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Jim Boeheim previews Syracuse basketball in 2019-2020

SyracuseQ. Coach, just what you could say about Elijah. Obviously, this will be his second season on the floor, but third season with the team. Just what he’s done leadership-wise, and how he’s grown in the program to lead it for you now.
JIM BOEHEIM: I think the thing with Elijah, last year he really was about our fourth option offensively, he’s our second leading scorer, which tells you a lot about what his ability is to score. I think he’s improved over the summer. I think he’s worked really hard. The trip helped him and helped our whole team. His role is different this year. He’ll have the ball more. He’s taken a real active role in leadership with our younger guys.

I think we’re a little bit deceptive in that we have three juniors with Elijah and Marek and Bourama, who have played a lot, and I think their leadership is going to be very important for this team. I think we have a lot of good young guys who are probably a little bit underrated, a little bit under the radar, and I think they’re more ready to help this year than I think most people would think.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your defense. Coach, last year you were very high in the league in all the key defense statistical categories — blocked shots, turnovers forced, field goal defense. A couple of the guys that helped build those numbers have moved on. Can this defense be as good?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, I think offensively — I’ll get to your question, but I think offensively we have a chance to be a much better team, a much quicker up the court team. I think our defense is going to need improvement. I think the veteran guys were really good at our defense. I think Tyus and Frank were really, really good defensive guards. I think that Elijah did a great job in his first year defensively, and we had Paschal.

So I think we’re a little bit different defensively. I think our offense has a chance to be better than people might expect it to be because we’re a much better shooting team. We’ve been 13th, 14th in the league in three-point shooting for about as long as I can remember, and I think we’re a much, much better three-point shooting team.

Our defense is going to have to be something that gets better. We think we can get better defensively. We think we can do a few more things defensively, but, obviously, when you’re a pretty good, solid defensive team, you’re not really thinking as a coach about changing to other defenses. Certainly, we’ll look at what other things we can do on the defensive end.

Q. This is for Elijah and Marek. Just what you could say about that Italy team, how it built your bonds, and how it made you stronger going into this season.
ELIJAH HUGHES: It was really fun. Number one, it was a lot of fun, my first time out of the country overseas. So it really brought us together because, one, when we got out there, we only had each other. So we were all we got. It really brought us together. We went out and did things as a team, sightseeing-wise and going to get food and things like that. And we obviously played together. So it really brought us together. It was a lot of fun.

MAREK DOLEZAJ: I couldn’t play, but I think the trip really helped us, like as a team. We had five new guys. I tried to help the new guys, talked to them on the bench. But team-wise, I think it helped us a lot.

Q. Jim, just wanted your thought on the three-point line being out a little bit and if you foresee that impacting the zone at all a little bit defensively.
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, it doesn’t impact our zone because we play the shooter. We’ve always played where the shooters are, and most shooters are out behind the line. The really good shooters that you have to stop, they don’t think — they don’t even get — some of them don’t even get near the line. So you play where the shooters are, and that doesn’t change.

As far as shooting the ball from the three, the guys that can shoot it, it’s no different. The guys that can shoot out there, the difference in the distance doesn’t matter. It’s not important, not relevant. I don’t think it will change the number of three-point shooting at all.

Q. Coach, I was fascinated by the personalities last year of Battle and Howard. Such interesting guys, strong personalities. Who’s going to take that role in terms of working with the younger players on the team?
JIM BOEHEIM: Yeah, I think we have guys with very strong personalities. They’re quiet in some ways, but I think they have a strong impact on our team, and I think that with Tyus and Frank, they were quiet guys too. They said very little. So I don’t think there’s any change there, but I do think that these two guys are junior — even though they’re quiet, I think they talk to the players, the younger players, and there’s a clear differential between their experience and the younger players on the team. So I think there’s an acceptance from the younger players to listen to what these guys are talking about.

In the backcourt, where, obviously, the most youth is, Jalen and Buddy both played last year. They both had pretty important minutes on the court. So I think that will help them. I think the two freshmen, Joe Girard and Brycen Goodine, are very good players. It just depends how long it takes them to get used to the game. They were both good on the trip this summer. They were confident. They played with a lot of confidence for freshmen, but I think the leadership that we get from these two guys will be important for this team.

Q. Jim, what kind of impact is the 20-game schedule going to have? Specifically, how do you feel about a conference season opener against Virginia?
JIM BOEHEIM: You have to be ready right away, but you want your team to be ready right away anyway. Some years you open up in a tournament — we’ve done that in the past where you’re playing right away against good teams. It makes you focus and make sure you’re ready. We try to get ready anyway. The trip this summer certainly helped. We had that extra time.

But the 20 games every — that’s what it is. It’s more or less than proven over time that, when you talk to people that are experts in what you need to do to get in the NCAA Tournament, that the more conference games you play doesn’t really help your league get in more teams because you have more losses, but we’ll see how it all plays out. It’s certainly — it’s a challenging schedule, and we have to be ready right away. But you want to be ready right away every year anyway.

Q. This is for each of you, just what you can say — and, Coach, you touched on it a little bit — the new faces coming in and being underrated somewhat, just getting out there and getting experience in the scrimmages, what it’s done for the team, and for both of you guys, what that’s done as far as building up your teammates and the quality of the team.
MAREK DOLEZAJ: I think we have a really good young group, Joe, Brycen, really good guards. They know how to play. Joe, unlimited range. He can shoot the three. He’s a really good scorer. Brycen is really good, athletic. And Quincy, really strong guy. He’s really similar like Oshae. He’ll help us a lot. He’s strong. He can shoot. He can go to the basket. And our two centers, they’re great young guys, and they just need a little bit of time, and they will get used to it, to the zone, to the offense and the defense, but I think they will be really good for us.

ELIJAH HUGHES: Coming in anywhere as a freshman is kind of difficult, especially coming to our zone and stuff like that, but everyone, they’re all special, real special, talented group. They all each bring something different and unique to the table. I’m just really excited to get going with them and everyone else that we have and have a good season.

JIM BOEHEIM: I think, if you look at the ratings of guys we’ve had in the past, like Oshae Brissett was 120 or something. Some guys just don’t get rated because of where they play or where they’re from. This group is a much, much better class than their ratings would indicate. I think they’ll prove that on the court.

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