WASHINGTON -- Jim Boeheim speaks from experience when he says, "There is nothing like winning the national championship.'' Not in so many words, he said just as strongly that there's nothing like losing one, either.
The downside of March Madness, and the attention that it brings, is that the sting of a defeat can carry into the next generation. Proof of that hit home this week, when Syracuse was preparing for its Sweet 16 game Thursday night against Indiana, and starting guard Brandon Triche kept getting asked about an episode that happened four years before he was born.
His uncle Howard Triche was the unfortunate player who happened to be perhaps a split second late in getting his hand up to defend Indiana's Keith Smart in the 1987 NCAA championship game. Smart hit the shot, and Indiana beat Syracuse for the title. And "Triche'' became a buzzword for the painful defeat.
"I've seen him play, but I haven't seen the actual whole game,'' Brandon, a senior, said on Wednesday, before his team practiced for its first NCAA Tournament meeting with Indiana since 1987. "I think, watching it, it was a missed assignment. I haven't directly talked to him about it.''
That sums up better than anything else what is at stake in this tournament. Make one mistake -- and possibly that wasn't even a mistake -- and it lives forever. The elder Triche could have been the hero, having made the basket that put the Orange up 72-70 with 56 seconds left and a free throw with 38 seconds remaining that made it 73-70.
According to accounts of the game, he happened to be the one who noticed that Smart was open -- most of the Syracuse defense was concentrating on Indiana star Steve Alford -- and raced over. Howard Triche, reached this week by The Washington Post, said, "It's just one of those things. No one close really brings it up or talks about it. They know you felt bad about the game, about the circumstances. It's been a long time.''
Brandon said that by the time he came to campus and began his own successful career, people were kind.
"When his name came up, it was about him being in the community and being a great person,'' the senior guard said. "[They] never talked about Indiana and what happened.''
Still . . .
"Oh yeah, people still call me 'Howard,' '' he said.
His buddy and teammate James Southerland added, "I thought that was his dad at first. They kind of look alike.''