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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Syracuse, Mississippi State Coaches Struggle for Respect


NEW YORK -- The buildup to the NCAA college basketball semifinal between Mississippi State and Syracuse could be straight out of the playbook of Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson.

Richardson, who led his Razorbacks to the 1994 national crown, has perpetually claimed that his teams do not get enough recognition or his program enough respect in the media. As a result, he has often been labelled a whiner by that same media.

Enter Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Mississippi State's Richard Williams.

"I'm a whiner -- that's my image," Syracuse coach Boeheim said before the postseason began. "I'm -- away from basketball -- a very easygoing guy and have lots of fun. It's just an image, I guess. I'm stuck with it."

And although he tried to be gracious following Mississippi State's 73-63 victory, Williams indeed couldn't help himself.

"I just want to interject something," he said, interrupting a post-game news conference for the players. "Some of you in the media have said and written that we're irritable, that we're whiny. Well, I'm looking at these hats that someone gave the players for winning the region and they say `Mississippi,' not `Mississippi State.' That's why I think we have reason to be irritable sometimes."

Anyone suggesting Williams would mellow just because the Bulldogs have achieved the first Final Four berth in school history can expect a scowl from Williams' perpetual lemon puss. The 50-year-old's quest for respect started long before this year's tournament. It is a struggle that has taken him from his graduation from Mississippi State almost 30 years ago to thankless jobs at junior high schools and junior colleges.

"He's worked so hard for so long. ... I don't think anybody can ever know what he's put into it," said Diann Williams, his wife.

"I understand that's a part of all of this, but if I never had to do it I'd be very happy," said Richard Williams. "I'm not a glib kind of guy; I'm just a basketball coach. I don't golf, I don't fish, I don't hunt."

"I think Coach doesn't like the media because they're always picking the other team to win," center Erick Dampier said before Sunday's game. "Respect is something that's earned and we think we've done that, but we still don't get any. ... We don't ask for a lot, we only want a little for what we've earned."

If the Syracuse Orangemen win two games in East Rutherford, New Jersey, this weekend and become college basketball's national champions, perhaps the 1996 NCAA men's tournament will be remembered as Boeheim's Revenge.

As much as Boeheim himself, Syracuse's players have taken up the cause of proving that Boeheim's 482 career victories and .753 winning percentage (fourth best among active coaches) are not misprints.

"Coach, he wins 20 games every year," junior guard Jason Cipolla said after Syracuse beat Kansas 60-57 on Sunday. "He took a team ranked 42nd [in the preseason]. We weren't even supposed to do anything; we weren't supposed to win 20 games. But he took a great bunch of kids and worked us hard every day, and look at where we are now."

This will be Boeheim's second Final Four in his 20 seasons at Syracuse. The other trip came in 1987, when the Orangemen lost the final game to Indiana on a last-second shot.

For Boeheim, the trip to the Final Four means reporters once again will listen to what he says. And it means reporters again will ask him about his dullness and his whining and his image.

"It's a media thing," Boeheim said. "It's always, `He's never smiling, he's always unhappy.' I'm very happy. I read things all the time, `He's the most unhappy person in the world.' This is a business out there. I'm not supposed to be happy. I'm not supposed to be smiling." ()