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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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The Fine story has gotten both bigger and smaller since it broke on Nov. 17. In the midst of the Jerry Sandusky alleged child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, Bobby Davis, an Orange ball boy in the 1980s, reiterated claims he had made since 2002, that Fine had molested him when he was a child. Davis's stepbrother, Mike Lang, also accused Fine of molesting him. Then two other men came forward with similar claims, but one, Floyd (David) VanHooser, has since recanted, and the other, Zach Tomaselli, has reportedly admitted forwarding doctored e-mails to media outlets to support his claims and lying about the case, though he still says Fine molested him. "I had to fight back with lies," Tomaselli told The Post-Standard on Jan. 20. "All I wanted was some support back." When Davis's allegation became public, Boeheim lashed out, telling The Post-Standard that Davis "is trying to get money. He's tried before. And now he's trying again. If he gets this, he's going to sue the university and Bernie." He told the newspaper he "absolutely" believed the allegation was false.

Boeheim apologized about two weeks later, saying, "I shouldn't have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused."

Davis and Lang are suing Boeheim and Syracuse for defamation. Boeheim has stopped talking about the allegations, but he did tell SI that they have not distracted him from the games. Nothing ever does.

"It bothered me for a couple of days," he says. "But I did my job. It doesn't affect how I coach, it really doesn't."

Was he worried about getting fired?

"I knew there was no basis for me not to be here," he says. "I didn't know a thing. All I said was in defense of a guy I've known for 50 years."

Boeheim says he met with his players once to talk about Fine for "about 10 minutes.... I probably said something like, 'It's a terrible time for us and for me personally, because of a relationship of 36 years—50 years.... It has nothing to do with you guys. This is something I have to go through, and I'll go through it. I'll handle it.'"

Boeheim was the wrong coach to handle such a delicate matter publicly. But he has been the ideal coach to handle the season that followed. He doesn't try to control everything his players do—in the Syracuse family, everybody can go in different directions as long as the chores get done. You won't hear him talk about his "kids," because they are adults who play for his basketball team. Jardine says that on road trips, "Half the time I don't even see him. I see him when it's time to see him."

For most of his career—which includes three Final Fours and the 2003 national title—critics have said that he simply rolls out the balls at the start of practice. Here is more fodder for them: He isn't even on the court when it begins. He sits off to the side as his assistants put players through skill-development workouts for 35 minutes. But when practice starts to resemble a game, Boeheim gets involved. And when the real games start, Boeheim really takes over. He does not watch scouting tape obsessively, but he tunes into at least two games a night, every night, not counting Syracuse games or tape of upcoming opponents.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Boeheim fills out his coaches' poll ballot himself, with confidence, because he has seen every ranked team, most of them several times. "I didn't even need to watch the tape on Georgetown," he said after the Orange won 64--61 in overtime last week. "I know exactly what they're going to do. I just need to know who their shooters are. But I like to watch games and get a feel for a team."

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