By ADAM ZAGORIA
NEW YORK — Khalif Battle originally thought he might be playing for Mike Hopkins if he chose to follow his brother’s path to Syracuse.
Tyus Battle, Khalif’s big brother, is a sophomore guard who leads Syracuse in scoring at 19.7 points per game and is projected as a first-round NBA Draft pick in 2018.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim announced in March 2015 that he planned to retire after the 2017-18 season. At that point, Hopkins, who was listed on the Syracuse website as “head coach-designate,” was scheduled to slide into the head coach’s seat.
But it’s funny how things can change on the way to such grand plans. Hopkins took the head coaching job at the University of Washington in March, and soon after Syracuse announced that the then 72-year-old Boeheim had agreed on contract extension, the length of which was not specified.
Boeheim, now 73, has since said he plans to coach through his son Buddy Boeheim’s tenure at Syracuse, which would mean Boeheim would be coaching the Orange until at least the 2021-22 season, when Boeheim will turn 77. Buddy is a senior shooting guard at Brewster (N.H) Academy who has signed to play with Syracuse beginning in 2018-19.
“I’m not leaving my son there,” Boeheim, whose team meets UConn in the second game of the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden following the Villanova-Gonzaga game, told me in September.
That would make Boeheim the oldest coach in Division 1 history, as the Syracuse Post-Standard pointed out. John Chaney (Temple), Lute Olson (Iowa, Arizona) and Jim Phelan (Mount St. Mary’s) all coached until they were 74.
These developments, in turn, have helped stabilize Syracuse’s recruiting situation with younger recruits like Khalif Battle, ranked the No. 7 combo guard in the Class of 2019 by 247Sports.com. Battle is also being courted by Miami, Rutgers, UConn, Villanova, St. Joe’s, Butler and Washington, where of course Hopkins is now running the show.
“Obviously, they’ve done well recruiting with the ’18 class and you can see we got some pretty good players,” Gary Battle, Tyus and Khalif’s father, said of Syracuse. “I think they’ve targeted guys and I think it’s helped them. They have some stability there. Jim’s an exciting guy. He brings excitement. He knows what his kids have done. And it’s fun playing for him, Tyus likes playing for him.”
Boeheim and Khalif spoke several weeks ago and the coach made his pitch.
“Jim sat down and talked to him a couple weeks ago during a break and told him how he could fit in,” Gary said. “It was just nice. He sat down with him for 15-20 minutes and told him he could really use him. He’s different than the other guys they have coming in. He can really score the ball. He shoots it, drives it, really athletic.”
Khalif Battle says he’s keeping an open mind on recruiting but he’s been to the Syracuse campus several times and has developed a good relationship with the staff.
“Yeah they’re recruiting me heavy,” Khalif said. “I’m very comfortable with Syracuse. I’ve been there a lot just to hang out with him. It’s a lot of fun, the coaches are really cool. They don’t really treat me as Tyus’ brother but they treat me as a recruit so there’s always love up there.”
Meantime, other recruits see stability in the Boeheim extension, too.
Kahlil Whitney is a 6-foot-6 wing at Roselle Catholic, a school that has produced several players recruited by Syracuse over the years, including former forward Tyler Roberson. One of the top wing players nationally in the Class of 2018, he is being courted by a slew of schools, including Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn, St. John’s, Virginia Tech and his home-state school Illinois.
Whitney said after Hopkins took the Washington job, Syracuse actually stopped recruiting him for a while.“Yeah, after Coach Hopkins left they stopped talking to me for a little bit,” Whitney said. “And then Coach Autry saw me play with the Playaz in Vegas. Coach Autry extended an offer in Vegas.” Whitney was referring to former Syracuse guard Adrian Autry, now the associate head coach under Boeheim, watching him with his AAU team, the NJ Playaz, on the Nike EYBL summer circuit. Asked if Syracuse has since picked up their recruiting efforts, Whitney said, “Most definitely.” Autry has been key in continuing recruiting efforts since Hopkins departed. He and assistant Gerry McNamara remain on staff and Boeheim then added former Syracuse guard Allen Griffin to fill Hopkins’ spot. “I think it still stays the same,” Autry said in March of Syracuse’s recruiting plan. “Our leader hasn’t changed and you just stay after it. I think it’s really cleared up some things as far as on the recruiting front and now we can move forward. Everything is in place and now we just keep moving forward like we’ve been doing.” Boeheim and Autry moved forward this summer on landing another New Jersey guard, point guard Jalen Carey of Montclair Immaculate Conception. Carey and his father, John, took an unofficial visit to Syracuse in July, and that’s when Boeheim told the Careys he planned to coach at least another five years. “That was a key factor because we went up on an unofficial first before we went up on an official,” said John Carey, who planned to be courtside at the Garden Tuesday night along with Jalen. “Boeheim pulled me and Jalen and his mother in the office and said he was going to be there for the next five years. He told me he’s going to coach until he can’t coach no more. He loves the game.” In early October, Carey then announced his commitment to Syracuse over UConn. With his pro potential, he may only stay at Syracuse for one or two years. It hasn’t been all recruiting wins for Syracuse. Nate Roberts, a 6-foot-10 forward at Brewster Academy, actually chose Washington over the Orange and others in October. Hopkins also had success after first getting the job when he landed forwards Hameir Wright and Nahziah Carter, both of whom are from upstate New York and knew Hopkins from his time at Syracuse. As for whether Khalif Battle will join the Syracuse program in 2019, Tyus’ younger brother said: “My brother paved the way for me for basketball. He’s the player I look up to the most so it’s not just a Syracuse thing. For any school I go to, I’m trying to hopefully be as good as he is.”
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