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Something's brewing on The Heights

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  December 3, 2010 03:27 PM

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Something's brewing on The Heights.

Went to Conte Forum just for fun the other night and a wonderful basketball game broke out. Too bad you missed it.

BC and Indiana were hardly marquee attractions in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Neither is picked to do much in their respective conferences. But BC beat Indiana, a show of passion and skill that enthralled the crowd of 5,329 in attendance, proving once again that a
well-played college basketball game is one of the best entertainment options we Americans have on our astonishingly vast sports smorgasbord.

I'll leave analysis of Indiana to the Hoosier scribes, although it would have been nice had coach Tom Crean left behind 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Christian Watford as a gift to Steve Donahue. He was a Big Ten All-Rookie pick last season and I can see why.

But I must tell you that what I saw from BC was very encouraging, both in the short and long runs. There is little doubt they will be better than people thought, and since Donahue and his staff have reportedly done very well with their inaugural recruiting class (including three Californians, two of whom are said to be high level), the future looks bright for BC basketball.

"Steve is an excellent coach," said Crean, now in his third year at IU. "Gene DeFilippo is one of the best athletic directors in the country. This is a wonderful program. They are going to have a lot of success here."

Al Skinner had given BC some of the best teams in its history, but the simple truth is the program had grown stale. Al's unparalleled laid-back approach to what the other 99.9999999 percent of his colleagues think is a time-consuming, high-pressure job had run its course. For reasons only he knows, he had stopped recruiting. Oh, yeah, he knew he had to find players
somewhere, but once he lost A-list assistants Ed Cooley and Bill Coen to well-deserved head coaching jobs at Fairfield and Northeastern, respectively, the recruiting had fallen off and Al was not the man to step in and do the heavy lifting himself. DeFilippo recognized this and made up his mind the slide was not going to continue.

Fortunately for him, Steve Donahue was available, fresh from an historic run at Cornell during which he had terminated the three-decade tyranny of the Ivy League imposed by Princeton and Penn by assembling a team that could play with anyone in the land. It was time for Donahue, a 20-year veteran of the Ivies as a Penn assistant and Cornell head man, to
play for bigger stakes.

He has three seniors who have fought the ACC wars and who know how to play in Corey Raji, Joe Trapani, and Biko Paris. Most importantly, he's got an extremely talented junior in Reggie Jackson. Before I go any farther, here is Tom Crean, the man who recruited and coached Dwyane Wade at Marquette, on Reggie Jackson.

"There aren't three better pick-and-roll guards in the country ... if he plays like that, he's an NBA guard."

Donahue comes to BC with major endorsements in the coaching community, but you still wanted to see what a Donahue team would look like, up close and personal, at the next level. The night BC lost, at home, to Yale (no offense), the answer was "horrible." But it now appears that losing to Yale was the best thing that could have happened to the Eagles. They didn't guard and they didn't show proper respect for their opponent. Based on what's happened since, I'd say that will never happen again.

BC had a nice trip to Orlando, defeating Texas A&M and California, while losing to Big Ten titan Wisconsin. And then came the Indiana game.

Playing a truly crisp two-way game, they led by 14 at the half, 43-29. But Indiana was able to get the lead down to one, not because BC blew it or handed it to them or choked it away, but because they were on their way to shooting 63 percent in the second half. But BC responded with class, as freshman Danny Rubin (Chevy Chase, Md.) hit the first of three
consecutive corner threes to ignite a big BC run. And on the first night of Hannukah, no less.

Jackson was big-time brilliant, scoring 27 while controlling tempo. Now I have seen every BC guard for the past 46 years, at least eight of whom have played in either the ABA or NBA. I'm talking names such as John Bagley, Michael Adams, and Dana Barros. I do not know what Reggie Jackson's ceiling is, but I can assure you that none of these great BC guards were as purely athletic as Reggie Jackson.

The great mystery of the past two years at BC was why Reggie Jackson ever came to BC in the first place. Had he ever seen them play? He was born to play up-tempo basketball, not in Al Skinner's little flex offense phone booth. It made absolutely no sense for him to play in such a cramped style. I felt strongly that under Steve Donahue he could blossom into a Top 30
national player. It may be that I aimed too low. The kid who destroyed Indiana on Wednesday could play for anyone, and that includes the team in Durham, N.C. There's a lot of Nolan Smith in Reggie Jackson.

I spoke with a long-time season ticket holder, a man with impeccable basketball credentials, and he said that he really hadn't enjoyed coming to BC games for the last 10 years, even when they won. But he absolutely loves this team, and the Donahue style. A colleague of mine at the press table said he had had the exact same conversation with a friend of his. All I can
tell you is that as Reggie Jackson was dribbling out the clock in the final 20 seconds or so the fans gave the Eagles a standing ovation.

You don't believe me? Then why not go see for yourself. It just so happens there is a nice college basketball doubleheader on Saturday at the TD Garden. Skip Connors has put together a program featuring Northeastern and Drexel in the opener at 4 p.m. and BC and 7-0
UMass following. BC and UMass will be a fine test for each other.

Here's what this BC team reminds me of: Rick Pitino's first team at Providence, the 1985-86 squad that went 17-14. I might even include Rick's first team at Kentucky, the overachieving 14-14 squad in 1989-90 that was immortalized as "The Unforgettables." In each case Rick was saying, "Here's how we're going to play," and wait till I get my players." In the case of Providence, Rick got them to the Final Four the second year. OK, that's not going to happen with BC. But you get the idea.

I'm telling you right now: BC is worth the investment, both financial and emotional. They will be up and down and in and out, and there is a limit to their talent. But they will get somebody good in Conte, and they will not go down easily on the road.

And the story is only just beginning...

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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