Big East Farewell Brings Out Emotions
It was over 33 years ago to the day, on February 29th, 1980, when Jim Boeheim stepped onto the Providence Civic Center floor to coach his first Big East Tournament game. His Syracuse Orange were coming off a heartbreaking 52-50 loss to Georgetown in their last game at Manley Field House, but that didn’t stop his team from toppling Connecticut 92-61 to reach the finals. While Syracuse fell short of the Hoyas again in the championship, they went on to receive a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and advance to the Round of Eight.
A much elder Boeheim faced the media Wednesday after a 75-63 win over Seton Hall in the second round of the 2013 Big East Tournament. When asked about the feeling he had coming into the game, he seemingly poured out his heart, putting the Big East’s rise and fall in perspective. “Things have kind of been two years coming, but now that it’s here, your whole life has been spent in this league, and the 31 years coming to this building, that’s a lot. That’s a lot of memories, a lot of time,” he said.
‘Cuse will leave the folding Big East next year and join the ACC.
The veteran coach reflected on Dave Gravitt, the first commissioner of the Big East, and his strong desire to bring Syracuse into the picture, saying “He dragged us into the league. We didn’t want to go….we’re winning. What do we want to do this for? What do we want to come to New York for?”
It was then he became emotional, calling Gravitt “a great friend” and “a great man.” It goes without saying the move to the Big East was one that changed the landscape of College Basketball on the East Coast.
“[Boeheim] stepped in our locker room before the game, and he’ll never admit it, but he’s a little sentimental…he went and hugged John Thompson after the game. He doesn’t hug. He’s not a hugger,” said Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, who was also coming off a second-round win. He was a first-hand witness to just how much this year's tournament means to the storied coach.
Wright’s Wildcats took down Rutgers 66-53 and will take on Louisville in the next round.
After three unimpressive seasons under Jay Wright , the club finished 22-7 to give them a five-seed in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. The two-time Big East Coach of the Year has certainly become the face of Villanova Athletics and coached some memorable post-season runs.
He, too, will miss the ‘old’ conference, as the Wildcats join six other Catholic schools in starting a new Big East. When asked about his emotions going forward, he replied “I would lie to you if I said I wasn’t very sentimental about this.”
The two leaders will travel down different paths come next winter, and will eventually cross paths again. For now, though, they both seek the ultimate in the final year of the traditional Big East, a victory in the championship game. Only two games separate the two from squaring off Saturday night.