The script has been played out before. Close, competitive game for 30, 35, sometimes 39 minutes. And then comes what many coaches say with pained expressions: “some freshmen moments.”
And with that, Boston College basketball coach Steve Donahue follows his team off the court, wondering if he could have done more with less for just a longer period of time.
The operative words around the Boston College men’s basketball program these days are “process” and ”patience.” To complete the first, you need to have lots of the second available in your DNA.
Thankfully, for BC, Donahue does. With 16 years as an assistant coach, and spending the next 10 years coaching in the Ivy League verified that.
Donahue came to BC two seasons ago after 10 years as the coach at Cornell. For 7 of those years, the Big Red were a poster child for process and patience as Donahue built a program the way he wanted to build. Progress came slowly. 7 wins, then 9 wins then 11 and 13. In an Ivy League, then dominated by Penn and Princeton, the climb was just as slow. A 3-11 and 7-20 season in his first year in Ithaca ended 10 years later with a 13-1 mark in the Ivy League, a 29-5 over all record and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The irony of it, of course, is that were it not for a curious and concerned nurse and mother with a 7-0 unrecruited walk on son, Donahue might still be working on the process at Cornell. Butt more about that later.
The reality is that Donahue and BC are in the middle of a losing streak which hit 5 games with Tuesday night’s 82-70 loss to North Carolina at Conte Forum. The defeat left the Eagles with a 1-6 record in the ACC, 9-11 over all. The Eagles’ next three opponents–Clemson, Miami and Duke–have a combined record of 44-13.
A year ago, BC, playing with 5 freshmen starters staggered to a 9-22 (4-12 in the ACC) record, which was not much of a surprise. Inexperience plus marginal talent is not a formula for success in the Atlantic Sun, much less the ACC.
Donahue said it would get better. Everyone understood and accepted the premise that he was rebuilding a program. You can argue the point that the program run by Al Skinner for the last decade wasn’t all that bad. In fact, in Donahue’s first year at BC, the Eagles won 21 games with a roster composed primarily of Skinner’s players. But that is also a food fight for another day.
Donahue had built a program at Cornell and he could do it at BC. He would do it. “It’s still going to be a process,” said Donahue when this season began in November. “But I do feel that at some point during the year you are going to get the feeling that this is really a good basketball team. I hope its earlier than later.”
Well, we are past the half way point, almost into February when the character of most teams reveals itself.
But these Eagles do not look ready to fly on their own. Oh, there are moments, even during the current losing streak. A one point loss to Miami, a 5 point loss to Maryland. Still, they were losses.
The trend of the last two games is therefore disturbing, losses to Virginia and North Carolina by double digit margins.
The excuse used last year was inexperience. Five freshman starters, which meant that 98 percent of the scoring and 94 percent of the rebounding were by freshmen or sophomores.
The cliché often used by coaches is that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. That is more a football catch phrase than basketball, which with 30 game, two and sometime three games a week scheduling, increases the maturity factor.
But these Eagles didn’t seem to get older. In fact, they were almost younger in some instances as Donahue began the season with a pair of freshmen guards in Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlon. No one wins with freshmen guards unless they are surrounded by blue chip All Americans. That is not the case at BC.
Still maybe Donahue has found something that the rest of do not see yet.
It was like that in Donahue’s last few years at Cornell when after 7 losing seasons, he found the formula with three players–6-7 forward Ryan Wittman, 5-11 guard Louis Dale and 7-0 center Jeff Foote.
Foote was the big man who made Cornell more of a presence and his arrival was sernandipitis n nature. Foote came out of high school in upstate New York as a marginal talent, who wound up going to St. Bonaventure as a walk on.
Donahue saw him in high school and didn’t think he was even Ivy League worthy. But a few years later following a tragic incident in which one of Donahue’s players had suffered a catastrophic injury in practice and was receiving recovery treatment at a near-by hospital, Foote’s mother, a nurse on duty when the Cornell group arrived, took note of the close-nit nature of the squad and coach and their injured teammate. She thought this might be a good place for her son Jeff to maximize his talents.
A few years later, Foote was indeed reaching the peak of his talents as Cornell was shocking not only the Ivy League, but the college basketball world with the level of its success.
If there is a question mark about Donahue’s ability as a coach, it is in the area of recruiting. He has yet to prove that he can recruit at the level necessary to win consistently in the ACC.
Maybe this group is in the process of maturing and a group of players that Donahue has coming to the Heights next season will be enough to break through. But then again, that is throwing more freshmen in to the mix.
Maybe it won’t be enough. After the loss to Carolina on Tuesday, Donahue, classy and composed as usual, said : “This league is really hard no matter what for young guys. We had our chances to win these games (the last five). My job is to make sure we don’t lose our focus because of frustration because you are losing.”
The problem for BC is that there isn’t a hint of blue skies in the horizon. The next few weeks, the next few months, the next few years might not be better.
In the next two seasons, the ACC will add a group of Big East Ex-Patriots in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame. Their combined record at this point of the season is 68-15.
Unless, BC gets older and better faster, the process and patience factors could be under siege for the forseeable future.© Copyright 2013 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy