Boston College men’s basketball finished last season with a dismal five wins in conference play and an overall record of 14-17. BC head coach Jim Christian returns this year for his seventh season amid speculation regarding his job security. Sports Illustrated projects BC to finish second to last in the ACC, and its record will not be helped by a challenging non-conference schedule. Despite the adversity they will face this season, the Eagles plan to rely on depth and experience to win games and surpass expectations.
“I want to win more this year,” sophomore guard Jay Heath said during Media Day on Wednesday. “We have a great team. A lot of people are sleeping on us, but we have a lot of guys at every position so I think we’re gonna be good.”
Heath surpassed expectations last season while filling in for junior guard Wynston Tabbs, who missed the year due to a knee injury. Heath led the BC offense with 13.1 points per game while setting the BC record for most 3-pointers by a freshman with 65.
“If [Heath] stays the same person that he is, he’s going to walk out of here as one of the best leaders to ever play at Boston College,” Christian said.
After a prolonged recovery, Tabbs will be back out on the court this season with Heath. He averaged 13.9 points per game his freshman year during the 2018-19 season, and he will complement Heath well in the backcourt and as a leader.
“Wynston’s voice has unbelievable credibility amongst the guys on our team,” Christian said of Tabbs. “They all know what he’s gone through, they all know that he’s stayed here and rehabilitated through a pandemic … so if you’re not inspired by that then you can’t be inspired. I think it’s one of the best stories in college basketball.”
BC needs all the inspiration it can get this year following the departure of forwards Nik Popovic and Jairus Hamilton, the latter of whom transferred to Maryland. Fortunately, Christian said he trusts his team to fill the gaps they left behind.
“The rebounding is going to come from five guys,” Christian said. “It’s a committee thing. It’s a team thing … We want to play fast, we want to play at a good pace so … if we don’t rebound we can’t play at that pace … Rebounding doesn’t come from one spot.”
The Eagles’ most impactful rebounder, senior forward Steffon Mitchell, will return. Mitchell led BC in rebounds last season with an average of 8.7 per game. He was also honored with a spot on the All-ACC Defensive Team and came in third for conference defensive player of the year. As a senior starter, Mitchell is one of the Eagles’ many leaders.
“Doing the little things just inspires everyone else to make some of the plays that they wouldn’t make,” Mitchell said. “They see me making them day in and day out in practice, they see it in games, and that’s something they think they can do … That’s something that’s helping our defense to move forward.”
BC plays its first game of the season against No. 3 Villanova followed by either No. 2 Baylor or No. 18 Arizona State in the 2K Empire Classic Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena on Nov. 25. These will not be easy games for the Eagles, but they said during Media Day that they are excited to face tough competition right out of the gate.
“There’s nothing better than playing the best of the best,” Mitchell said. “You have a chance to prove yourself as a team and prove yourself as players. If you come to the ACC, you’ve got to be ready for games like these because … this is what you get up for as a college basketball player. You play the No. 2, No. 1 team in the nation—that’s perfect. Couldn’t ask for much more.”
Christian said he sees the 2K Empire Classic as the perfect chance for the Eagles to play high-level basketball prior to conference play without traveling very far. He said that the uncertainty of the 2020-21 season made him want to give his team every chance to get out on the court and play basketball—safely.
“I believe in my team,” Christian said. “I believe in the abilities of our players, I believe in the way we do things. I told them in June, ‘Look, we’re going to play basketball. We’re going to seek out the best teams in the country … and we’re playing.’”
Luckily for BC, COVID-19 hasn’t majorly affected any sport’s season so far, other than field hockey. BC football has yet to report a single case since one player tested positive in June, and Christian said he appreciates the community’s efforts to avoid spreading the pandemic.
“Every person on this campus affects whether we play or not and … I think we’ve done an amazing job here,” Christian said. “I’ll speak on behalf of everyone thanking all of our students for the job that they’ve done … to give us the opportunity to play.”
According to Christain, the best way to grow as a team is to face talented opposition. The Eagles will be playing plenty of good teams this season in the ACC, which is historically strong in basketball, and they are ready for the challenge.
“Our team is excited,” Christian said. “I’m happy to report that everybody’s healthy, everybody’s practicing, and everybody’s enjoying themselves. We’re just excited to get going.”
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor