By Aman Ali
SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) - Syracuse University head basketball coach Jim Boeheim, who two weeks ago lashed out at those accusing a former assistant of sexually molesting ball boys, apologized on Friday for what he called insensitive remarks and said he "misspoke very badly."
At a press conference after a home basketball game, Boeheim made his most contrite statement since longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine was fired on Sunday following mounting allegations of improper behavior with juveniles, two of them ball boys working with the team.
Three men have accused Fine of sexually molesting them as juveniles during basketball team trips and at other times. A grand jury is investigating the allegations, which Fine has said were "patently false."
"I believe that I misspoke very badly in my response the allegations that have been made," an emotional Boeheim said. "I shouldn't have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that and I regret any harm that I caused."
Boeheim, a Hall of Fame coach who has one of the best winning records in college basketball, said that when the allegations erupted he reacted out of loyalty to Fine, with whom he had worked for more than 40 years.
"I reacted without thinking. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I am trying to learn from my mistake," he said.
Two former ball boys, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, and a third man, Zach Tomaselli, all accused Fine of molesting them repeatedly when they were boys.
Tomaselli, now 23, told Reuters on Thursday that Fine invited him to an away basketball game in Pittsburgh in 2002 and molested him while the boy was staying with Fine in a hotel room. Tomaselli's father said his son was lying, and Tomaselli himself has been charged with abusing a 13-year-old boy.
INITIALLY SUPPORTED FINE
When the latest allegations emerged two weeks ago, Fine was put on leave by the university. Boeheim told reporters then that he fully supported Fine and that the accusers were lying.
"It is a bunch of a thousand lies that he has told," Boeheim was quoted by ESPN then as saying of accuser Davis.
Fine was fired by the university on Sunday after ESPN aired what it said was the audio of a telephone call between Fine's wife Laurie and Davis in which she suggests that she was aware her husband had behaved inappropriately.
On Sunday, Boeheim reversed himself and supported the firing, but did not apologize for his earlier comments.
Child abuse groups have accused Boeheim of being insensitive and said he should resign for supporting Fine.
On Tuesday at his first postgame press conference since Fine's firing, Boeheim said he was not worried about losing his job and would wait until the completion of the investigation to "find out what happened on my watch."
But his tone on Friday was different. Boeheim said he had spent part of Thursday at a Syracuse facility that cares for abused children and their families, and would get more involved in raising awareness of the problem.
Boeheim said his initial attack on the accusers was "insensitive to the individuals involved and especially to the overall issue of child abuse."
The Syracuse situation has been compared to Penn State University, where a once-respected assistant football coach was charged last month with abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.
That scandal forced out legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and the university president for not telling police. The former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, could face life in prison if convicted.
But Syracuse assistant Fine has not been charged with any crime, and a grand jury investigation of the allegations against him is in its early stages.
(Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)