Contrary to popular belief, being the son of a mortician does not make you weird or obsessed with death or anything like that. In my case, all that being the son of a mortician meant was that I didn’t want to be a mortician. Neither did my sister Barbara, seven years my junior.
My great-grandfather started the Boeheim Funeral Home in Lyons, New York, in the mid-1800s, not because he had some perverse death fixation but because he made caskets at his furniture store and figured it was a canny expansion, the business of dying being invulnerable to market forces. The family sold it, but our name lives on in the Boeheim-Pusateri Funeral Home, which is still there on William Street, almost directly across from the elementary school. I’m not sure why they left “Boeheim” on there. My oldest friend, Tony Santelli, says it’s because Boeheim is still a pretty good name around Lyons. I hope that’s the case. If we have a bunch of losing seasons … well, I don’t want to think about that.
We thought of ourselves as from “upstate New York.” Our sense of geography was pretty simple: Buffalo constituted western New York, Albany was eastern New York, and we were in the middle. Lyons was a great place to grow up, a kind of Leave It to Beaver town with a little more of an edge. The Boeheims were German in an Italian neighborhood, but honestly, it’s not like my family celebrated their cultural heritage much. My favorite food ran to spaghetti and meatballs, not sauerbraten.
The Lyons I grew up in had a population of about 5,000, but we didn’t think of it as particularly small. It seemed just right. There were probably 70 of us who went from kindergarten through high school together. Everyone looked out for his neighbor, and nobody locked his door.
I inherited more of my athletic ability from my mother, Janet, who was a good golfer and had played basketball in high school. She was probably responsible for my growing to six foot three, too, since she was five-eight, fairly tall for a woman in those days.
Despite how competitive my father was, and how much he resisted praising me, he and my mother attended every single high school and college game I played. When they couldn’t get there for road games, the radio play-by-play was on in our house. My sister remembers my father, who might’ve been entertaining guests or conducting a business meeting in the living room, saying to her about every two minutes, “Barbara, could you go check the score?”
There was only one person in the world who nailed a basket up in our backyard and added lights so I could shoot at any time: James Boeheim Sr.
Conversational and Candid
a book review by Laurel C. Wemett
A “March Madness” aficionado, budding hoops player, or simply an all-round ‘Cuse fan are all among those who will enjoy this engrossing look inside the life and career of Jim Boeheim. The Syracuse University men’s basketball coach who hails from the Finger Lakes Region chronicles his life with writer Jack McCallum, author of the 2012 New York Times bestseller, Dream Team.
Growing up in Lyons, Boeheim had the unusual distinction of being the son of a mortician. “The Boeheim hearse also pinch-hit as the town ambulance so I occasionally went on runs to the hospital as well,” he writes. “One time, when I was 15 or 16, a woman delivered a baby when I was along for a ride. But for me, it was never about undertaking or obstetrics. It was always about basketball.”
Boeheim describes Lyons as “the right place to chase my hoop dreams.” His high school basketball coach is credited with helping him develop his skills before he arrived at Syracuse in 1962 as a walk-on without a scholarship. He subsequently earned one and fortuitously roomed and played with Dave Bing, who later became an NBA superstar. Following graduation, Boeheim worked his way up the Syracuse University coaching ladder and by 1976, became the eighth men’s basketball coach there. The 2014-15 season is his 39th as head coach of the Orangemen.
The veteran coach tells his story in a conversational and candid manner, finding humor in situations, often at his own expense. A small town background may have initially led him to be called “the hick from Lyons,” but his accomplishments from the sidelines belie that moniker. He steered the Orange to Big East Tournament championships, NCAA Tournament appearances, and the National Championship in 2003. He coached two Olympic Gold Medal teams and won numerous awards, including his election to the coach’s wing of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Boeheim shares his coaching philosophy, recruiting approach, practice and playing strategies, plus important wins and losses, often reflecting on how college basketball has changed over his 50 years of involvement. His anecdotal writing style insightfully brings to life legendary coaches like Big John Thompson of Georgetown or star players such as Derrick Coleman, among others. He details the birth of the Big East Conference of which Syracuse was an inaugural member.
The narrative is separated by sections devoted to recent behind-the-scenes “Coach Notes” taken from the 2013-14 season, Syracuse’s first in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A separate chapter addresses the scandal involving his assistant coach, Bernie Fine, who lost his job during the 2011-12 season.
Boeheim’s memoir gets personal, revealing how marriage and his family impact his career. He describes his own experience with cancer and discusses the death of Big East visionary Dave Gavitt in 2011. While Boeheim admits he thought about “hanging it up” then, today he has no desire to “sit in a TV studio,” and instead relishes the coaching routine and looks ahead to the next season.
To read more of Jim Boeheim’s story, visit your local bookstore or visit one of the following websites:
by Jim Boeheim, with Jack McCallum