June 21, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL - Things haven't been quiet around the Boston College basketball program since the Eagles saw their season end with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
There has been plenty of news, and most of it has been bad, leaving BC on somewhat shaky ground heading into the ACC, after some early projections that listed the Eagles second behind only Duke heading into 2005-06.
First, in April, backup point guard Steve Hailey (Iona) and seldom-used freshman forward Gordon Watt (Purdue) announced that they were leaving the program. Hailey would have played a lot next season, but that was just the start of the unwanted headlines.
The Eagles quickly recovered from the loss of Hailey by signing high-scoring Virginia prep star Tyrese Rice, and they also added 6-11 transfer Tyrelle Blair from Loyola-Chicago. A lanky shotblocker, Blair will have to sit out the upcoming season but can join the team for 2006-07. At the time, the thinking was that Blair either would provide a second post intimidator to go with Sean Williams, or he would be the main guy if Williams left early for the NBA next summer.
Soon after, though, signs pointed to Williams leaving BC for another reason. He was arrested on campus and jailed on Class D misdemeanors for possession of marijuana and alcohol. That news came just after freshman forward Akida McLain, the Eagles' projected sixth man, was arrested in his native Pittsburgh for passing a couple of fake $20 bills. Both players spent a night in jail, Williams after being arrested by a BC policeman who then brought him to Brighton District Court.
It looks as if McLain, who later pled guilty to a lesser charge, will be back for his sophomore year. The bad news is that he may move into the starting lineup in place of Williams, who was booted from school and the team for at least the fall 2005 semester. There has been some talk that Williams will take classes somewhere in his native Texas and then return to BC, possibly only to go to class and practice while sitting out the rest of the season.
While one BC source believes that Williams' days at the school are over, coach Al Skinner recently indicated that he has an open mind, pointing out that he has no way of knowing how long the legal process will take.
"If he follows through with whatever he needs to do," Skinner said, "then we'll more than welcome him back."
Skinner continued: "He's extremely disappointed. He's let down a lot of people - himself and his family. I know I've got a stake in this, but I'll be fine. He's letting himself down and letting his family down. He's obviously immature. It's clear he didn't handle this responsibility as well as he should have."
Williams averaged 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds off the BC bench in his rookie season, while recording 63 of the team's 123 blocked shots. Veteran ACC writers who saw him play last season projected him as the second-best returning shotblocker in the conference behind Duke's Sheldon Williams, the reigning national defensive player of the year.
If Williams is gone and McLain is back, as expected, the BC lineup will consist of five returnees, including McLain, who didn't play much in 2004-05. The bench will consist of three true freshmen and lightly used big man John Oates.
Rice and fellow freshman guard Marquez Haynes likely will be counted on for serious minutes during their first season at BC, while 6-8 Evan Neisler, who reportedly needs some time to develop, also may have to play to take some pressure off star forwards Craig Smith and Jared Dudley up front. The hope is that Oates can give the Eagles maybe 10 minutes per game, taking up space inside after the graduation of seven-foot senior Nate Doornekamp.
Clearly, the loss of Williams is a major blow. He set the school record for blocked shots last season, and he did it in less than 20 minutes per game. His presence on the inside was seen as a key to Smith and Dudley being able to dominate, as they did so often over the past two seasons.
Williams was suspended twice by Skinner last year - for a total of three games - for violations of team rules, believed to be connected to academics. There were times when he seemed indifferent on the court, but more times when the opposition was afraid to journey into the lane for fear of being swatted away by the freshman big man.
In the middle of all the bad news was some positive confirmation for the Eagles, that Smith would not be pursuing the NBA draft this year. All signs pointed to him staying and carrying the Eagles into the ACC, and nobody projected him as a lottery pick, but it was still good to hear Smith confirm (in May) exactly what everyone expected.
Regardless of who will be in the lineup, the Eagles will open their 2005-06 season at home against Dartmouth, on Nov. 18. They then will participate in the exempt Las Vegas Invitational, playing Detroit and probably Fairleigh Dickinson at home in the first two games before going to Vegas. If all goes according to seed, the Eagles would meet up with Oklahoma State in the first game in Las Vegas.
Highlighting BC's home schedule in the first year in the ACC is the Feb. 1 game against Duke. The Eagles will play home and home with former Big East foes Miami and Virginia Tech, along with Wake Forest, N.C. State and Georgia Tech. Home games against the Deacons and Hokies are scheduled to end BC's first regular season in the new league.
BC also announced that it will meet Michigan State in one of the two games at the Jimmy V Classic, on Dec. 6 at Madison Square Garden. The losses of St. John's as a Big East rival and the Big East Tournament had knocked the Eagles out of the Garden, and school officials want to continue a presence - both for recruiting and alumni - in the New York area.
"We want to play in New York as often as we can," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said. "It's good for us to be there, good for our fans."
Despite the lingering animosity between Boston College and the remaining members of the Big East, and vows by some league schools that they'd never again play BC, the Eagles are close to reaching an agreement to continue a football relationship with Syracuse. DeFilippo said he's been talking to SU senior associate AD Mark Jackson about resuming a series that dates all the way back to 1924. It could happen as soon as 2006.
"No dates have been picked, but we want to play and they want to play," DeFilippo said. "We should play."
While members of the Big East sued BC and the ACC over the Eagles' departure, Syracuse, which was in the original expansion plan, was never part of any legal proceedings. Continuing this series, between two of the three Northeast schools playing Division I-A football, makes sense. The schools have battled for high school talent for years, and they have similar approaches to the athletic/academic balance.
The Eagles also thought they'd be keeping the basketball series with Providence going right away, with a game at BC this coming season. Providence coach Tim Welsh initially said he wanted to keep the games going, and that he wanted to do it right away. Apparently, though, Welsh now thinks he has enough tough tests for his young team. So it won't start right away, but the old rivals may begin their new non-league series as soon as next season.
In other news, DeFilippo reported that all 54 football luxury boxes have been sold for the coming season, despite a rate increase. He also said that all football and basketball games are expected to sell out, more signs of the fans' obvious excitement about their new league.