Friar Basketball

“38 in 76”: Keeping Tabs on Boston College

We are 76 days away from the start of the 2011-12 basketball season.  With that I’m beginning a new series on the site “38 in 76.”  These articles will highlight 38 storylines to watch in the upcoming Friar season.  Some of the articles will be a quick blurbs, while others will take a deeper look at the coaches, players, recruits, rivals, and support system that will play a critical role in the future of Providence basketball.

These are not ranked in any particular order.

#38 Keeping tabs on Boston College

Ever to excel, the Eagles parted ways with the school’s all-time winningest coach in the spring of 2010 after a disappointing 8th place finish in the ACC.  While the Eagles made the tournament in seven out of his 13 seasons at BC (and won 20 games on seven occasions, including in Skinner’s second to last year), the feeling in Chestnut Hill was that both Boston College and Skinner were ready for a change.

Enter Steve Donahue.  The former Cornell head man took over there in 2000-01 and made three consecutive tournament appearances in his final three seasons.  His stock took off in his final year, winning a pair of tournament games in 2009-10 prior to falling to John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Donahue is said to be a terrific teacher of the game and the hope at BC is that he’ll bring the energy that many there felt Skinner was lacking at the end of his tenure.

In his first season at BC, Donahue led a veteran Eagles squad to a 21 win season (a six win improvement over the previous season, with the same core) and a trip to the NIT.


Where the similarities begin

Starting Anew:

While Donahue has a year under his belt, BC is virtually starting over this season.  Both teams’ star players from a season ago went in the first round of the NBA Draft (Marshon Brooks to the Nets, Reggie Jackson to Oklahoma City).

Not only does BC lose Jackson, but all five of their top scorers from a season ago (Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, Biko Paris, and Josh Southern have all graduated).

The top returning scorer for the Eagles is Danny Rubin, a sophomore-to-be who put up a mere 4.1 points per game.

While Ed Cooley has more experience returning this season, his rebuilding job runs much deeper than Donahue’s, as he is not only trying to find players that fit in his system, but also provide a facelift to a program that was left in shambles by the time he took over.

Put simply, Donahue’s rebuilding effort revolves around implementing his system and finding players that fit in it, Cooley is starting from the ground up in all facets: system, talent, academics, and reputation.


Minus a few exceptions, Boston College has not recruited well in New England over the past decade.  Both Jared Dudley and Craig Smith were California kids, Troy Bell was a Minnesota find, Ryan Sidney a Michigan sleeper, Tyrese Rice hailed from Virginia, and Jackson was out of Colorado.

When Donahue took over he set out to change that, reaching out to some of the most influential prep and AAU coaches in the region, including Leo Papile of the BABC, the New England Playaz’ TJ Gassnola, Dave Lubick of St. Mark’s, and others.

With the sudden emergence of elite talent hailing from New England, a Boston College staff that more actively pursues local talent will only make the job harder for Cooley and company.

The Eagles were in heavy pursuit of several Friar targets, including Kris Dunn, Jake Layman, Zach Auguste, and Wayne Selden, but the departure of associate head coach Joe Jones to Boston University may have slowed their momentum some, as the Eagles are being mentioned less with the likes of Dunn, Layman, and Auguste.  Layman, specifically, was said to be a BC lean prior to the spring, but has seemed to back off of that since kicking off a very good summer.

Still, with so many similarities to Providence (location, power conference, student population, etc.) it will be interesting to see how recruiting battles between Cooley and Donahue unfold in the upcoming years.

The Head Coaches:

It’s easy to forget now, but Cooley, the former BC assistant, was a finalist for the Boston College job in 2010 before BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo decided to go with Donahue.  The uber-competitive Cooley most likely has not forgotten.

While one of the knocks on Cooley was that he did not make the NCAA Tournament in his five seasons at Fairfield (he did win 20 in his final two), it took Donahue seven years before he had his first winning season at Cornell and eight before making the dance, so it can be hard to draw parallels to their tenures at Fairfield and Cornell.

The two coaches are oddly intertwined though.  It was Cooley, and now Northeastern head coach Bill Coen, who helped Skinner lead BC to the most prosperous years in the program’s history, and many believe that the departure of Skinner’s top assistants in 2006 led to his eventual downfall, opening the door for Donahue.

Connecticut is the undisputed king of New England basketball, but how Donahue and Cooley fair in relation to one another; on the recruiting trail, on the floor, and in reshaping the perception of their respective programs, may go a long way in determining not only who is New England’s number two, but how their careers unfold at their respective schools.

Notably, BC and Providence rarely make the NCAA Tournament in the same year.  Since 1970, it has happened on only four occasions: 1993-94, 1996-97, 2000-01, and 2003-04.

Only twice since 1970 have Connecticut, BC and Providence made the tourney in the same year (1993-94, and 2003-04).

Part of that has to do with the struggles of the Friars in recent years and during much of the 80s, as well as BC’s similar troubles for the latter part of the 80s and early 90s, but history indicates that there is only so much room for tournament teams from New England in the power conferences.

Both programs are starting from the ground up, both will be targeting the same recruits, and with Cooley’s history at BC, this will be an intriguing, and essential, battle for Providence in the upcoming seasons.