1 for 8 and only played 14 minutes, while Triche played 35 minutes and scored 20 points. The old Waiters would have stewed. This time he thanked Triche for carrying the team, complained to nobody and went to the gym that night to rescue his shot.

Melo's new body and Waiters's new attitude are the biggest differences between last year's 27--8 Orange and this year's. "In the past we were all on different islands, we had different agendas," Joseph said. "It's not about the individual accolades at this point."

That sounds like a lesson that could help you in business and in life. But Boeheim won't sell that story, most of all because even he doesn't buy it. When he played at Syracuse, he says, "I wanted the guy ahead of me to do bad so I could get in the game." Why would his players be any different?

Boeheim can't change human nature. He can only manage it. And that's hard, especially when the human nature in question is his own.

"I'm very thin-skinned, and I'm very sensitive, which is bad for coaches," Boeheim said. "If you criticize Bob Knight, you think he cares? He doesn't care. Bob Huggins? Mike Krzyzewski? They don't care ... because they absolutely don't think you know anything."

Boeheim cares. He can't help it. He knows he shouldn't listen to local sports-talk radio, but he does. He can sound defensive when people question his coaching. He passionately supports almost anybody who played for his program, even the guys who didn't achieve much at Syracuse. It was not surprising, then, that when the Fine allegations exploded in the media, so did Boeheim.

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