SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Jim Boeheim shook his head in mock dismay.
"Nobody knew about it. I shouldn't have told anybody," Boeheim said, ready for the start of his 37th season at Syracuse.
Everybody around here realizes it now. It's been 50 years since Boeheim enrolled as a freshman, and T-shirts have been printed to mark the occasion.
The 2012-13 season will be like no other in Boeheim's long tenure. It is Syracuse's final year in the Big East before the school moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Jim Calhoun has retired at archrival Connecticut, and when the Orange start practicing in earnest after Midnight Madness on Friday night it will mark the first time Boeheim will be without former assistant Bernie Fine in the preseason.
Fine, who started with Boeheim in 1976, was fired last November after sex-abuse allegations lodged by two former ballboys became public. Fine denied the accusations and has yet to be charged. A federal investigation is still under way.
Boeheim, soon to be 68 and just 10 victories shy of 900, says everything seems pretty much the same as it's always been.
"It does not feel different," he said. "Next year I'm sure will feel different because you're in a whole different league. There will be an adjustment period. But this feels like a normal Big East season.
"I think that change is part of what coaches go through," he said. "You lose players, you lose coaches all the time. You replace them. We're fortunate that we've got guys that love Syracuse and are really good. When you're good at this, it doesn't matter how old you are."
The Orange won a school-record 34 games and lost only three last season. The year came to an end in a 77-70 loss to Ohio State in the final of the East Regional and deprived Syracuse of its fifth Final Four berth.
Syracuse lost a lot from that team — top scorer Kris Joseph, spiritual leader Scoop Jardine, Big East sixth man Dion Waiters, and big man Fab Melo. Waiters and Melo were first-round picks in the NBA draft.
"I don't know when we've lost our top four players," Boeheim said. "I don't know if I can remember that far back. It's probably the most we've ever lost, and yet we played a lot of guys, so we have guys back with big-game experience. We've got a pretty fair amount of experience back considering."
Syracuse was 29-1 last year with Melo in the lineup. The 7-foot Brazilian led the Big East in blocks and was named defensive player of the year in the conference, but his absence in the postseason — he was declared ineligible for the NCAA tournament — likely will end up helping this year's team.
Syracuse has a stable of imposing big men. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita performed well in place of Melo in the postseason, and local star DaJuan Coleman, at 6-9 and 288 pounds, is ready to make his mark as a freshman.
"I'll use my size to just push people around," said Coleman, a product of Jamesville-DeWitt High School. "I think I'm pretty prepared."
His coach concurs.
"He's played four years at a high-level program with a very good coach," Boeheim said. "He got double-teamed all the time, so he's been in a lot of big games with a lot of defensive pressure on him. He has more big-game experience than probably almost any high school kid has."
Michael Carter-Williams, who displayed dazzling ability in 26 games as a freshman, will take over as starting point guard alongside senior Brandon Triche.
"He learned a lot last year," Boeheim said of Carter-Williams. "I think he'll be more than ready."
The leadership of Jardine and Joseph will be sorely missed, but Triche, a three-year starter at guard, is ready to assume that role.
"This team is very good," Triche said. "I feel very confident we can make another deep run in the tournament. We lost four key players, but we've got new, improved players ready to step up. I'm excited."
Forward James Southerland, who had standout performances in the first two games of the NCAA tournament, also is a senior and will be counted on to lead. C.J. Fair, a strong rebounder and efficient scorer who struggled toward the end of last season, is a junior, and shooting guard Trevor Cooney is ready to contribute after redshirting and working diligently through a season of practice.
The Orange's freshman class also includes Jerami Grant, a 6-8 forward from DeMatha Catholic High in Maryland.
"I feel like we have a good team. I think we've got all the pieces," Keita said. "We've got the talent. We're going to be fine."
Syracuse thrived during the turmoil of last season. The Orange were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 for the final three months, went undefeated at home (19-0) in the Carrier Dome for only the second time since the building opened in 1980, and won the Big East regular-season title with 17 victories, which matched the conference record.
Toss in three victories over Connecticut, the defending national champion, and two over Louisville, which made the Final Four, and Boeheim had a season to remember.
The question remains how many more might lie ahead. The head man says he has no idea.
"I've been saying the exact same thing for 10 years," Boeheim said. "It's getting close, and I'm definitely going to leave sooner than later, but I have no idea when that's going to be. I just hope at some point in time you know when your time is up, when you're ready. And that hasn't happened, obviously."