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Beilein reunites with Boeheim

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They aren’t bosom buddies by any means. But their paths cross at national coaches gatherings, where they chat for a few minutes at best.

Or as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, “We’ve never gone out to dinner, but I have tremendous respect and admiration for how he coaches.”

“He” is Michigan coach John Beilein, who will guide his Wolverines into a NCAA national semifinal Saturday against Boeheim’s Orange at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

But just because their backgrounds are different and their approach to the game and styles are not the same, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot in common.

In fact, Beilein and Boeheim coached in the same city for nine seasons. Beilein guided the Division II Le Moyne Dolphins from 1983-92, suffering just one losing season.

Boeheim took over for Roy Danforth at SU in 1976 and has been on the Orange bench ever since, becoming the second winningest coach in NCAA men’s Division I history.

“Isn’t it ironic that we coached five or six miles apart for so many years, and now we’re coming together on the biggest stage in college basketball,’’ Beilein said on a conference call. “Basketball has been great to both Jim and myself, and we’re so lucky to be able to do what we do.”

Beilein’s route to the big time has been a lot more circuitous than Boeheim’s, for sure.

He began his 35-year head coaching career at, of all places, Erie Community College in Buffalo. During those years, Beilein and his team often made the trek to Northern New York to place Jefferson CC in Region 3 play.

After a one-year stop at Nazareth College in Rochester, he arrived at Le Moyne and helped resurrect a program that had been moribund for years. There he had three 20-win seasons.

That’s where the Beilein-Boeheim connection began.

“This happened more than just a few times,” Beilein said. “We’d be playing a game, maybe a big game, Philadelphia Textile, different teams that were our rivals at Le Moyne. I would look up into the stands, never called me for a ticket ... but Jim would be in the stands watching a game on occasion.”

Boeheim said he was an instant admirer of how hard and together Beilein’s Le Moyne teams played.

“They did things the right way,” Boeheim said. “That’s why John has been successful wherever he has been.”

Beilein remembered, “We’d be up playing St. Lawrence or Potsdam or something, being in a whiteout, snowstorms and listening to the Syracuse-Georgetown game (on the radio). Here we’re trying to make it home alive.

“I thought about it often, what it would be like (to get to Division I), having confidence maybe I could get here but knowing it was going to be a long struggle to get to that point.’’

Boeheim often brought his teams to Beilein’s LeMoyne clinics, which were used to raise money for the program. “They would practice, we would practice. It would be a clinic that was helpful to our budget.” Beilein said.

In 1992, Beilein was a candidate for the Canisius job in his native Western New York. Boeheim made a call to the Canisius AD that “helped me get the job, no question,” Beilein said. “That was 20 years ago. So I owe him a lot.”

After five years at Canisius, Beilein left for Richmond. He had five straight winning seasons, including one NCAA berth, with the Spiders.

After SU beat Richmond in the 2002 NIT quarterfinals, Boeheim again used his influence to bring Beilein into the Big East Conference coaching fraternity.

West Virginia had called Boeheim to ask about Beilein. “I told them to hang up the phone and call John back and hire him without waiting another minute,” Boeheim said.

The Mountaineers went 104-60 in Beilein’s five years, making the postseason four times, including the NCAA Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2006.

In 2007, Michigan came calling and Beilein picked up and moved again. The Wolverines had two sub-.500 seasons in his first three years, but is 75-31 since.

“He’s won every place he’s been. That’s difficult to do, to be able to go to five or six different places and win,” said Boeheim, who came to SU as a walk-on and has spent the past 51 years there as a player, assistant and head coach. “He’s just a tremendous guy and a great basketball coach.”

Beilein said Boeheim proved most valuable as an example to fellow coaches.

“Whenever he would see (my wife) Kathleen or the kids (he was) very outgoing and just a good role model for seeing what a coach’s wife goes through, what you do with children.”

However, Beilein, with a career record of 642-395, is 0-9 all-time against Boeheim, including 0-1 at Michigan.

“I hope that will change Saturday,” he said.

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