Last season proved to be a tough one for Jim Christian and Boston College men’s basketball. Even before COVID-19 derailed March Madness and all other posteason games, the Eagles floundered near the bottom of the ACC standings. After the 2018-19 season, the Eagles lost long-time starter and All-ACC guard Ky Bowman to the NBA. Another starting guard, Wynston Tabbs, missed the entire 2019-20 season with an injury.
This season won’t be without its challenges either. The Hamilton brothers, both key players on the Eagles’ roster a season ago, will not return to the team as Jairus transferred to Maryland and Jared graduated after last season. Freshman sensation Julian Rishwain transferred to San Francisco, and rotation player Chris Herren Jr. departed to San Diego. Even with plenty of uncertainty, there are more than enough reasons for Eagles fans to be optimistic about this year’s squad. Here are just a few:
Heath and Felder
Together their names sound like they should be printed across the doors of a law firm, but Heath and Felder are going to mean much more to Eagles fans this season. Both rising sophomores, Jay Heath and CJ Felder played significant minutes in their freshman season. In Tabbs’ absence, Heath was forced into one of the starting guard positions alongside Derryck Thornton. Many Eagles fans and basketball experts expected a rocky season for the new guard due to his inexperience. But boy, did he prove them wrong. Heath finished second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. He finished with double-digit point totals in 26 contests, including games against then-No. 7 Duke and No. 18 Virginia. Heath also led the Eagles in assists in nine games and finished the season with the most recorded steals. Even after stuffing the stat sheet game after game, Heath was snubbed for a spot on the ACC All-Freshman Team.
Felder—though he didn’t start as many games or score as many points as Heath—was also instrumental in BC’s successes. The now-sophomore was one of Jim Christian’s top guys off the bench, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. His athleticism and active hands on defense, though, set him apart from the other Eagles. This year, expect Heath and Felder to take the next step forward.
This season, BC welcomes five transfer players to its roster: Makai Ashton-Langford from Providence, Frederick Scott from Rider, Andre Adams from Southern Utah, Rich Kelly from Quinnipiac, and James Karnik from Lehigh. This influx of new talent looks like it may replace the production the Eagles lost with the departures of Derryck Thornton and Nik Popovic.
Ashton-Langford, for one, looks as though he could make an immediate impact for Jim Christian. The 6-foot-3 guard had to sit out last season after transferring from rival Providence but played well in his sophomore season for the Friars. He averaged nine 9.1 points per game and even dropped 20 points against Villanova two seasons ago.
Scott, Adams, and Kelly are all graduate transfers. Not only do they bring some experience to the Eagles’ lineup, but their combined points-per-game averages from last season add up to 38 points per game. Experienced scorers and leaders could breathe some new life into the Eagles’ program.
The Steffon Mitchell Show
No player on BC’s current roster has played more minutes, scored more points or grabbed more rebounds in his career than Steffon Mitchell. The fourth-year starter has a knack for playing big in big games and is dominant on the glass. No other Eagle put forth a more dominant individual performance last season than Mitchell did against Virginia Tech. Mitchell pounded the Hokies to the tune of 21 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and two steals. Last season, he was named All-ACC Defensive First Team and All-ACC Honorable Mention. This year could be his best year yet, though. As a senior this year, he’s a leader on the team, and he’s improved every season with the Eagles. If Mitchell can put his athleticism and tenacity on display consistently, the Eagles should have no problem winning more games.
Time in the Spotlight
Aside from personnel, there is another reason to get excited about the Eagles’ season. This November, the Eagles are going to take part in the Empire Classic tournament in Connecticut. BC has played in big season-opening tournaments before, but this one could be different. This year the Eagles have the opportunity to play against true basketball titans on a national stage. Villanova, Michigan, and Baylor—three teams who have advanced to the Sweet 16 and beyond in recent years—will join the Eagles in Connecticut. The opportunity to play Villanova, the juggernaut of the Big East, presents the Eagles with the chance to renew an old rivalry. An Eagles win against any of these three teams at the Empire Classic would certainly turn some heads.
This season may be tough going for the Eagles. They’ve lost some players. They have more than a few challenging games on the schedule. Christian has had some rough seasons, and losing Bowman and Tabbs—who returns this year—proved to be too much to come back from last year. Some new faces, however, combined with returning stars taking the next step forward could be a winning formula.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff