A longtime friend reflects on working for, and then with, Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim

ESPN'S Keri Potts with coach Jim Boeheim. (Photo courtesy of Keri Potts

ESPN’s Keri Potts with Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim in 2003, the night the Orange won the NCAA Championship. (Photo courtesy of Keri Potts)

Editor’s note: Jim Boeheim’s Car Wash visit to ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters on Monday provided a chance for a timely reunion with ESPN Communications publicist Keri Potts. She relates what it was like to work for Boeheim while she was at Syracuse, and quizzes him on his thoughts about this season.

I recall the day clearly.

I had returned from lunch at my summer staff assistant job for my school’s basketball office. Two weeks in, I had yet to meet or speak to my boss, the head coach.

My nerves were high, for I had seen him on the court during our team’s run to the Final Four, flapping his arms wildly up and down the sideline, making scrunched up faces with eyes shooting daggers at the officials; he never seemed to like any of their calls.

I wasn’t exactly torn up about not meeting him, but the longer it went, the more my imagination took over and I was convinced I’d be the recipient of a flapping arm-dagger scenario.

But there it was, a white note on my desk chair, “Kerry, Please get stamps. J.”

My name! He knew my name! Sure the spelling was off, but suddenly, I had proof he was aware of my existence, and furthermore, he said “Please.”

I mean, he couldn’t be all that bad, right?

No sooner had I ceased marveling at this note than a call came in from the general manager of the Denver Nuggets looking to speak with Coach. With renewed spirit, I promptly transferred him, and by transferred, I mean hung-up on him so that Coach sat in his office waiting for a call that never came.

I made the long, painful, 10-foot walk to his office door to confess my mistake.

“I, um, hung up on the Denver Nuggets man. I am so sorry,” I sputtered, preparing for the fury.

And that is when Coach said the magic words, barely looking up from his newspaper, face scrunched: “Ehhhh, he’ll call back. No worries.”

And so began my fealty to Jim Boeheim, a man who drove the school-issued Chrysler LeBaron instead of something flashier, who preferred to cash his paycheck in person rather than accept that new-fangled direct deposit idea, and who helped calm me down after my bicycle was stolen from inside my summer apartment while I was asleep.

In the 16 years I have known him and his family, I’ve done my best to make it to his coaching milestones: his 600th win, his first National Championship, the Big East finals, and myriad other moments in a coaching career few will ever match.

So naturally, I caught up with him during his recent visit to Bristol, Conn., to promote the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, peppering him with questions while he tried to eat his tuna sandwich.

We have some new analysts in the ESPN rotation this year, as you know. Any thoughts on the new guys?
On Seth Greenberg: I have to be honest, he talks too much, but other than that, he will give good insight into the games. He’ll be somewhat analytical and critical, but not overly much; that’s what coaches look for.
On Bruce Pearl: He knows the game and understands the game. And he [and Seth] are close enough to it still that they see the things someone who has been out of it awhile won’t.

College GameDay Covered by State Farm will be at the Syracuse-Georgetown game on Saturday, March 9. What will that game be like for you given the history between the two schools?
I’ve avoided the emotion so far. I think the emotion will come out that day for me. Syracuse and Georgetown — for a 10-year period –was the best rivalry in college basketball. It was an unbelievable rivalry. A lot of nostalgia there.

You play the AP No. 1 team Louisville on Saturday (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET). Those always seem to be tough games for both sides. Why?
Rick’s [Pitino] one of the great coaches we’ve had in college basketball. He will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. They have the best backcourt in the country and the dominant big guys inside. They’re the favorite to win the National Championship. Duke and Louisville are the two best teams in college basketball right now.

So, how will you fare?
This will be a good test for us because our young guys haven’t been in this kind of game. We’re so young and playing so many freshmen that it’ll be rocky for a while. I didn’t know we’d get off to quite this good of a start. Last year at this point, we knew we’d be good. This team, we’re not sure yet.

You’ve had more than 900 victories in your coaching career. How many do you think have been on the ESPN networks?
There was a time when we had just one game on TV per year. Now, it’s more like 15-17 per year. So . . .you do the math. I do know for a while we were on TV more than any other team except for Duke.

Great. We’re all done. That was painless, right? Now, can I have some of those potato chips you’ve neglected?
(He scrunches face and pushes container toward me).

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  • Adam

    Awesome write-up