CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Year two of Steve Donahue’s new-look Boston College is upon us, and it’s clear there is progress. Last year, Donahue’s second season at The Heights, represented a quick turnover of the roster from the Al Skinner days with a very young roster, but this time around the team is still very young but much more experienced. There’s also a lot to like about this group, especially if the spirited and competitive early practice they had is any indication.
The picture of this team is clearer now than a year ago, and that’s not surprising. This group has a track record in college and a wealth of college experience they didn’t have a year ago, so they have more to build on. They also went on a trip to Spain near the end of the summer, which also helped this team.
“It’s 180 degrees different from last year,” said sophomore forward Ryan Anderson. “We know what to expect and what it takes to compete at this level.”
The frontcourt is in good hands already with team leaders Anderson and Dennis Clifford. A unanimous selection to the ACC’s All-Rookie team last season, Anderson should be a double-double guy before his career is over. While he’s more of a power forward, he’s continuing to work on his game away from the basket to be a more complete player. He’s also learning to be more of a vocal leader, which hasn’t come to him naturally but looks to have plenty of benefits.
“I’ve never been a very vocal person,” said Anderson. “The coaching staff has pushed me to open up my mouth, and it’s helped me to be more focused on the floor.”
For his part, Clifford looks more confident this fall. Whereas he started last year almost by default, this year he will start because he’s ready to be one of this team’s top players. There’s no doubt about his skill package, and the Eagles can use him in a couple of different ways.
There are some options behind them up front, most notably K.C. Caudill. The only knock on the sophomore big man is conditioning, and that is something he’ll need to keep working on. Aside from that, he has a very good feel for the game and quickly picked up the system last year, so there’s every reason to think he can figure prominently in what they do.
“He’s a very, very skilled big man,” Anderson said of his fellow native Californian. “If he improves his conditioning, he can be not just a role player, but a very usable weapon for us in many matchups.”
Eddie Odio and John Cain Carney both return as well, and a wild card is newcomer Andrew Van Nest, who comes from right down the road at Harvard. Odio got into most of last season’s game and has gained some good weight, so he will also get more opportunities this season. Van Nest had an injury-riddled career at Harvard but should be a good fit with the offense Donahue runs, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he turns into a pleasant surprise if he stays healthy.
The backcourt had the kind of ups and downs one would expect of freshmen last year, and will be better this year for more reasons than just last year’s freshmen being sophomores. Jordan Daniels had a lot of growing up to do at the point, and he acquitted himself well for a guy thrown right into the fire. Lonnie Jackson was a little streaky shooting the ball, but should be more consistent and a better overall part of the offense.
They will be pushed immediately by two talented freshmen in Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon. Hanlan might start right away, as he has a more college-ready body and can light it up from long range, which he showed at an early practice. He’s also capable of getting to the basket, and he might see time at both guard spots. Anderson said the freshmen are “way beyond what we were as freshmen,” which would seem to bode well considering the importance of guards in the college game.
The main option on the wing looks to be Patrick Heckmann, who has plenty of ability but never got untracked last season due to an early bout with mononucleosis. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if he was healthy and had some ups and downs, but missing practice and game time last year didn’t help. A healthier Heckmann could mean a lot given his ability. There isn’t much behind Heckmann save for going with more of a three-guard lineup, so one can expect to see the Eagles go that route from time to time.
Boston College will not have an easy time before ACC play. The Eagles are in the loaded Charleston Classic, opening with Baylor and then playing either Dayton or Colorado. They also host Auburn, Harvard, Providence, Holy Cross and rapidly-improving Dartmouth before ACC play commences.
Right now, Boston College will be happy to play anyone after so many competitive practices leading up to their late summer trip to Spain and the early practices in October.
“We’re just dying to play somebody else besides ourselves,” said Clifford.
Last season’s team didn’t win a road game all season, and that’s something this team knows they must do if they are to contend in the ACC one day. Anderson took note of that as one thing that the trip to Spain will hopefully help them with and one area they want to see improvement this year.
It’s a new year in Chestnut Hill, and things are very different than a year ago. The Eagles’ hope is that it translates into things being very different at the end of the year as well, including on the bottom line.