Stores throughout Syracuse are still selling T-shirts with “Buckets,” printed on the front, and in some refrigerators around the city, there might just be a Jim Boeheim doughnut yet to go stale.
The Syracuse University men’s basketball team has frenetically turned the page to a wild offseason of roster turnover, but signs of appreciation remain for their postseason push amid a year of unprecedented sacrifices.
The Orange emerged from a series of obstacles that even 45 years as head coach could not have prepared Jim Boeheim for, finishing a roller-coaster season once thought to be in jeopardy due to COVID-19 concerns with his 20th trip the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
In the moments after 11th-seeded SU’s 62-46 season-ending setback to No. 2 Houston last Saturday night, the Hall of Fame coach expressed his gratitude for the lengths SU players and staff went in order to play through the coronavirus pandemic. Their efforts culminated in a tourney run that will be long remembered by Orange fans.
“This is one of the best years that I’ve ever had coaching, for these guys to get through this and get to this stage,” Boeheim said. “I think it’s just unbelievable. I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team than I am of this team, period.”
Less than a week has passed and SU has already lost three players to the transfer portal — freshman backup point guard Kadary Richmond, reserve forward Robert Braswell and redshirt freshman center John Bol Ajak — while adding Marquette transfer Symir Torrence, a sophomore guard and Syracuse native.
Sophomore forward and All-ACC third team selection Quincy Guerrier is also reportedly aiming to test the NBA draft waters but he could still opt to return before the July 19 deadline for early entries to pull out of the draft.
Syracuse supporters can bank on junior Buddy Boeheim returning to the fold after he shot down some recent NBA draft buzz, planning to lead a re-tweaked SU squad aiming to build off postseason success.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard sparked the fan-base during his star-making NCAA Tournament run in which he drained 14 total 3-pointers for the third highest total in SU tourney history. His combined 13 through the first two rounds led all players in the big dance and garnered national headlines for “Buddy Buckets.”
Area stores are filled with SU-themed Sweet 16 T-shirts including some with “Buckets,” printed on the front.
The downtown Syracuse bakery Glazed & Confused sold doughnuts with a 1970’s photo of Jim Boeheim for game-day last Saturday morning with proceeds donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Syracuse. The doughnut shop initially planned to use Buddy’s face for the promotion, but was forced to change course to comply with NCAA rules on players’ name, image and likeness.
The father-son duo made the rounds on national TV and radio shows in the week leading up to the Sweet 16 matchup.
The thought of such a finish in the NCAA Tournament seemed like a distant dream at various points of the season for SU (18-10 overall), especially as the team endured a pair COVID-19 pauses in the first two months.
“To be in this position coming into today was great,” Buddy Boeheim said after SU’s season-ending loss.
“It just shows that this team is resilient and we got a group of guys who are going to fight no matter what, and I’m just happy to be a part of this group,” he added. “It was a lot of fun, the coaches did a great job with us. I’ll definitely remember this season forever and everything we battled, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be able to look back on it and be proud.”
Jim Boeheim was among the multiple program members that tested positive in November, prompting a 14-day halt that ended on the eve on the 85-84 season-opening victory over Bryant, a narrow win in which SU lost starting center Bourama Sidibe for the rest of the year to a torn meniscus. The opener set the stage for a chaotic campaign.
The starting backcourt of Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III were each among the confirmed positive tests leading to the second pause from late December into January and slowly worked their way back into shape during the Atlantic Coast Conference slate.
“It was tough this year, toughest season of my life,” Buddy Boeheim said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of pauses, never knowing if you’re going to play the next night or not, but I think this year helped us all mentally, just getting through it to the next day and fighting every day showing up to work hard.”
Syracuse overcame what looked like backbreaking road losses at Duke and Georgia Tech in late February to close the regular season with wins over North Carolina and Clemson, both fellow NCAA Tournament teams, and kept momentum in the ACC Tournament to blast off from the at-large bubble.
Syracuse also battled back from second-half deficits of 14 or more against North Carolina State and Notre Dame over the final month of the regular season to stay in the mix. The Orange shifted from the “First 4 Out and Last 4 In,” of bracket forecasters throughout the week leading to NCAA Selection Sunday.
“It started in game one, Bryant, we lost Bourama and we almost lost that game, if you look at the nonconference, I think all those games were tight and everybody counted us out,” SU senior forward/center Marek Dolezaj said. “I think we proved that we deserved to be in March Madness and to make this run at the end of the season, I think it shows how much heart this team had.”
Syracuse players endured spending their free time in isolation and underwent frequent testing since arriving on campus in July, as did their peers on campus and around the country.
Syracuse completed the campaign without a single fan in attendance at the normally raucous Carrier Dome. Players often spoke of missing the frenzied Dome atmosphere and soaked in the crowd energy during the postseason and occasional road games.
“It was difficult for everybody, but we’ve gotten through it,” Jim Boeheim said. “The players got a chance to play. My son (Jimmy) is at Cornell and he’s been miserable for six months, as were all the athletes in the Ivy League, because they didn’t even get a chance to play. … It would have been a monumental mistake to not play basketball.”