ATLANTA – Let’s give Steve Donahue credit for what he did get out of this young Boston College team. The youth of this team has been well-chronicled. It was pretty much a given that wins were going to be hard to come by, and they were. The big question now that the season is over is just what there is to build on for next season.
Certainly the Eagles will bring back most of the team. None of the four seniors played significant minutes, although John Cahill wasn’t just a bit player and was important as someone with some Division I experience for the freshmen. But will the Eagles bring back a few guys who don’t have winning experience, or some players you can build around?
The answer is that there are some players to build around, although Donahue knows he needs to bring in good players right behind his current freshmen. It’s not just the freshmen, either, as junior Matt Humphrey figures to again be an integral part of the team next season and Gabe Moton has looked like a serviceable backup at the point. But there’s no question the staff is building around the freshmen, and they are at the center of the team’s future.
Ryan Anderson was one of two unanimous ACC All-Freshman selections (Duke’s Austin Rivers was the other one). The team’s leader in scoring and rebounding came in as the player with the highest ceiling and did little to dispute that, leading all ACC freshmen in double-doubles with six. Donahue admitted that at times he wondered about Anderson early on and how good he would be come ACC play, but feels good about him now.
“He has an innate basketball I.Q. and a real good sense of how to play,” said Donahue.
The staff spent a lot of time with Anderson, and he gave a lot of credit to the coaches. Donahue has said at times that he’s been perhaps harder on him than any of the others, and it’s because he has the most potential. He’s versatile and could be a consistent double-double guy before his career is over.
Dennis Clifford showed at times that he can potentially be to this team what Jeff Foote was to Donahue’s Ivy championship teams at Cornell. The fundamentally sound big man showed he can operate inside and facing the basket. He admits that even he wasn’t sure how well he would do, but now has an idea of how high the bar is set and knows what he has to do to get better.
“I’m still night and day from where I want to be,” said Clifford.
On the perimeter, Jordan Daniels and Lonnie Jackson might have improved the most from start to finish of anyone on the team. Daniels was not a very serviceable point guard at first, but became much more like one by the time February rolled around. If the Eagles have the ball in his hands the next three years, they could do worse. Jackson is the shooting guard of the future, and shooting over 40 percent from long range gives an idea of how good he can be.
One unanswered question is just how good Patrick Heckmann will be. A bout with mono slowed his freshman season, and while he came back to play three games late in the year including Thursday, just how good he will be is an unknown. Prior to the mono, he had his moments, but was like all of the other freshmen in being very up and down. There’s certainly talent there, and a full off-season and a healthy second season might mean different results.
Besides what individual players did, the team proved they can win a few games. They didn’t just beat the teams at or below them in the standings; they won three games against teams that finished ahead of them in the standings, including third place Florida State. (Georgia Tech, who the Eagles also beat, matched their record but had a tie-breaker, hence the Eagles being the No. 12 seed in the ACC Tournament.)
Going 4-12 in the ACC was better than many figured, as the operative question from some was whether or not they would win a single game in the ACC. The Eagles were also .500 at home in ACC play. That won’t be good enough to win a conference championship one day, but it is a start with this group. It was also a sign of clear improvement from the team that got blown out by Holy Cross and UMass in consecutive games in November.
Confidence can be shaky with a young group, but Donahue did a good job of keeping that at a god level with this team. Though the losses mounted, some of them by big margins as alluded to earlier, this team played like a confident group later in the season. They had the body language that showed they felt they could win if they did what they needed to. As the season went on, they adopted a motto of “Next Play”, which was about bouncing back to make the next play after a bad play happened.
“The coaches always reminded us it’s going to be a roller coaster ride all season,” said Anderson. “There’s going to be the ups of beating ranked teams, and there’s going to be downs of getting blown out at home.”
In fact, it’s because the team had kept the confidence up that Donahue was unpleasantly surprised by the start to Thursday’s game, where NC State scored the first 14 points and and never led by fewer than six the rest of the way. The Eagles played them relatively even, perhaps a little better, from that point on, but it was too big a hole to dig out of.
At the end of it all, there is reason to believe this group can be the core of an ACC contender. Donahue noted that they have a lot to improve on over the next six months, and that they need to bring in more players right behind these guys. He felt like those who played had a great learning experience in playing a lot of minutes, perhaps more than they will play in any season in their careers. And with the breakthroughs they had and the chemistry they developed, there are things this team can take with them into the off-season and next season.