Fueled by doubters, Buddy Boeheim working hard to make his mark with Pistons

Detroit News

Buddy Boeheim was surrounded by his closest friends and family inside a private room at the 40/40 Club in New York City on the night of the NBA draft in June.

It was an emotional night for the former Syracuse star, but he knew it was unlikely that he’d hear his name called. Boeheim was confident that he’d land with a team before the night was over, though.

The final pick of the draft was announced shortly after midnight, and a few moments later, Boeheim’s NBA future was solidified. The 6-foot-6 guard agreed to a two-way contract with the Pistons, a franchise with several connections to his hometown and alma mater.

The two-way deal will enable Boeheim to play with the Pistons and their G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise.

Boeheim had reached the pinnacle of his basketball career, and a longtime friend walked over to him to offer some perspective.

“Dude, four years ago, no one thought this would have happened,” the friend said.

It’s been a winding road for Boeheim, the youngest son of Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. Buddy has played the role of underdog for the majority of his life, so to some, making an NBA roster in itself is an overachievement.

Despite earning several accolades during his four-year career at Syracuse, Boeheim has always had his doubters, which has fueled him to improve his skills, and it’s something he’ll continue to work through now that he’s on a mission to prove himself worthy in the NBA.

“I think (proving people wrong) has always been one of my bigger motivations,” Boeheim told The Detroit News recently. “I’ve always been doubted and just been ‘the coach’s son’ and ‘Jim Boeheim’s son’ and you know, ‘I’m on the team because of (his father)’ or whatever it is.

“I’ve always been motivated by that, but also, I love to work hard. I’ve always been the hardest worker — I think wherever I am — and just love to see progress.”

Throughout high school and college, Boeheim had to prove that he could play basketball at a high level. He didn’t have the athleticism or quickness like some of his peers, but he was a deadeye shooter. He also possessed important intangibles such as leadership and unselfishness with his teammates.

Boeheim spent his varsity basketball career at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, averaging 26.3 points and 9.8 rebounds as a junior, before moving to prep school at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior year. He also played AAU ball with Pistons forward Isaiah Stewart on the Albany City Rocks.

Boeheim says Stewart sent him a message on Instagram that read: “Can’t wait to get you out here, family.”

The NBA wasn’t on Boeheim’s radar during his teenage years. He didn’t have the five-star rating or elite-level scholarship offers like some of the other prospects in his senior class.

All Boeheim wanted was to prove to himself — and others — that he was worthy of playing at Syracuse. He spent four years climbing from the depths of the bench as a freshman to earning an All-ACC first-team selection as a senior.

“He had a couple of bad games early, like any freshman does, and they’re saying, ‘Oh, he can’t play. He can’t do this. He doesn’t deserve to be here. Nepotism,'” said his older brother, Jimmy, who also played on the Pistons’ Summer League team. “I just sat there and kind of just laughed at them, because I knew what was coming.”

‘Buddy Buckets’

Boeheim heard chatter from his detractors throughout his college career, until he was dubbed “Buddy Buckets” as a junior for his stellar scoring run during the 2021 NCAA Tournament. It was his crowning moment, as he received national recognition from the media and fans alike.

As a senior, Boeheim led the ACC in scoring (19.2 points) and added 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists, drawing the attention of both Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and assistant GM Rob Murphy, who is also the team president of the Cruise.

Both Weaver and Murphy have longstanding Syracuse ties, having serving as assistants on Jim Boeheim’s coaching staff in the early 2000s. When he was younger, Buddy was often told about Weaver and his remarkable feat of luring Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse, which led to the school’s first NCAA championship, in 2003.

After Weaver left Syracuse in 2004 for the NBA, Murphy joined the Syracuse coaching staff and formed a close bond with the Boeheim family. Boeheim calls it a “full-circle” moment to join an NBA franchise alongside Weaver and Murphy.

Murphy led the charge in scouting Boeheim. He attended four Syracuse games and watched approximately 20 televised games. Before Boeheim’s Senior Day against Miami last season, Boeheim recalls Murphy at one of the Orange’s practices.

“It was cool having him there and I didn’t think much about it,” Boeheim said. “I didn’t realize he’s also coming to watch and scout (me).”

Syracuse suffered a heartbreaking three-point loss to the Hurricanes in its home finale, but Boeheim dropped a season-high 30 points, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range, while making all nine of his free throws.

The Pistons’ front office liked what they saw from Boeheim during his pre-draft workout (one of his four workouts, along with Cleveland, Charlotte and the L.A. Clippers). Boeheim says Weaver and Murphy told him that he needs to knock down shots and bring physicality on the defensive end in order to earn time with the Pistons.

“That’s the biggest thing, ya know?” Boeheim said. “If I make shots, I’m gonna be able to stay on the floor, but it’s up to defense, and you have to be able to get stops because you can’t just trade buckets at the end of the day.”

Boeheim averaged 7 points and 2 rebounds in five Summer League games in Las Vegas. The highlight of his time there was an 18-point performance on 6-of-8 shooting from the field against the Indiana Pacers.

Defense wasn’t always Boeheim’s calling card at Syracuse, but it’s a challenge he’s willing to embrace. Like most competitors, he likes to prove his naysayers wrong, but he gets more satisfaction from proving his supporters right.

“I have a good amount of people that have always believed in me,” Boeheim said, “and those people mean the world to me, so I just want to prove them right and that means a lot more than all the people that doubted me. So, I just always try to do whatever I can to make them proud.”

A family affair

Boeheim’s main support system and close-knit family includes his older brother Jimmy, who also played for the Pistons’ Summer League team. There’s also their mother and sister, along with their father, who’s one of the longest-tenured basketball coaches in the country.

Jim Boeheim recently told The News that Buddy’s rise from a lowly-touted high school prospect to the NBA ranks is a good example of hard work paying off.

“(Buddy) just put his head down and he went to work,” Jim Boeheim said. “It’s a good lesson for everybody: You just keep going. You work your tail off and maybe someday, something good will happen.”

During his college years, Buddy Boeheim wore the No. 35, his father’s uniform number at Syracuse in the 1960s, an homage to one of his biggest supporters. Buddy wore No. 45 in Las Vegas, because Pistons big man Marvin Bagley III has No. 35. The new number didn’t have any significance, so Boeheim said he plans to switch it up to No. 21 (his AAU uniform number) if it’s available next season. It’s another way of embracing this new chapter of his life away from Syracuse and his famous last name.

Jim Boeheim also agreed with Buddy’s desire to shed the “Coach’s son” label and said it led to him having a chip on his shoulder.

“Yeah, well that’s a chip,” Jim Boeheim said. “Klay Thompson, he was doubted and that chip was on his shoulder, and Steph Curry, same thing. I was with (Curry) and he had that chip on his shoulder. Nobody recruited him. That’s what drives you. You want to prove everybody wrong.”

After Buddy Boeheim got the call that would ultimately change his life, he walked back into the private room wearing a white Pistons hat, with his family and friends to celebrate. He posed for photos with his brother, friends and family, smiling from cheek to cheek because he’s already exceeded his own expectations.

“I never thought I’d be here so I’m just taking it day by day and being thankful for where I’m at,” Boeheim said. “I’m never being too hard on myself because I’ve come so far and it’s just about trying to be the best I can for the team and whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do.”

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