The Syracuse alum, which will sit on Georgetown's bench at Carrier Dome on Saturday, owes its life as a basketball player to the Orange coach who recruited him while nobody would want him. He owes his current job to the Hoyas coach who hired him when he was out of work. This is where Louis Orr finds himself while trying to help his employer beat his alma mater, without which he would have no career.
Georgetown in Syracuse Saturday, a college basketball treat in December with all the usual vitriol. But for Orr, it's a non-conference game that has a fan base pulling an arm in one direction, another fan base pulling an opposite branch and a series of jokes for those who know it best.
"He was voted to stay in the Orange nation," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "It was a close vote, but it is still in."
"He's definitely an Orangeman," said Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing. "But for the moment, it's a Hoya."
"It's my alma mater," said Orr. "But, come on Saturday, it's the competition."
Basketball, like many sports, is about relationships. Ewing and Orr have very little relationship with each other as coaches, because that comes from their time as teammates in the NBA, even though they attended rival schools. There are few programs that have a relationship between Georgetown and Syracuse, although it has changed since the days Orr and later Ewing played, with Orange now in the CAC and the Hoyas in a revamped Big East.
This rivalry, favored by Boeheim and his old enemy, John Thompson Jr., helped to make Big East what it once was, which was none other than the best basketball league in the country. There were sometimes tensions between the programs. But even when the situation was tense – never forget that Thompson was thundering: "Manley Field House is officially closed" – one was important to the other. Essential, really.
"I played on it, before it really became what it became," said Orr. And I was coach there. I know."
If Syracuse (6-2) hosts Georgetown (7-1), no one will know it as Orr. He was one of Boeheim's first recruits in the spring of 1976, before the coach, now in the Hall of Fame, began his inaugural season in his alma mater. And when Ewing got the job as a chef at his alma mater, Orr was one of the new coach's first calls.
These two developments came more than 40 years apart. It's amazing how Orr's answers were two versions of the same thing.
"He had no maintenance, everything suited us best," Boeheim said.
"The first thing to do with this job," said Orr, "was what's best for Patrick."
Disinterested then. Disinterested now. Orr, now 60, sits on Ewing's bench and helps his former friend beat his former coach. At the same time, he will appreciate all that he owes Boeheim to Syracuse.
"I could have fallen through the cracks," Orr said. Except that a friend of Boeheim's friend told him about this skinny six foot eight kid from Cincinnati.
"Who recruits him?" Boeheim asked.
"Nobody," the guy said.
Boeheim still flew. "If I got this call now," Boeheim said, "I probably would not do anything." At that time, he went to Xavier's gymnasium, where Orr was working with the Musketeers 'players, even though the Musketeers' coaching staff showed no interest.
"He weighed 160 pounds," Boeheim said this week by phone. "I'm like, I came here for that?"
The funny thing: once a scrum was started, Orr held his. Boeheim brought him to Syracuse and Orr and Roosevelt Bouie became Boeheim's first class.
"I've been spoiled with these guys," Boeheim said. They were, he said, exemplary in all respects, and they formed the basis of what Boeheim built.
Orr also spoiled Ewing later. In the fall of 1985, Ewing was one of the most prestigious rookies the NBA has ever seen. She was ranked first in Georgetown by the New York Knicks. He won a national championship with the Hoyas, made the Sports Illustrated cover at the university and was recruited. The expectations were huge. Ewing was not only to bring a banner to Madison Square Garden, but also to clear the streets of Manhattan and put an end to crime in the city.
Orr, at this point, was in his sixth year in the league. He knew life. He understood what Ewing was going through.
"He always had the spotlight on him," said Orr.
So, Orr helped him make the transition and they bonded. They played only three seasons together, but the connection was maintained. "I relied on him for different things," Ewing said.
Ewing has never won an NBA championship in New York, but it's a Hall of Famer without a doubt. The contract that Orr had negotiated with the Knicks in Ewing's rookie season was his last in the NBA, but he entered training soon after. He assisted Pete Gillen with Xavier and Providence, then went to the Boeheim bench in Syracuse, while Ewing played in the NBA.
"He's really good with kids," said Boeheim. "He is a very good teacher. He is really patient. He is so trustworthy that players will listen to him and respect him because of who he is. He is a great individual. There is nobody better than Louis Orr.
The head coach jobs then came to Siena: a season for the first season, then to Seton Hall, a position for which he was sacked, and finally seven years at Bowling Green. When he lost that position, Orr fell out of training. And then Patrick Ewing got the job in Georgetown.
The jersey of Louis Orr is honored in Syracuse. He owes his basketball life to Jim Boeheim. And he will train at. . . Georgetown?
"If I saved my life, every job I took surprised me a bit," said Orr. "You can not really organize in advance, coaching, where you go."
Which does not mean that his decision is without ramifications, especially Boeheim.
"He's already done breaking my chops," said Orr.
"I'm sure Big John was harder with him than me," said Boeheim. "I'm sure he looked at Patrick like:" What are you doing? "
What Patrick Ewing did, is to hire someone he trusted, a trustworthy confidante. And what that brings to the Georgetown-Syracuse Saturday match is a bit of extra flavor to an already spicy rivalry of paprika and cayenne pepper.
In many ways, Louis Orr is Syracuse Basketball. But in all respects, Saturday, he wants to beat basketball Syracuse. These are dogs who are friends with cats, Republicans going to the Democrats, Coca – Cola helping Pepsi in marketing.
The Orangeman is a Hoya, and if so, what makes sense then?
"At the end of the day, he said, these are the games you want to play and want to win."
He then embarked on a recruiting trip to Georgetown, with the aim of attracting players to the hill that might otherwise end up at his alma mater.
For more of Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.