The two have crossed paths many times over the years on the coaching circuit. Considering that Ellis is in his 28th year as a Division I head coach and Boeheim is in his 27th, it is not surprising that they know each other.
A 1966 graduate of Syracuse, Boeheim has seen all of his head coaching duties at his alma mater. He has produced an impressive record of 649-225. Ellis, a 1968 graduate of Florida State who has coached at South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn on the Division I level, has a 520-322 career mark.
"We developed a relationship at the Goodwill Games trials," says Ellis. "I would guess that was about 1990. Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski was the coach and we were there to help select the team and take them through trials. He and I basically went out and played golf every day after practice. His wife, Julie, is from Alabama. She is more of an Alabama fan. Jim and Julie, and Carol (Ellis) and I have been friends for sometime. We take Nike trips every year."
Boeheim's Syracuse team is ranked 12th nationally with a 26-5 overall mark and a 13-3 Big East record. The Orangemen beat Manhattan 76-65 and Oklahoma State 68-56 to advance into the Sweet 16. The teams only have one common opponent this season. Auburn beat Big East opponent Rutgers 82-70 on Dec. 8th at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Syracuse split its series vs. Rutgers, losing 68-65 on the road on Jan. 29th and winning 83-74 at Syracuse on March 9th.
"He has a system," Ellis says of Boeheim's well-known two-three zone defense. "The one that we talked about is probably, as far as zones are concerned, the most productive of anybody. It has been a system he has had for a number of years. It has produced. Syracuse is the premier program in the East in basketball and he has been there. Players who go there realize that he has been there and had a success and that he will be there for them for four years. He gets good players."
One of those players is more than just good, Ellis says. Carmelo Anthony, a very strong and athletic 6-8, 220-pound freshman forward from Baltimore, is likely to be one of the first three players selected in the 2003 NBA draft if he decides to go pro after the season. Averaging 22.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, no defender or group of defenders has been able to keep him from scoring in double figures in any game this year.
Another freshman, 6-2 guard Gerry McNamara, is a dangerous shooter who averages 13.3 points per game and the lone senior starter is steady six-foot-six guard Kueth Duany, who is averaging 11.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Ellis says that the Orangemen can bring quality reserves off the bench like Jeremy McNeil, a 6-8, 242-pound center who helped the Orangemen overcome a 17-point deficit on Sunday to defeat Oklahoma State to advance into the Sweet 16 matchup vs. the Tigers. "He is strong and blocks shots," Ellis says. "I thought he was the key player in their comeback win against Oklahoma State. In the press he made things happen on the backside that enabled Syracuse to come back. They are a very talented team."
Tipoff for the game is at 8:40 p.m. CST from 15,500 seat Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y., with coverage on CBS. The Orangemen are expected to start a front line that features seven-foot, 265 craig Forth at center. He averages 3.9 points and 3.4 assists. Joining Anthony at forward is 6-8, 205 Hakim Warrick, who is averaging 15 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Off the bench, 6-4, 195 freshman guard Billy Edelin is averaging 9.3 points per outing while 6-6 sophomore forward Josh Pace from Griffin, Ga., is scoring 3.7 points per game and adding 2.6 rebounds. More inside help comes from Matt Gorman, a 6-9, 235 freshman who is averaging 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Syracuse came into the NCAA Tournament as a hot team despite losing in the Big East Tournament finals to UConn 80-67 on March 15th. Prior to that the Orangemen had won eight consecutive gamss since losing 75-61 at UConn.