John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston College Basketball: What Coach Donahue Can Learn From His Predecessor

“I’m excited again.”

Just two years ago, saying these words were unfathomable for most BC basketball fans. Head Coach Steve Donahue was only in his second year and the team was in the midst of their worst season since the 1998-1999 6-21 campaign. That late 90s team, just like the 2011-2012 Eagles, showed very little promise with a depleted roster.

While few expected them to show any improvement, Coach Al Skinner used a hands-on, nationwide recruiting approach that brought players like Troy Bell to the Heights and the impact was immediate. In 2000-2001, Bell led the Eagles to a 27-5 record and a Big East Championship. BC basketball was back and it was here to stay.

Skinner continued to find “diamond in the rough” recruits and turned them into perennial All-ACCs and All-Americans. Had it not been for Sean Marshall failing to cover a back-door screen in the 2006 NCAA Sweet Sixteen versus Villanova (the mention of this game still gives my Dad heartache), a deep, talented squad led by Jared Dudley and Craig Smith would have played eventual champion Florida in the Elite Eight. Most of my friends laugh when I say this, but had Marshall covered that screen I believe that team could have played for the National Championship.

Flash forward to the aforementioned 2011-2012 season and you would think I made up the previous paragraph. Half-empty (at best) Conte Forum watching an uninspired team and a new coach get blown out by the likes of Holy Cross. It was a depressing time to follow the program, especially as a BC student.

But like his predecessor, Coach Donahue went to work. He recruited across the country and found a lanky big man from Lakewood, California named Ryan Anderson. The next year he brought in a kid from Canada playing in BC’s backyard (New Hampton, NH) named Olivier Hanlan. After an up and down first year together, the team is primed to make a run back to the NCAAs.

Before we start labeling them the next coming of Jared Dudley and Craig Smith, there is still a lot of work to do. Anderson needs to bulk up and develop more of a defensive presence on the post, while Hanlan could use some reps at the three-point line to become more of a consistent scorer. But for the first time since Steve Donahue was named the head coach at Boston College, there is something to truly look forward to.

I hope that he takes a long look at his predecessor’s career and sees the areas where Skinner initially excelled and eventually failed. When Coach Skinner was active on the recruiting trail and worked year-in and year-out to find the next hidden gem, BC had some of its best teams in school history. But when he laid back, relied more on his staff and spent more time at home, the program ultimately eroded to one of the worst teams in the nation.

I hope Donahue stays active on the trail. I hope he can develop Hanlan and Anderson to be as good as Dudley and Smith were. I hope we can get back to the NCAA tournament. I hope we can be one defensive breakdown away from the Elite Eight.

But for now, I’ll enjoy the possibility. I’m just happy to be excited again.

Tags: Basketball Boston College Eagles

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