Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Media Day 2019: Eagles Defined by Growth, Experience

Boston College men’s basketball opened the doors to Power Gym in its annual Media Day on Tuesday, giving onlookers a glimpse at Jim Christian’s team in his sixth year as head coach. With a little over three weeks remaining until the Eagles open their season with a home game against Wake Forest, BC still looked like a work in progress but also a team very much defined by growth and experience. 

Yes, Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman are gone, as is Wynston Tabbs with a season-ending knee injury, but the Eagles have pieces who’ve gone through the toughness of ACC play. Four freshmen are in the mix for playing time, but the team also features a fifth-year point guard, three established forwards, and a guard that has seen it all with three separate college basketball programs.

Here’s who stood out both in practice and the following interviews.

Derryck Thornton

The biggest offseason addition wasn’t one of the five incoming freshmen—it was the former Duke point guard and USC graduate transfer in Thornton. A former five-star recruit, Thornton was scooped up by Christian in June and will be thrust into the starting role in lieu of Bowman’s departure to the NBA and Tabbs’ injury in a decimated backcourt. The 6-foot-3 guard moves smoothly and looked comfortable in full-court scrimmages. 

He made 27 starts last season with the Trojans, averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 assists, and was smart with the ball as he boasted a 2.2:1 assist/turnover ratio. It was clear he was looking forward to adapting further to the Eagles system, and he talked about his reasoning for picking BC after, citing both the development of Jerome Robinson and Bowman, as well as the freedom Christian affords his guards.

“I think that’s a big thing for me just to have freedom and play through mistakes here and there,” Thornton said. “Not having to look over your shoulder every two seconds for play call stuff like that. … In watching those two guys I got to see how much freedom they got to play with and that was intriguing to me.”

Steffon Mitchell

Mitchell has spent the last two years establishing himself as the ultimate hustle player. In 61 games—and 51 starts—Mitchell is averaging 8.1 rebounds and over a steal and block per game. The biggest issue for him, though, has been translating his relentless defense and ability on that end of the floor to the other. He’s scored double-digits just 12 times and boasts a career average of 5.6 points per game. Now, in his junior year, it’s clear that Mitchell is ready to take the next step. 

He spent the summer taking 500 shots a day in an effort to improve a 41.9 field goal percentage and a 23.5 percent mark from 3-point range. That improvement was noticeable in practice, as Mitchell was no longer passing up open shots and even sunk several corner 3-pointers in a row during drills. If the junior can translate that to the court, opposing defenses can no longer just leave Mitchell alone on the perimeter, and that would mean that the offense has more space to work.

“I think this was a big summer for me,” Mitchell said. “I tried to get my shot as perfect as it can be. I worked on it both mentally and physically—it’s all about visualizing the ball going in and putting the work in.”

Mitchell’s confidence was clearly soaring, which bodes well for the Eagles, as he was used on less than 12 percent of possessions last season, per KenPom. 

“I think I can score it from all three areas on the court this year,” he added. “I think I put the work in. My shot has gotten a lot better than it was last year.”

Jared Hamilton

Hamilton made his season debut on Dec. 22 last season, coming off the bench against DePaul once his transfer from Georgia Southern was cleared. He quickly earned Christian’s trust, and eventually started 12 games—including the final 11 games of the season. Hamilton is similar to Mitchell in the sense that he does a lot of little things well, whether it’s his role at the top of the zone on defense or as a facilitator on offense. His journey—from ABI Prep to Jacksonville State to Georgia Southern to BC—gives him a senior statesman role, and it’s one he embraces.

“In my career I’ve played just about any role you think of on a basketball team, from the go-to guy to the last man off the bench,” Hamilton said. “So, any role that the team needs me to play I’ll do that, and just [like] being a real defensive anchor for this team “

Freshman Class

The practice provided a glimpse at Christian’s incoming class, and it’s not unrealistic to say that almost all of them could see the court this coming season. CJ Felder, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward from Sumter, S.C., looked like an impressive rebounder who could challenge for minutes in the paint. Felder was easily a standout during the 5-on-5 drills and hauled in several boards.

Julian Rishwain, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, displayed a sweet stroke from distance. Jay Heath is a stout 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard, while Kamari Williams is a lanky forward who is similarly strong from deep and a promising defender. Williams, standing 6-foot-7 and 180 pounds, moved about the court in a similar way as Vin Baker Jr. did last season, but displayed better touch on his shots. The last freshman, Andrew Kenney, also seemed to be a strong shooter but wasn’t in the mix as much.

“We’ve got guys who can do a lot of different things for us,” said Jairus Hamilton, who played in 30 games as a freshman last season. “CJ [came] in as a big athletic body who can get any rebound he wants. Julian can shoot the ball as deep as he wants too. Jay is going to be a great point guard for us in the future. Kamari is a great shooter and a great defender.

“We got a lot of good freshmen that I think are going to get the opportunity to play.”

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

October 15, 2019