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At Boston College, speculation is now over with Steve Donahue

by - Published March 20, 2014 in Columns

A few years ago, it would be just about impossible to imagine that Boston College would be searching for a new head coach for the second time in four years. Save for a blip on the radar screen, the program was in a period of success the likes of which has never been seen at The Heights. But here we are.

What many had speculated for a couple of months became official on Tuesday, as the school parted ways with Steve Donahue. There was some promise during his tenure, but the past season was a disaster that no one saw coming. Fresh off two seasons where wins were hard to come by but growth wasn’t after they basically started over in his second year, the Eagles went 8-24 this season, including a 4-14 mark in ACC play. Donahue over-scheduled, and the Eagles never recovered from a slow start that included several tough losses.

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Brad Brownell comes to Steve Donahue’s defense

by - Published January 5, 2014 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Speculation about Steve Donahue’s job status has taken off, to the point where one might not be off their rocker for thinking it’s gotten out of hand. If the Boston College head coach is looking for an ally, it’s clear he has a willing one in Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, his opposite number on Saturday afternoon. The Clemson mentor added some thoughts unprompted while discussing his team’s win.

Clemson beat Boston College 62-60 on Saturday to send the reeling Eagles to 4-11 on the season. Well before this, though, there had been talk of what could happen to Donahue as the Eagles lost a few early ones. As losses have mounted, so has speculation that Donahue is on some kind of borrowed time at The Heights. Brownell sees some similarities and drew a comparison and contrast at times.

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Boston College has reasons to be confident next year will be better

by - Published March 9, 2012 in Columns

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?

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Boston College going through quite the adversity early on

by - Published November 23, 2011 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Steve Donahue knew this wouldn’t be pretty, but surely he didn’t think there would be something like this. A string of losses, sure. That might still come. But back-to-back blowouts, including Monday’s thumping at the hands of UMass in the Commonwealth Classic?

 

As UMass eventually built the lead up to 30, you could see more than just BC getting caught up in UMass’ speed. The Eagles looked like a team that didn’t have confidence, getting tentative at times offensively. The offense suffered greatly, aided by UMass’ length as that frustrated the Eagles on the glass, especially at the offensive end.

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Cornell Rides Great Senior Group to Another Ivy League Title

by - Published March 6, 2010 in Columns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Steve Donahue never quite expected what he’s had the last three years.  He readily admits he might never get something like it again, so he’s taking a moment to enjoy Cornell’s third straight Ivy League title, which the Big Red wrapped up with a 95-76 win at Brown on Friday night.

“I’m going to try for the rest of my coaching career to try to get a group like this, and I may never get there.  I’m pretty sure I won’t,” said Donahue.  “In terms of talent, attitude, character, off the court, style of play, they do everything you could possibly ask.”

Two years ago, Cornell ran the table in the Ivy League with a team whose core was a group of sophomores at the time.  That put a big target on their back last season, and after another title, they entered this season with an even bigger target.  Everyone figured the Ivy League was theirs to lose, with a core of seniors that had just won two in a row and has plenty of talent and experience.  That target only got bigger during the season, as the Big Red got ranked early in league play.

“That’s definitely always a challenge, and when you get nationally ranked, that target grows even bigger,” said senior center Jeff Foote.  “Everyone wants to beat you, you’re the huge game for every team when you come in to play.  Any team’s season can be made by beating us, and we had to get used to that pressure.”

The pressure definitely came to a head in February, when the Big Red went to Penn.  The Quakers knocked off the Big Red, a result that once upon a time wasn’t viewed as a monumental upset.  That shows how far the Big Red have come, but the loss also made for a challenging time as Princeton was ahead the next night and the Tigers have improved to become a contender once again.

“It was almost like an elimination game, if we lose that game at Princeton the next night, we’re two games down in the loss column and who knows what happens,” said senior Ryan Wittman, the school’s all-time leading scorer.

The way Donahue describes it, the last month was nothing but major challenges for the team.  One might say that the challenging non-league slate the Big Red played helped, but experience was undoubtedly a factor as well.

“We lose to Penn, so then your season’s in the balance because you’re going to play at Princeton,” Donahue said.  “You’ve got to play, and it’s a war, and we win that.  So then you come back the next week and it’s like another conference tournament the next weekend with Harvard, you’ve got to win there.  The next weekend, Princeton comes back to you, you’ve got to win there, and then still nothing is wrapped up, so you’ve got to go a fourth weekend.”

This wasn’t all that new to Donahue, though.  Although the Big Red might have made it look easy two years ago in running the table in Ivy League play, that wasn’t the case.  Right before that, he knew he had a good group of kids, but wasn’t sure if a title – let alone three in a row – was in the offing later on.

As freshmen, the core of this team was promising but erratic.  They played like freshmen, and it showed as they were very up and down, but finished with an 8-6 record.  Donahue, who has great respect for other programs in the league, harked back to the final game of that season, remembering how that season went and how difficult a championship would be.

“I remember being here in this gym the last game of the year,” Donahue reflected.  “We won our eighth game to go 8-6, and I remember sitting in the locker room saying, I can’t believe how hard it is to win eight games in this league.  I still respect that, it’s difficult as heck.”

The Big Red have done it with a group of highly skilled and unselfish players, and also ones of very high character.  Cornell’s ability to shoot the long ball is well-established, and on Friday night they showed it in droves as they went 20-30 from deep.  Coming into Friday night’s game, the Big Red were by far the best in the Ivy League in that area, shooting 41.9 percent from the field on the season.  That number will only go up.

The Big Red have shooters, but that’s far from the only reason they have that shooting percentage.  They have an inside threat in Foote that teams have to account for, and he’s an excellent passer as well.  That leads to another strength – passing the ball.  It’s not just point guard Louis Dale, the program’s all-time leader in assists, who can distribute the ball.  Just about everyone on the team can do it, and they’re unselfish enough that they don’t care who ultimately scores.

Perhaps most importantly, the Big Red use the three-point shot judiciously.  It’s not the be-all, end-all of their game plan, but part of it.  They shoot a high percentage but don’t put up a high number of shots per game.  Wittman noted that they generally try to establish Foote inside early in games and force teams to either commit to doubling him or go one-on-one where he can score on many Ivy League post players.

“Our ability to pass the ball is one of the big reasons why we’re a good shooting team,” said Donahue.  “Our center is our second-leading assist man.  There are a lot of guys who can shoot as well as our guys, but their ability to pass the ball and their willingness to pass the ball is one of the reasons why we’re such a good shooting team.”

The team’s unselfishness even shows up with playing time.  It’s easy to forget that Geoff Reeves is actually the program’s all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage because he comes off the bench.  He does that after starting much of last season, just like Alex Tyler, another who comes off the bench after starting for three years.  Reeves gave way to sophomore Chris Wroblewski, who has seen nothing but winning early in his college career and has certainly been part of that.  They don’t care about big minutes and accept the players who took over in their starting roles, they just want to win.

Donahue and the Big Red are all happy that they have won and that it has happened with this group.  There is clear camaraderie among this team, one more reason it wouldn’t be a surprise if they win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

“To do what we did, you don’t envision it,” said Donahue.  “You bring in good kids.  The credit is theirs, they took it to another level.”

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