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The Boeheims are ready to take the floor together

Jim and Buddy Boeheim have always been close. But father and son will soon be coach and player. Courtesy of the Boeheim family

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Buddy Boeheim was more than just your ordinary die-hard fan growing up. Maybe it was his experience as a ball boy or his rare connection to the program, but there were tears of sadness after gut-wrenching losses and whoops of joy after Final Four appearances, not to mention escalating fights with his older brother when the latter didn't react with a similar distaste to on-court heartbreak. There were even times, after the defeats, when he openly wished the head coach was at Duke instead of Syracuse.

The dream was always to trade in the T-shirt, shorts and towel for a Syracuse uniform one day, but it was never more than a fantasy for both Boeheim and his father.

However, Buddy kept making strides, progressing from a one-dimensional high school reserve to a standout who averaged 26.3 points and 9.8 rebounds at Jamesville-DeWitt High School last season. The leaps in his game helped him earn All-CNY Player of the Year honors. Buddy took in every word from his dad, who always believed in him even though he never showed much confidence in himself.

Then came the casual conversation back in June, after an AAU practice.

"When you play for me," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim dropped nonchalantly to his youngest son.

His son could hardly believe his ears at hearing the word when spoken in place of the usual if. Afterward, Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry put the formal offer on the table.

While there has been no formal announcement yet from the Boeheim camp, this will happen. Although UMass offered Buddy a scholarship back in April and Gonzaga's Mark Few extended an offer after his Peach Jam performance, it's just a matter of when.

After spending his senior year at prep school powerhouse Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, Buddy Boeheim will play for his father in 2018-19. Jim Boeheim is going to end his career coaching his kid.

"We're going to try and win it all together and end his career with a national championship," Buddy said.

"I'm not going anywhere else. I just want to wait and get the AAU season over with before I make the decision. ... I think I probably have to tell him to make it official."

As for his father's reaction when his kid ends his recruitment?

"He'll just be like, 'All right, great,'" Buddy said. "He will be happy, but most likely emotionless."

Buddy wasn't the only one who never imagined this dream would become a reality, and not just because his dad will be 73 by the time Buddy enrolls in college. Jim wasn't sure his son would be able to play at this level -- both mentally and physically. But that changed.

"He struggled a little bit last year with the 16-year-old team," Boeheim said. "He wasn't as confident as he is now. He's gotten stronger and tougher.

"I didn't think he was good enough. But now, he's good enough."

Buddy Boeheim wasn't even sure he was a Division I player a year ago, but now he will become part of another father-son duo in college hoops. No, they aren't expecting a Press and Pete Maravich revival, nor are they anticipating a Greg and Doug McDermott tandem. But Jim Boeheim is confident that Buddy is ready to be a contributor in the ACC. Otherwise, the coach wouldn't have offered a scholarship. Buddy is a deadeye shooter with size, and the Orange need someone who fits that description in this recruiting class.

At 6-foot-5, Buddy is coming off a strong outing at Peach Jam (the elite summer event for prep basketball players) in which he averaged 12.7 points and shot 52 percent from beyond the arc. He's also still growing, according to his dad. North Carolina coach Roy Williams even came up to Boeheim after one game in Augusta, Georgia, and told Boeheim, "You need to take your son. He's good enough."

"He shoots the hell out of it," said one Division I head coach. "And he has terrific feel and work ethic."

The elder Boeheim said he has never seen anyone in his 48 years of coaching who has worked harder than his youngest son over the past few years. Buddy spends an average of five hours a day in the gym. Jim Boeheim is also prepared to treat his son -- whom he calls his best friend -- just like everyone else.

Despite being more than five decades apart, they are extremely close. They fish together, watch the Food Network together and play golf together.

"We do everything together," Buddy said. "I probably have the best relationship with him as a person than anyone."

Many of basketball's recent father-son duos have been successful. Ron Hunter helped turn R.J. into a first-round pick at Georgia State. Bryce Alford was extremely productive for his father, Steve, at UCLA. Ray McCallum Jr. reached the NBA after playing for his dad, Ray Sr., in Detroit. But there is a risk. Just ask Craig and Cullen Neal. Craig was let go this past offseason at New Mexico, and Cullen is now on his third college team. None have set the standard like the McDermotts.

"It's a little bit of a slippery slope," Greg McDermott said, "but I think it's much harder on the kid than the coach."

"My only concern is I don't want him to put pressure on himself," Jim Boeheim said. "He doesn't have to play well for me; he has to play well for himself."

And it may be more difficult for the mother/wife than anyone. Juli Boeheim wants her son to remain home and play for the Orange, but she also wanted Buddy to experience the recruiting process. Buddy has attracted only a slow stream of interest because most coaches now assume he will sign with Syracuse.

"They all ask if we're going to take him now," Jim said. "I say, 'Yeah,' so they don't even bother coming in.'"

Father and son both understand that it will take time to adjust to the dynamic. Buddy will learn to refer to his father as "coach" on the court, and it's just a matter of time before the kid becomes the subject of one of Jim's postgame rants.

"If you think he's sticking up for [former Syracuse forward] Tyler Lydon, just wait until you see this," said one high-major Division I coach, referring to Boeheim's public defense of the criticism Lydon faced from former Indiana coach Tom Crean at the 2017 NBA draft. "Jim will give everyone the double-bird if they go after his kid."

Boeheim knows it's coming.

"They will," Boeheim said about the media questioning his son's playing time. "They challenged me on [former Syracuse guard] Trevor Cooney. I'll just make a joke: 'You are right, he shouldn't play. But his mother told me he needs to play.'"