SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — The part of every college basketball season that players and coaches covet looms in less than a month. For Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t even register as he tries to cope with a fatal accident that occurred with him at the wheel.
Boeheim struck and killed 51-year-old Jorge Jimenez on a dark highway after a big home win over Louisville last Wednesday night. Boeheim swerved in his SUV to avoid a disabled car that was perpendicular across two lanes and hit Jimenez as he was trying to get to safety.
Police called it a tragic accident, saying no criminal charges are expected, and commended the 74-year-old Boeheim for his reaction, calling 911 and using his cellphone light to warn oncoming cars of the collision.
That’s little solace for the longtime head coach.
“This is something that will be with me for the rest of my life,” Boeheim said in the emotional aftermath of Saturday night’s 75-65 loss to top-ranked Duke . “Tuesday it’s not going to be better. It’s not going to be better next week. It’s not going to be better next month. It’s not going to be better next year. This is something that’s there forever for me.”
The game was Boeheim’s first public appearance since the accident, and he was greeted with a loud cheer from the record crowd of 35,642 at the Carrier Dome. Afterward, Boeheim, who said he coached the game because he felt an obligation to his players, appeared emotionally spent .
“I can’t describe the feelings I’ve had since Wednesday night,” said Boeheim, in his 43rd year as head coach at his alma mater. “I don’t think I can make anyone understand who hasn’t been there. I don’t.
“I’ve always felt in life, you get a lot of things you have to overcome. There’s nothing like this when a human life is lost and you are there. I can’t describe it to you.”
There was a moment of silence before the game for Jimenez and his family — that came after an introduction in English and Spanish.
Boeheim said he’s been in touch with the Jimenez family.
“I intend to try and do that as I can in the future,” he said. “This is isn’t about me, it doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s about how they feel and what’s happened to them. There’s just nothing I can say about it.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a close friend of Boeheim, fought his emotions, too, when the two exchanged a warm hug before the game.
“That was such an incredible environment. Everything was beautiful,” Krzyzewski said. “The support the fans gave the team and the support they gave Jim was great and such an emotional time. Jim has created a family. Going through this situation the whole family feels it and I could feel it.”
Syracuse (18-8) plays three of its last four regular-season games on the road beginning Tuesday night at No. 8 North Carolina.
“This could happen to anybody. It was one of those human things,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m sorry they happen, but they happen. The only way to get past it is to do the human things — the love, the support, the understanding. We’ll help him.
“I told his staff, ‘Help my friend.’ And I told his team, ‘Help my friend.’ And I know the community will help him. That was beautiful what you all did. Wow! I get chills thinking about it. It shows how much he and his family is loved here, and rightfully so.
“He’ll be good. He’s tough. He’s tough as can be.”