Column: Can BC Basketball Be A New Duke?
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
How does a program get built? How do you take a program that bounces between decent years and down years, and make it so that you’re competing at a high level each and every season? What’s the model?
For Boston College men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue, the career of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski lays out the plan perfectly. For as long as most BC students have been alive, the Blue Devils have been a ranked team and a championship contender almost every year. But it wasn’t always like that.
When Krzyzewski took over in 1980, he inherited a Duke program similar to the one that Donahue inherited when he joined BC three years ago. Duke had won two ACC championships under Bill Foster before he left for South Carolina, and BC had made consecutive Sweet 16s with Al Skinner and Jared Dudley in recent years. There was some history, but not enough for either school to be a household name.
Touting All-American and future NBA player Gene Banks, Krzyzewski led Duke to a 17-13 record and an NIT appearance in his first season. Much like Krzyzewski, Donahue rode first round pick Reggie Jackson to a 19-11 record and a No. 1 seed in the NIT.
When both coaches lost their predecessors’ veterans the next year, though, they struggled. Krzyzewski went 10-17 in his next season. Donahue rolled out four freshman starters last season and the squad went 9-22.
In his third season at Duke, Krzyzewski brought in Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson, and Jay Bilas. He would go on to launch the program with that class, but those players logged a ton of minutes on the squad that went 11-17. Tommy Amaker came in the following year and helped push the Blue Devils to a 24-10 record and Krzyzewski’s first NCAA tournament appearance. They lost in the first round, but the next year they made it to the tournament again, this time losing in the second round. Finally, in Dawkins’ and Bilas’ senior year, the Blue Devils won the ACC Championship and made the Final Four.
Krzyzewski lost his key senior class the next season, but by that point it didn’t matter. Duke was a national name. That Final Four appearance meant he no longer had to convince kids to come to Duke and help him build a program. Now he had a system that recruits trusted.
For Donahue to be successful, this sophomore class led by Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford will need to make their mark before they graduate, just like Dawkins’ class did at Duke. All they need to do this season is show improvement. The backcourt is loaded after adding two key freshman guards in Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon. If this squad isn’t on the verge of a tournament bid next year, there will be trouble, but it can be done, and these players will actually have an advantage over Krzyzewski’s teams.
Unlike squads in the ’80s, so many of the top teams in college basketball roll out freshmen and sophomores with one or two juniors or seniors. In two years, BC will have the advantage of starting all juniors and seniors against these inexperienced squads. Also, the addition of Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame to the conference only adds more quality teams for the Eagles to knock off. If BC can notch three wins against the ACC’s top five teams next year, then it’s a shoo-in for the tournament.
Furthermore, Donahue has a complex offensive system designed to create easy buckets either at the rim or behind the three-point line. With a year under their belt, these players are only going to run that system better and in two years, it should be near perfect. If they can catch fire from three at the right time, the Eagles will be a dangerous tournament team.
BC also has a hell of a coach in Donahue. His in-game coaching and management is up there with the elite coaches, and the only real question about him so far is whether or not the talent he’s brought to Chestnut Hill can compete in the ACC. If this sophomore class can answer that question with a deep tournament run its senior season, then it opens up a pipeline for talented players just like it did for Krzyzewski.