Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Bleeding Orange (2014)

By Jim Boeheim with Jack McCallum

It's a little difficult to be personally objective for me when it comes to a book about Jim Boeheim. He's something of a last link for me to Syracuse University, since his first season as a head coach was my senior year there ... way back when.

Heck, I covered the news conference for the student newspaper when he was hired as head coach. And if Boeheim's book is any indication, I remember his first win as a head coach better than he does. The longtime coach writes that it came against the Chilean National Team in an exhibition game; it was actually against the team from Peru. (Want to read my game story? Still got it.)

Boeheim finally has gotten around to writing an autobiography, and "Bleeding Orange" works quite well as a stroll through 50 years of basketball at the Central New York school.

Boeheim has become part of the furniture at Syracuse. After growing up down the road in Lyons, he was the backcourt partner of the legendary Dave Bing in the mid-Sixties there, stayed on after graduation to work on the basketball staff, and eventually was promoted to head coach in 1976. The program has gone ever upward, more or less, since then. Boeheim is now second on the all-time list of coaching victories, and home games average almost 30,000 fans per game at the Carrier Dome.

The fun part of the book comes exactly when you'd expect - descriptions of memorable Big East battles in the Eighties. That's when almost every game seemed like an event, and great coaches with unforgettable personalities - John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca, Jim Calhoun, Rollie Massimino, Rick Pitino, etc. - roamed the sidelines. Boeheim won more games in the conference than all of them. There are stories about games from the past, and stories about relationships off the court. They all loved to win, especially against each other, whether it on the scoreboard or at the offseason league meetings.

You'd figure stories about the big moments would be here, and they are provided. Syracuse has gone to three Final Fours under Boeheim (one more with him as an assistant), winning the national title in 2003. They are well described, as are such other games as the six-overtime game in the Big East Tournament with Connecticut. Boeheim has done a lot of winning over the years considering he's only had four players with truly otherworldly talent - Dwayne Washington, Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens and Carmelo Anthony. The veteran coach also gets some thoughts down on serving as an Olympic assistant basketball coach twice.

Boeheim and co-author Jack McCallum, one of the best in the business, also make some good decisions along the way. Portions of the book are something of a diary of the 2013-14 season, which are used as something of a launching point at times to discuss the state of the game and other matters.That prevents the book from getting too bogged down in the past.

More importantly, Boeheim comes across as personable, thoughtful and frequently funny. Some times his barbs are directed at opposing coaches, sometimes at his own players, and sometimes at himself. There are insights into decisions made along the way of his career, comments on his personal life, and tangents about transfer rules and age restrictions on turning professional. He may have even crossed a line once. The paragraph of the book that has received the most chatter so far was how Boeheim revealed Anthony's grades in his first semester at Syracuse; not sure that was the best idea.

By the way, the situation surrounding former assistant coach Bernie Fine, who lost his job during the 2011-12 season in something of a scandal, receives some coverage but not a great deal - probably due to pending legal matters.

"Bleeding Orange" isn't great literature, but it's one of those books that's simply a breeze to run through. I found myself picking it up at times, turning to a page and getting caught up in some anecdotes. The book should work for just about anyone who is a fan of college basketball. However, if you have some orange in your wardrobe, you probably shouldn't miss this surprisingly candid look offered by a Hall of Fame coach.

Four stars

Learn more about this book.

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