group of former Boston College men’s basketball players gathered at halftime in the Conte Forum function room during the Eagles’ game against Georgia Tech on Feb. 27, 2016. They spent time catching up, reconnecting, and exchanging phone numbers.
John Oates, a three-year starter at BC from 2004–08 and one of the players in attendance, said he was thrilled to be back at his alma mater. But as the second half neared and players began to finish their meals, that attitude quickly soured when a representative from the program announced the players needed to leave the room.
Nobody took issue with the announcement, according to Oates. He said players, such as Jon Beerbohm, Louis Hinnant, and Biko Paris, were busy catching up and were taking their time to go back to the game.
“And they made another announcement like ‘Guys, you really got to get back to your seats,’” Oates said. “And we’re like, ‘Totally, we’re out of here, one sec.’”
Oates said they were not fast enough for the staff’s liking.
“The [Boston College Police Department] came in and they were like ‘Everyone clear the room now!’” Oates said. “So yeah, we got kicked out of the room by the BCPD.”
Oates is not alone in feeling disrespected by the program since graduating. Eight other former players—ranging from program greats to walk-ons from BC’s 2000s teams—told The Heights that BC has failed to celebrate former players’ accomplishments, rarely used players’ connections to help the current program, and even ghosted them when they offered mentorship to the team throughout the past 10 years.
Led by former BC head coach Al Skinner, the Eagles developed into a gritty, underdog program where NCAA Tournament appearances grew routine in the 2000s—BC made seven appearances from 2001–09.
The pinnacle of that run came in the 2004–05 season when BC started 20–0 and rose all the way up to a program-record No. 3 in the country. Its success continued the following season when the Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16—their sole appearance of the 21st century and first appearance in more than a decade.
BC eventually fell to No. 1-seed Villanova by a single point in an overtime heartbreaker, but in the almost two decades since, the program has not seen that type of success.
Since former Athletics Director Gene DeFilippo fired Skinner in 2010, the program has cycled through three different coaching staffs and five different athletics directors. The Eagles have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
Amid the team’s instability and decline, Skinner-era alumni have reported growing distant from the program.
“When we would try to have a relationship with the BC basketball program, it was very one-sided,” Oates said.
Some players, like Tyrese Rice, who played at BC from 2005–09 and is the fifth-highest scorer in school history, said that they have rarely been back since graduating. Sean Marshall, who played at BC from 2003–07 and holds the record for both most games started and played in BC history, said he has only been back to campus once.
Such a distance has created uncertainty as to whether players would even be welcomed back if they wished to return, some players said.
“I’ve been wanting to come, you know, I just don’t know what the right time—I don’t even know if I’ll be able to get into the place, right, because there has been really no connection,” said Josh Southern, who played at BC from 2007–11 and has not returned to campus since graduating.
According to BC Athletics Director Blake James, the program does value its alumni.
“The Boston College men’s basketball program has a rich tradition of excellence and our men’s basketball alumni serve as the foundation for that success,” James said in a statement to The Heights. “We are constantly looking for ways to cultivate and strengthen our relationships with our alumni base. I am always happy to meet with any former player to discuss our basketball program or answer any questions.”
Former players Oates, Joe Trapani, Tyler Roche, and Tyler Neville were looking forward to returning to the Heights to watch BC take on No. 1 Duke in 2017. But when they approached the athletics department for tickets they presumed would be free, they said they received a surprising response.
“They were asking us to pay full price for the ticket,” Trapani, who played at BC from 2008–11 and started every game during his career in Chestnut Hill, said. “And yeah, it just did not, it didn’t sit well with any of us.”
The group said it ended up getting tickets for 30 percent off, paying around $20 each, which left the alumni largely unsatisfied.
“We’re like ‘Are you f—king kidding me,’” Oates said.
And it wasn’t even about the money—it was about the principle, according to Roche.
“Not that we need to get free tickets, but I don’t know,” Roche, a former team captain who played at BC from 2006–10, said. “I thought it was crazy. Like, I should be able to go to any game.”
James discussed BC’s ticket policies in response to the players’ accusation.
“Our BC men’s basketball alumni are very important to us,” James said. “We have had a policy in place for several years that provides two complimentary tickets to any home game, within any NCAA guidelines. Any former player can contact our box office and make that request.”
But Trapani said after the incident his relationship with the program has never been the same.
“That was kind of a tipping point where I really started distancing myself from the program,” Trapani said. “I don’t think I’ve been back to a game since.”
The incident only further proved to alumni that BC did not treat them with the respect they deserved, according to Oates.
“I don’t know of any basketball program, like big basketball program, that treats their alumni like this,” Oates said.
That’s a common feeling among the alumni. Many former players said BC’s alumni relations fall short of those at other universities.
“When you look at other athletic departments, I mean, once you’re in, you’re in,” Southern said. “I mean, you’re in for life.”
Some ACC schools such as Clemson, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech have alumni-specific positions in their online athletics staff directories, while BC does not. On its athletics website, BC mentions its alumni programs through information about the alumni connector newsletter and the Varsity Club. BC also has an Assistant Director position for Athletics Annual Giving listed on its “Join Our Team,” tab on its alumni website.
Dan McDermott, who served as BC’s director of basketball operations under head coach Jim Christian, was viewed by many players as their final connection back to the school, according to Roche. Since his departure, that connection has been largely snapped, Roche said.
Even when BC has tried to communicate with its alumni from this era, the focus is mostly on fundraising. The outreach comes in a disorganized, lazy manner, according to players.
“When they send out an email, it’s like a shitty email that a third grader could write,” Neville, a former BC walk-on and player from 2003–07, said.
Neville raised this specific point to the program in early 2022, responding to a newsletter email they sent out.
“You’re kind of miffed when you just get a really uninspiring newsletter or reached out for a donation from the program when there’s no effort to build camaraderie or facilitate any type of rehabbing the relationship between these old alumni and the program,” Trapani said.
This type of outreach could easily be improved, Neville said, especially considering BC has an extensive network of student-athlete alumni who want to help the program.
“You have this network of people that would probably want to give you money, if you just spent an ounce of time doing it,” Neville said. “And they do negative.”
Oates added that before the 2022 ACC Tournament in the Barclays Center, he reached out to the program to see if he could potentially receive free tickets for John Jay High School varsity basketball, where he serves as volunteer assistant coach in Cross River, N.Y.
Oates never received a response, so he emailed a second time. But once again, he received no response, he said.
“Not even a ‘no,’” Oates said. “Tell me to go f—k myself. Don’t just ignore me.”
For Oates, the incident represents a broader issue with the program.
“We feel neglected and mistreated by the basketball program,” Oates said. “Nobody’s going to donate. Nobody is going to be involved because we don’t feel like it’s reciprocal.”
The coaching and administrative instability that followed Skinner’s 2010 firing—a move which several players still look down upon—is at the root of the disconnect with alumni, according to some players.
“The slap in the face for us was the firing of Coach Skinner,” Rice said.
And as the Steve Donahue, post-Skinner era began in Chestnut Hill, several alumni said their relationship with BC began to collapse.
“Once Skinner left, it was just like the communication line was just kind of cut,” Roche said.
Things were never the same, according to Marshall.
“Everything went downhill,” Marshall said.
The relationship grew even more distant once Christian was hired as BC’s head coach in 2014, according to some players.
“Over time, you know, I tried to build a relationship with Jim Christian and tried to build a relationship with those guys and get back in there and try to help and there was just no—it didn’t seem like there was really any interest in getting old alumni involved with the current program,” Trapani said.
Marshall said he received a similarly cold response when he sought to connect with Christian and his staff.
“They just didn’t care anything about us,” Marshall said.
Craig Smith is BC’s all-time leading rebounder and second all-time scorer. He said he has a better relationship with the team than some of his former teammates, but he agreed that BC needs to do a better job bringing players back together.
“We need to start building certain things towards the alumni, because we have some pretty strong alumni and some great guys that can actually help the program,” Smith said.
Smith was a major catalyst of BC’s 2005–06 Sweet 16 team, but still has not seen his jersey number raised to the rafters at Conte Forum. In fact, the last time BC retired a player’s number was for Troy Bell, BC’s all-time leading scorer who most recently played for the program in 2003.
“We should have more involvement, guys’ jerseys should be retired, just to be honest,” Smith said. “Especially myself and [Jared] Dudley.”
Dudley, who was the ACC Player of the Year in 2007, sits at sixth on BC’s all-time scoring list, and was a 14-year NBA player and 2020 NBA champion, also expressed a desire to see his number retired alongside his deserving teammates.
“There’s no events for guys to get back,” Dudley, a current assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, said. “There’s no, you know, even when it comes to retiring numbers, I don’t even know how it works. … I look at all these different players, different colleges get their numbers retired. … It shouldn’t be 10 plus years, 50 years old, getting your number retired.”
Even more jarring to players is the lack of celebratory reunions for the program’s 2005–06 Sweet 16, program-record 28-win squad.
“There’s so much stuff and history behind everything, and just to not be acknowledged, it just, it sucks,” Marshall said. “It just makes us not want to tell people that we went to BC.”
Marshall said that while he and his teammates from the 2000s are upset about their relationships with the program, the absence of reunions may also hurt the present-day team.
“If you don’t even see your former players coming back, why would you think this is a place that you would want to be, too, as a present player,” Marshall said. “I just keep coming back to it—it’s like they don’t care.”
Most said that given the program’s lack of success over the last 10 years, it is surprising it would not want to highlight the team’s past accomplishments.
“You have all these guys who were active and want to have a relationship with the program, and active during that time when BC was actually considered a player in the ACC,” Oates said. “And then it’s been a lot of rough years. And despite that, you know, they’re not even trying to hang on to the glory of the past.”
But while the majority of players have had little to no contact with the program since graduating, that experience is different for one player—Dudley.
Dudley, perhaps the program’s most popular and vocal alumnus, said he has maintained a good relationship with the program since graduating in 2007 amid countless coaching and administrative changes, largely because of him reaching out to the program—not the opposite.
“My experience is different than the other guys,” Dudley said. “Because obviously BC was a phenomenal four years. I had tons of success. But I kept going up there wanting to meet with the AD … it wasn’t like they reached out to me. It was me reaching out to them. Because it didn’t matter who the coach is or who the AD is, I’m always going to be associated with Boston College, regardless.”
Other players, like Neville, see Dudley in good standing with the program solely because he is, and always will be, the face of the program.
“The only thing they do is they cater to Matt Ryan and Jared Dudley,” Neville said.
Dudley, however, said he urged his teammates to begin to reach out themselves instead of waiting for BC to do so as a possible way to improve the relationships between both sides.
“Some people don’t remember John Oates,” Dudley said as an example. “So if you’re new coming in, it’s very rare for people to go back 10 basketball teams, calling every player … anytime you have a lot of different coaches or a lot of different ADs, sometimes a lot of stuff will fall through the cracks.”
Dudley said Skinner’s firing was the start of trouble for BC. What cost BC even more, according to Dudley, was not hiring one of its assistants from Skinner’s coaching tree to be its next head coach, such as current Northeastern head coach Bill Coen or current Georgetown head coach Ed Cooley.
“They had an opportunity to keep it in the family if they wanted to,” Dudley said. “When you have a program that successful, you keep it in the family, and this is how you would keep the alumni going. … They chose to separate themselves from Al Skinner and everyone who’s associated with him. It’s still hurting BC to this day, 16 years later.”
Dudley’s suggestions for potential improvements will only go so far unless the program is willing to reciprocate the effort as well, he said.
“It’s all about just putting us as a priority,” Dudley said.
Since Earl Grant became the program’s head coach in March 2021, relationships have slowly but surely started to improve, especially in terms of reaching out to alumni—something assistant coach Anthony Goins has made a priority, according to some players.
Rice, Marshall, and Smith, in particular, said they have been in contact with Goins.
“I’m gonna give Anthony Goins his credit—I feel like me and him kind of talk the most out of the coaching staff,” Smith said.
Marshall believes he drew Goins’ attention back in January 2022 when he tweeted about helping bring the program back to what it once was after North Carolina defeated the Eagles 91–65 on Jan. 2, 2022. Goins reached out about two weeks after the tweet, according to Marshall.
“He just wanted to build that relationship, because there was none with former players,” Marshall said. “I’ve been in communication with him ever since, probably for the past year and a half.”
Marshall said Goins now regularly sends him BC gear and offered to pay for a hotel for him and his family to come back and visit Chestnut Hill.
“He’s the only one who really seems serious about having us get involved with the program,” Marshall said. “He wanted to hear us out, understand the culture that we built there and how they could bring that culture back to today’s team.”
It’s a step in the right direction—a direction toward a relationship the alumni desperately want to restore with a program they still love, according to Marshall.
While the relationship is not what they want it to be, nearly all nine players said they would be happy to help the program today.
“If they really want to change something and if they really want to try to build something, they need to make an attempt to bring some of us back,” Rice said. “Bring us back in there and let us work with some of these guys. Let them hear some of our opinions of what made us successful, just to have an understanding that BC basketball is not like any other other place, any other school in the ACC.”
James said he is looking forward to bringing back alumni for next season.
“With the level of excitement for the upcoming 2023-24 season, I look forward to welcoming our Eagle alumni back to Conte Forum,” James said.
Despite the strained relationship, all nine players praised the time they spent in Chestnut Hill, which they said makes their current tension with the program even harder to swallow.
“We love BC basketball,” Oates said. “Speaking personally, I would love to bring my kids and my wife to a game and feel like I’m coming home and be able to show them the locker room and show them the practice facility and take them into the gym and walk around Conte. But, based on how they interact with us, and the treatment we’ve gotten in the past, it doesn’t seem like it would be that kind of experience.”
Not only did BC produce successful basketball players from those 2000s teams—players that went on to play in the NBA and overseas—but it produced others that became successful in the business world, with connections that they want to use to help the current program.
“Those are connections that would really benefit players and alumni that are coming up that need help with getting a start in life outside of basketball,” Trapani said.
Rice, who played 11 years of overseas basketball where he earned the EuroLeague MVP in 2015, expressed a desire to serve in some sort of mentorship role for the current players.
“My door’s always open,” Rice said. “They know that they could contact me to come back up there and if they really wanted to and if they really put forth the effort, I know I could get guys to come back up there. … Everybody’s literally a call away and a date away from us all being back at BC again.”
Oates works in digital marketing, Neville is the head of marketing and macro analyst at Corriente Advisors, Trapani is a senior account executive at Indeed.com, and Roche is a risk manager at the Dane Group—all roles that could be of help to the current players and their success, in any path they desire, the four players said. They want to be this help.
“I think we would be more than willing to mentor and help somebody coming out of college,” Trapani said.
Neville criticized the program for failing to utilize them.
“If you want to actually excel, why not use your network?” Neville said. “And they don’t do it at all. They don’t give two shits.”
Marshall, in particular, pointed out BC’s failure in providing post-graduate resources specifically for athletes.
“When you go to BC, once you leave as an athlete, it’s over,” Marshall said. “There’s no help with anything in life. I have so many friends that went to UCLA and USC, that played there, and when they’re done with basketball, you have people that you talk to. If you need help, they help you out. But with BC, it’s just, it’s just not that. It’s just not. It’s just like, once you’re done, ‘Hey, thank you for what you did here and go on and live life without Boston College for the rest of your life.’”
Yet Marshall, who co-founded a skill development training company with former NBA player Darren Collison, said he would still love to become involved with the program as well.
“I really do wanna help in any way that I can help,” Marshall said. “I’m always for it.”
Roche said he hopes the relationship can be repaired.
“This was such a big part of our life,” Roche said. “Such a happy part of our life. So that’s kind of the goal. We just wanna be a part of it again.”