Last Saturday’s Rematch Between Duke and Syracuse

The largest on-campus college basketball crowd ever, 35,642 fans, witnessed last Saturday’s much-anticipated rematch between Duke and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

Earlier in the season, Syracuse stunned the top-ranked Blue Devils in Durham in a thrilling overtime victory.

The fact that Duke played without brilliant shooter Cameron Reddish, then lost point guard Tre Jones with an injury five and a half minutes into the game does not translate into an excuse for the  Devils since injuries and absences go with the territory in all sports, and teams must play through them.

It was a huge triumph for the Orange and set up the return battle last week.

By now, it is old news that Duke defeated Syracuse 75-65 at the Dome, after the Orange staked out a five point halftime lead.

In reality, the feverishly-contested game is only a footnote.

The real story concerns the bizarre events surrounding both schools which placed the contest on a totally different perspective.

First, let’s deal with the Zion Williamson saga.

In Duke’s previous game, a loss to perennial uber rival North Carolina, Williamson suffered a sprained right knee during the Blue Devils’ opening possession when his Nike shoe fell apart while Williamson planted hard while dribbling near the free throw line. His rubber sole ripped loose  from the heel to the toes and his foot came through the wide gap.
He grabbed his knee in pain and and out he came.

Williamson is a freshman. He’s also the best college basketball player in the nation. This was going to be his only season at Duke. He was headed to the NBA as an unquestionable number-one draft pick. He’s recovering from his knee injury but will go number one because he is likely the next LeBron James.

Zion Williamson


Zion Williamson didn’t face Syracuse, of course, and Duke won on the road despite his absence. But the injury question didn’t end there.

Now there is the widespread feeling that Williamson would be wise to forget about the remainder of the college season and not risk further injury with so much at stake with his NBA career on the horizon.

This follows on the heels of college football players who bypassed Bowl games to avoid risking injury with an eye toward the NFL.

Williamson’s teammates talk of his returning when healthy to hopefully lead Duke to a national championship.

There is no question his coach Mike Krzyzewski quietly is hoping his star will continue. As of this writing, it seems the only one who hasn’t expressed his thoughts, is Zion Williamson.

Following the scare of the knee sprain, the spectre of possibly losing out on the riches of the pro game, may influence the youngster. No one can know what is in his head, and can sit in judgment from afar.

The same can be said of Jim Boeheim, who decided he would coach his Syracuse team in that huge confrontation against Duke at the Carrier Dome.

On the same night Zion Williamson’s shoe came apart resulting in a knee injury, Boeheim was involved in a fatal car accident following a big win against Louisville.

Driving home from dinner at a Syracuse restaurant after the game, Boeheim, on a night of freezing rain, hit and killed a 51-year old man, Jorge Jimenez.

Jimenez had left his car which had hit a guard rail after swerving and blocked more than one lane on Interstate 690.

The 74-year old coach, according to police, did everything he could possibly do, contact the police, look after the victim and those who were with him, and help with the oncoming traffic.

The tragedy was ruled an accident. For the record, Boeheim passed all tests regarding his sobriety. That wasn’t an issue.

The legendary coach expressed his heartbreak over the horrible accident. He addressed his team the next day but didn’t attend practice.

Jim Boeheim, Jorge Jimenez, Juli Boeheim


ESPN, which had planned to broadcast their college basketball studio show Game Day, from the Carrier Dome instead switched it to their Bristol, CT headquarters.

The network felt that hosting a celebration of their lineup of Saturday night’s attractions, in Syracuse, was counter-productive due to the somber events three nights earlier.

The game would go on, of course, and the only issue remaining was whether Jim Boeheim would be on the sidelines.

It was decided he would.

Backed by his Athletic Director, John Wildhack, the legendary Hall-of-Fame head coach believed he had a responsibility to the young men he helped recruit. He said it did not diminish the grief he felt for the victim and his family.

At Saturday’s game three poignant happenings:

A moment of silence in remembrance of Jimenez, the two great friends Boeheim and Krzyzewski, hugging at mid-court, and Jim’s wife Juli, in tears, hugged herself by one of her children. The mammoth crowd saluted the Syracuse coach in a sign of sympathy.

Boeheim and Coach K


Coach K himself expressed his thought that his friend made the right decision to coach, saying, “what else is he supposed to do? That’s what he does.”

After the game, Boeheim talked about how devastated he was, that the tragedy would stay with him forever.

I don’t think there is any question about that.

How can it be anything else?

My thoughts have been going round-about for days.

I feel for Jim. And I know there is no way I can know what is inside his head and his heart.

You cannot make a judgment for someone else.

Only they know what they’re going through.

Part of me wonders whether the prudent choice might have been to sit this one out.

I know it’s Duke, and I know there are 35-thousand on hand.

It’s one game. And it’s not about simply going back to an office.

It’s entering an atmosphere of noise at a sporting event.

It’s three days after you accidentally took a human life.

Maybe it’s a case of knowing there is nothing else you can do.

Maybe it’s realizing you have to return to living your life, even though one has ended.

Maybe you hope no one ever has to go through what you’ve gone through.

It’s a brutally tough decision.

No maybe’s there.





Do you have a corporate meeting or motivational group event coming up?

Book Dick Stockton for your next speaking engagement.