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Jim Boeheim defends his Jalen Johnson take. ‘I know more than’ Jay Bilas knows

While Jay Bilas and Jim Boeheim have known each other for decades, it’s not stopping them from sniping at one another over Duke and Jalen Johnson.

After Duke beat Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange 85-71 on Monday night for the Blue Devils’ fourth consecutive win, Boeheim reiterated the point he made last week that Duke is better since Johnson left to team to focus on NBA Draft preparation.

They are way better than they were,” Boeheim said during his post-game news conference on Zoom. “Jay Bilas knows something about basketball? I know more than he knows. I said they are better. They are better. Period. I’m not bringing anybody else into the equation. It has nothing to do with any other player, here or not. I saw they were better against N.C State and Wake, Virginia and tonight. They played really good tonight.”

The back-and-forth between Bilas, the former Duke player and assistant coach who is now an ESPN basketball analyst, started last week when Boeheim, on his Syracuse basketball coaches show in New York, said Johnson had been holding the Blue Devils back.

“That guy was hurting them so they actually are much better now without him,” Boeheim said on Thursday night. “He was just doing some things and keeping other people from playing that are good.”

Bilas, in appearances on ESPN Saturday both before and during his coverage of Duke’s 66-65 win over Virginia, disagreed.

“The idea that somehow they’re better without Jalen Johnson is patently false,” Bilas said.

Bilas said the same thing while covering the Duke-Syracuse game Monday night, pointing out everyone thought Duke was playing better in late January when the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech and Clemson. Johnson played in both of those games, scoring 18 points against Georgia Tech and 9 points with 8 rebounds and 5 assists against Clemson.

But after playing just 8 minutes when Duke beat N.C. State 69-53 on Feb. 13, Johnson met with Krzyzewski and decided to end his college career to prepare for the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-9 Johnson, who missed three games with a foot injury earlier this season, is projected as a lottery pick.

Including Monday’s win over Syracuse, Duke has won three games in a row since Johnson left the team.

The Johnson-Boeheim-Bilas spat was discussed at length during Monday’s ESPN telecast. Bilas said he and Boeheim discussed the issue this weekend.

Boeheim tried to recruit Bilas to play at Syracuse in the early 1980s before Bilas signed with Duke instead. Bilas said they’ve been close friends ever since and this isn’t the first time they’ve had to “agree to disagree.”

In talking about Boeheim’s opinion on Johnson, Bilas also took umbrage with the way Johnson and his family were portrayed in some media reports about his decision.

“Jalen Johnson does not have a ‘camp,’ ‘people in his ear,’ or a ‘posse.’ “ Bilas said both on his Twitter feed and on ESPN. “He has a family. He has a mother and father helping him, with his best interests in mind, making decisions. We can differ with the decision, but the undertones of the criticism of Johnson are concerning.”

Boeheim never made any of those comments, instead saying only that Duke is a better team without Johnson.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.



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