Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim attempted to clear the air about his comments on Duke freshman Jalen Johnson opting out of the final six regular-season games this week, saying Saturday in his postgame press conference that he felt his message on the subject was misconstrued and that he meant no ill-will towards Johnson or his pro prospects.
Boeheim on Thursday was pretty blunt about his opinion in which he volunteered Duke was “much better” without him and added that Johnson was “hurting [Duke].” But he defended those comments Saturday while walking them back in a failed attempt to straddle the fence in confounding double-speak. He started with a diatribe arguing that his comments had nothing to do with Duke or Johnson, then tried to make the case that in fact he’s not seen Johnson play despite having a pretty strong opinion about him only days earlier.
“This is no dispersion, casting dispersion on Jalen Johnson,” he said. “I haven’t even seen Jalen Johnson play this year to be honest. He’s a tremendous player, will probably be a great pro.”
It’s pretty difficult to not watch a player and also have a strong opinion on said player, which Boeheim does here. So when you haven’t seen a player this year but feel he’s a great player, it’s an odd strategy to try and weigh in. Nonetheless, Boeheim continued!
“I just made the observation, my opinion, that I thought they played better without him in those two games,” he said, referencing the second half of the North Carolina when Johnson played sparingly and the Wake Forest game on Wednesday, both of which he watched.
“Just in those two games, game and a half, they were a better team than I’ve seen this year,” he said. “Nothing against Jalen Johnson. Some people have said he shouldn’t have left school. I didn’t say that. Some people have said he’s not thinking about his team. I didn’t say that. I don’t even know Jalen Johnson, I haven’t seen him that much, I don’t even know how good he is.”
Boeheim and Syracuse face Duke and the Jalen Johnson-less Blue Devils on Monday, so this makes for an interesting lead-up to a game that has very little appeal in comparison to previous Syracuse-Duke matchups. But by Boeheim’s own analysis, it should be a good game with the way Duke looks right now.
“I think Duke is playing the best that they’ve played,” he said.