COLUMN: Making Progress Is A Process
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 02:01
There is a timeless paradox in sports that drives even the most patient fans crazy: “progress can’t always be judged by wins and losses.” There are times when this adage inevitably holds true, especially for teams flooded with youth and lacking with depth. Despite featuring a freshman backcourt and receiving limited minutes from its team captain, the Boston College men’s basketball team has progressed—and it has begun to win.
Only a season removed from finishing in the ACC cellar, head coach Steve Donahue’s Eagles have justifiably garnered attention in the college basketball world so far this season. First-year standouts Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan have each earned conference rookie of the week honors while showing the potential to catalyze this squad for years to come. Sophomore forward Ryan Anderson has made the leap from ACC All-Freshman selection to one of the league’s most prodigious scorers, averaging 16.7 points per game as a sophomore “veteran.” Beyond individual improvement, Donahue’s Eagles marched into last night’s home contest against Miami with nine victories notched in their win column, already matching last year’s season total only a couple months into the season.
“The record is obviously always important, but it’s not the critical evaluation area,” Donahue said after Tuesday’s practice, in preparation for Miami. “It’s how we’re playing, how guys are developing individually, and how we’re coming together as a team as we go further into the season.”
Though they’ve already played 17 games, the true test of BC’s season has just gotten underway. It’s no secret that the Eagles have an unenviable conference schedule, which includes two matchups with No. 3 Duke next month. A consistently competitive ACC that left the Eagles with four wins and 12 losses last season isn’t expected to relent in 2013. Yet, this is not last year’s BC squad, as the obstacles that forced captain Dennis Clifford, Anderson, and guard Lonnie Jackson to grow up quickly, have also left them prepared.
“I think you’re already seeing the fruits of our frustrations last year when we played all those young guys,” Donahue said. “You’re seeing the growth in each of the guys individually and us collectively, and we’re much better than we were last year. More prepared for the competition we will see. That being said, certain teams in this league are very talented, real experienced teams. We’re going to have to play great basketball to get wins.”
Donahue’s team has played just four conference games so far—the sample size is small but the results have been positive. After losing to No. 14 NC State and Wake Forest by a combined eight points, one could say that BC was a few more foul shots and a drained, buzzer-beating 3-pointer away from storming out of the gates with a 3-0 record in the ACC. It’s easy to start thinking retrospectively and counting wins when a maturing team on the path back to contention starts hitting its stride. But Donahue knows that this distracted mindset isn’t part of the recipe for building a powerhouse on the court. In fact, the answer might be in that old paradox I mentioned earlier.
“Part of growing and building up a championship program is going through some frustration and close calls and failures,” Donahue said. “The important thing is that we don’t let back, yet we still learn from those experiences, and you get better because of it and it makes you want to persevere more mistakes or whatever to overcome it to get to victory.”
Would it be great for the Eagles to knock off a legitimate ACC (or even national) title contender in Conte Forum? Of course. Yet whether we like it or not, progress comes in increments. Competing until the game’s final minute with an NC State team that just knocked off former No. 1 Duke doesn’t provide any solace for the win column, but it’s another step closer to a stormed court at Conte. In many respects, the Eagles have already defied odds. While progress might not always translate into victories, it provides BC basketball fans and their team with a reason to believe again.