It hasn't been the best start to a season in the history of Boston College basketball. In fact, it's possible that this has been one of the worst. After an heretofore unthinkable 22-point loss to Holy Cross, the Eagles followed that up on Monday night with an even uglier loss to UMass. Led by Chaz Williams, the Minutemen held BC to just one field goal over the final 11 minutes of the game on their way to an 82-46 win.
For many, the loss to UMass was inexcusable, not so much because of the loss itself, but the fact that they were beaten so thoroughly at home. Quietly, some folks are beginning to whisper that perhaps new head coach Steve Donahue is not the man for the job at Boston College.
I'm here to do something that I don't normally do. I'm here to preach patience.
There's a good chance that this team may not have hit rock bottom yet. In fact, there's a real chance that things could get much worse once this team starts playing upper tier competition (beginning Thanksgiving Day in the '76 Classic'). With conference games against elite teams like No. 1 North Carolina, No. 6 Duke, and No. 20 Florida St. still on the schedule along with the rest of their ACC games, it's possible the team might not win 10 games this year.
However, it's important to remember that of the 14 players on the roster, Gabe Moton and Matt Humphrey are the only two non-freshman scholarship players on the roster. And only Humphrey is capable of contributing consistently on the court. Otherwise, the roster is comically young with seven true freshman playing crucial minutes.
When you're not Kentucky or Kansas or one of the other similar schools that recruits top tier freshman that can play right away, having that many 18-year-olds on your team almost guarantees a really rough season. However, led by Patrick Heckmann and California High School Player of the Year Ryan Anderson, there is a great deal of potential in this group.
The German born Heckmann has been the most impressive to this point simply because he's played against this level of competition (and better) during his time alongside former NBA Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki with the German National Team. Anderson has also shown flashes of being a tremendous player with his athleticism and inside-outside offensive game. Local product Dennis Clifford (Milton Academy) has also shown flashes of being a tremendous post player. Assuming he gets physically stronger with some hard work in the gym, standing a legitimate seven feet, he potentially gives the Eagles the type of legitimate center that is incredibly rare at the college level. In addition, point guard Jordan Daniels and Eddie Odio have both shown promising signs that they'll be able to develop into regular contributors (maybe even starters) for this team as the season moves along.
Without the benefit of a Tyrese Rice or a Reggie Jackson to fill the leadership void and be the dominating presence on the court, it will take time for this group to form the trust and and cohesion that is required to be a good basketball team. This team is simply too inexperienced right now to be expected to overcome its shortcomings on the court.
Fortunately, I think they've also got the right man leading their development in Steve Donahue. The overwhelmingly positive and outgoing coach is exactly the kind of guy who can help guide an incredibly young team through what promises to be a rocky start to the season. From his early days with a similarly weak and inexperienced Cornell squad, Donahue has demonstrated an ability to keep a team focused on improving even when the tangible results (read: wins) aren't immediately there. If he's able to keep this teams collective head up, the fruits of that labor will be evident towards the end of the year when they play the likes of Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Miami down the stretch (none of whom will set the world on fire this year, either).
This isn't to say their aren't legitimate concerns about the program in the long term. If this unusually large recruiting class doesn't pan out, the program could be set back for a very long time. Questions about Donahue's ability to recruit at the ACC level haven't yet been assuaged, particularly with ace recruiter Joe Jones accepting the head coaching position with Boston University this season. By not replacing Jones with another assistant coach with major conference experience, Donahue's staff is comprised entirely of Ivy League coaches, which has some people on edge (rightfully so).
In addition, one of the biggest complaints that everyone had with former coach Al Skinner and his recruiting was his inability to convince the local kids to stay home. So far, things haven't changed much, as high level recruits like Alex Murphy didn't give the Eagles much of a look before choosing to ply their trade elsewhere. Make no mistake, Donahue probably put in more effort with local kids last year than Skinner did during his entire tenure, but college athletics are a results oriented business.
Nevertheless, it's important to be patient with this young Eagles team and Donahue in particular. After losing every single scholarship player who scored a point last season, this has become a complete rebuilding job. As opposed to Frank Spaziani, who inherited a football team coming off of back to back division championships, Donahue inherited a team that won 15 games the year before and turned them into a 21 win team.
The man can coach at this level.
Whether he can recruit his own players to compete at this level is still up for debate, but based on some of the early returns from players like Anderson, Heckmann and Clifford, it may not be for much longer. Going forward, if he's able to recruit the type of depth needed to compete in the ACC, he'll be able to demonstrate his ability coach at this level again.
But, at least for this year, while watching this team play, do yourselves a favor and cover up the scoreboard on the TV screen and just focus on the players. By the end of the season, if Coach Donahue can keep their focus and keep them improving, they should be far more competitive than they are right now.