Picking his spots

Donahue has refilled BC’s roster on the fly

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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Steve Donahue remembers the bad old days, when he was trying to establish himself as a head coach at Cornell. He had a team with little talent that produced few wins and drew few fans. Some gatherings at Cornell’s Newman Arena could be measured by the dozens.

He also remembers his recruiting mantra back then: Bring in good people, and good players will follow — eventually.

And they did, so much so that when Donahue left Ithaca, N.Y., last spring for Boston College, he had turned the Big Red into an Ivy League power with three consecutive conference titles.

“We got really good kids, and they helped us recruit kids that were better basketball players,’’ said Donahue. “And that’s the way we are doing it here.’’

Donahue’s BC team is coming off a 21-13 season that ended with a second-round NIT loss to Northwestern. Donahue basically coached a team assembled by former coach Al Skinner, including All-ACC guard Reggie Jackson.

Jackson is gone, having opted to skip his senior season and enter next month’s NBA draft. So is the core group of seniors and other Skinner recruits, leaving BC in a rebuilding mode with lots of scholarships to give and some major reconstruction work for Donahue and his staff.

“It’s fun and it’s challenging,’’ said Donahue, who is recruiting at the top level for the first time after nearly 20 years in the Ivy League (at Penn as an assistant and at Cornell as a head coach). “The fortunate thing is that we are at BC and we can get quality kids.’’

Donahue’s recruiting trail would challenge the most sophisticated GPS.

He has gone overseas to Germany, landing 6-foot-5-inch forward/guard Patrick Heckmann, who has the polished game that Donahue likes and in the coach’s opinion can help right away.

He went local, grabbing 7-foot Dennis Clifford from Milton Academy, who has been labeled in some recruiting circles as a “project.’’ But, as Donahue said, “In the ACC, we don’t have the luxury of time to have a project player.’’

He went west and brought back a 6-9 forward from Long Beach, Calif., named Ryan Anderson, who flirted with Pac-10 teams such as California, Washington, and Arizona. “He’s played the best competition of anybody in the group of kids we recruited,’’ said Donahue.

He also came out of Southern California with Jordan Daniels, a super-quick 5-8 prospect who is the Eagles’ point guard of the present as well as the future.

Donahue even cherry-picked from the Pac-10, picking up 6-11 center Kyle Caudill, who originally committed to Arizona State.

Also stepping into the mix is another Pac-10 product, 6-5 guard Matt Humphrey, who began his career at Oregon but transferred to BC last year and spent the winter working on his shooting and getting used to Donahue’s system.

“I came out of high school [in Chicago] looking for a situation where I could play right away,’’ said Humphrey, who played sporadically as a freshman and sophomore at Oregon, then decided to look east when Ducks coach Ernie Kent was fired in March 2010.

Humphrey had met Donahue when he was playing with the US Under-18 national team one summer in Washington.

“He evaluated me and liked me,’’ said Humphrey, who passed up Baylor and Michigan to come to The Heights. “I wanted a fresh start. I spent the year working hard and getting ready for whatever role Coach Donahue wants me to play.’’

Donahue, who probably will start Humphrey in the backcourt with Daniels, said, “Matt has some athleticism, he has some size, and he has worked hard getting acclimated to the system.’’

Donahue will also bring in a couple of walk-ons, looking for production similar to that provided last season by guard John Cahill, who worked his way into the starting lineup. Cahill will be back this year as a graduate assistant, offering his basketball IQ, which Donahue says is off the charts.

Donahue knows he doesn’t have any super blue-chip recruits, but that has never really been the BC way.

“At Cornell, we had some long, lean years and you questioned yourself and asked, ‘When it is ever going to turn?’ ’’ said Donahue. “But we got good kids and better players, and it did. And that’s why we do what we do.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at