Skinner has pieces to build on BC's success

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 22, 2009
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MINNEAPOLIS - During Boston College coach Al Skinner's postgame press conference, the most interesting question was the one he asked himself. Skinner acknowledged his expectations weren't very high coming into this season, which made success easy to achieve. But he wondered what people would expect next season.

He wondered if the Eagles had earned any more respect. Or if after being picked by many to be an Atlantic Coast Conference doormat, then proving those predictions wrong, they'd face the same doubts next season.

He asked, "Do people think we're going to be a better team without Tyrese Rice? That's the question people are going to have to answer as far as preseason is concerned. That's the question we're going to have to answer as a team."

Rice's job this season, which ended with Friday night's 72-55 loss to Southern Cal in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional, was to make the pieces around him better. The question next season will be how good are the pieces BC has left?

Last season, when the Eagles posted the third-worst record in Skinner's tenure, which is now 12 years, the question was similar. The 14-17 mark snapped a stretch of four straight 20-win seasons for the Eagles, and the notion coming in was that BC would improve only as much as its fleet of freshmen.

That's why Biko Paris, Rakim Sanders, Corey Raji, and Josh Southern spent most of that summer at The Heights. It's why their plan is to work just as hard to build on this season.

"We are going to try to get better," Sanders said. "Just like last year. We have gotten better. We are going to use the summer to work out and improve."

"We've got to take this and learn from it," said Southern. "Most of us have two or three more years to play basketball. It wasn't like we weren't dedicated this year, but you can always do more."

"We can't just go home and sip sodas and come back next year and expect to go to the NCAA Tournament," said Joe Trapani, who transferred from Vermont to BC for the chance to play on a bigger stage. "We have to get nine guys in the gym. The guys that weren't playing as much this year and the guys that were. We have a lot of growing and maturing to do, but I definitely think we have the pieces to build off this year."

BC doesn't have a recruit coming in next season. Trapani, Raji, and Southern will likely be the starting frontcourt again. The backcourt will be full, with Sanders at shooting guard, Paris at the point, and Reggie Jackson able to play either position.

"I think they are going to expect a little bit more from themselves for next season," Skinner said. "So it's going to be interesting to see how hard they're going to work in the offseason. If they're going to be able to understand that there are some roles that are going to change and different guys are going to have different responsibilities. It's going to be interesting to see if they can fulfill that and continue to improve."

Before BC stunned then-No. 1 North Carolina Jan. 4, Skinner was asked if he thought his team was ready for its ACC schedule. He said, "No. But we're going to play anyway." By the end of the season, he didn't have nearly as much doubt. He threw around words like "capable" and talked about how much potential the team had if it executed.

He was confident in Jackson, a freshman. And when Jackson went down with an ankle injury in the ACC tournament loss to Duke, Skinner wasn't surprised that Paris stepped up to play 24 minutes, make all five of his field goal attempts, and run Skinner's flex offense. When that game came down to a single shot, Rice was one of the players Skinner had in mind to take it, but he was also comfortable putting the ball in the hands of Trapani or Sanders. When Sanders front-rimmed it, Skinner never second-guessed him. The Sanders who took the shot wasn't the same player he was a year ago, who felt like he could use his physical tools alone to succeed. He had committed more to learning the game.

"I think we've learned a lot this year," Skinner said. "I think guys have benefited. We can learn from the things that occurred this season and the guys that are returning. We definitely have a chance to build on something."

As for the question about next season's team, Rice answered it himself.

"I have a lot of confidence in the team that they will have over these next two years," Rice said. "They have got a lot of great pieces coming back, and we have some guys that will definitely step up. A lot of these guys are really starting to realize what they can do on this level, and they are definitely going to take care of business."

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