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Boeheim ready to lead SU at NCAA tourney in Buffalo


BUFFALO — This NCAA Tournament thing is old hat for Jim Boeheim.

Heck, he’s coached in more NCAA Tournaments — this will be his 31st, more than all but five coaches. And he’s won more NCAA games (52) than everybody except Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Roy Williams.

The iconic 68-year-old Syracuse head coach still feels that little bit of extra excitement when March Madness rolls around each spring. And even nearing the end of an illustrious career, Boeheim cherishes every moment during this three-week long Road to the Final Four.

“If I didn’t get a little excited, I wouldn’t still be doing this,’’ said Boeheim, whose Orange is seeded third in the South Region and will meet No. 14 Western Michigan at 2:45 p.m. today at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The game can be seen on WWNY-TV.

“This is what we all work so hard for since October. Why you play 31 games just to get into this tournament. It’s the ultimate chance to compete for a national title and to take your kids as far as they possibly can go. When I’m finally done, this time of the year is what I’ll miss the most. And I’ll never take it for granted.’’

Syracuse senior C.J. Fair, who will be competing in his fourth and final NCAA Tournament, said the opportunity presented to players from 68 teams this time of year is unique in sports.

“Every year I go into the tournament, I don’t want to lose, and every game hurts when you do lose,’’ Fair said. “It’s the same feeling this go-around knowing your season could be over with one loss and you just try and do your best to help your team not lose.”

Fair has tried to tell his younger teammates what the NCAA experience is like. The fun of playing in great venues. Meeting some of the best teams in the country along the road.

But he’s also informed them of the pressure that comes with being a higher seed. And what it takes to perform at a high level when the expectations are high.

Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis said he can’t wait to step on the court for his first NCAA Tournament game.

“Every kid that picks up a basketball when he’s young dreams of this day,’’ Ennis said. “I’ve watched the tournament a lot on TV and heard lots of stories about it. But to walk into that arena tomorrow and to really be a part of it, I’m sure it will be a memory for a lifetime.’’

SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins, who played for Boeheim in three NCAA Tournaments (1989-92) and has been alongside his mentor as an assistant coach in 14 NCAA tournaments since 1995, said being a part of the experience “is life-changing. The millions of people watching on TV, now online and in the arenas. The publicity it generates for three weeks. Just the focus of fans making out their brackets. It’s an amazing feeling to be on that stage. We’ve told our kids to relish it, to soak it all in.

“At Syracuse, we’ve been lucky to have been a part of it almost every season for over 30 years,’’ Hopkins added. “Win or lose, we will look back on these times as so special. And so fulfilling.’’

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