By Jeff Goodman
November 22, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- It appeared that Boston College was set for a long season in its inaugural year in the ACC when the Eagles started with a trio of conference losses.
However, Al Skinner's club then took on the personality of its coach. The Eagles didn't get rattled, rebounded to finish 11-5 in league play, then fell just two points short of an ACC title. BC won more games (28) than any team in school history a year ago and advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 1994.
The bad news: Craig Smith, arguably the best player (he ranks second in career scoring and first in rebounding) the program has ever seen, is now with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.
"If we're going to have success, I'd better change a little bit," Skinner said. "We're kind of re-establishing ourselves in who we are and what our identity is going to be. The bad thing is that one player (Smith) did so much. The good thing is that now it's an opportunity for someone else."
That likely means it's Jared Dudley's turn to become the Eagles' go-to guy.
Dudley, a 6-7 senior forward, doesn't have exceptional athleticism, but he just finds a way to get things done on the court. He was, like many of BC's players, under-recruited coming out of high school. He grew up in San Diego, and even San Diego State wasn't sure he was good enough.
However, Dudley has answered all the critics and has become one of the top players in the country. He's already difficult to stop because of his versatile game and his work ethic on the court, and he's hoping to become more of a leader during his final season in Chestnut Hill.
"I know I need to be more vocal, both on and off the court, now that Craig is gone," Dudley said. "But I'm not going to change my game. The biggest difference is that there's no question who is going to get the ball in crunch time."
"He's definitely a better player than he was last year," Skinner said of Dudley. "But he's got to demand the basketball. That's part of what goes into being a great player. Craig demanded the ball, and that's what Jared needs to do."
Other than Smith, BC's biggest losses were those of steady senior point guard Louis Hinnant and the team's two top assistant coaches, Bill Coen (Northeastern) and Ed Cooley (Fairfield).
Coen and Cooley were the ones responsible for finding Troy Bell, Smith, Dudley and Sean Williams, after few high-major programs in the country felt that those prospects were good enough to play at the highest level of college hoops. Hinnant gave the team a stable floor leader who never got rattled. He was an extension of the coach, Skinner's security blanket.
Now the job of running the club falls to sophomore Tyrese Rice, a 5-11 scorer who will try to become more of a distributing point guard. It won't be easy, because Rice is a guy who always has looked for his shot. His decision-making abilities have been questioned in the past, and for good reason.
"I know that you only go as far as the person handling the ball," Rice said. "I know I'm the key to this team. Decision-making is going to be a big factor for me. I've got to understand when to score and when not to."
Rice, who has NBA range on his jumper and a flashy game with the ball in his hands, will be thrown into the fire because the Eagles don't have a legitimate backup at his position.
Sophomore Marquez Haynes is more of a wing guard who will be thrust into having to run the team when Rice isn't on the floor. Haynes is a big-time athlete and a capable scorer, but he's never really played the point, and that could be a major problem for the Eagles.
Senior Sean Marshall, an enigmatic, 6-6, 212-pound shooting guard, has dropped more than 20 pounds since the end of last season. He is hoping to be able to contribute in more ways than just launching shots from the perimeter.
"I know I didn't play well at the end of last season," Marshall said. "But this is my last go-around, and I wanted to make sure I was ready."
Marshall began last season by scoring in double-figures in 12 of the team's first 13 games. Then he fizzled in the second half, when he wasn't able to provide Skinner with consistent scoring.
If Marshall can keep his head in the game, he has the talent to be a solid double-digits-per-game guy. However, the problem is that just as easily as he can go for 20 points, Marshall can go 1-for-10 from the field.
The Eagles have talent up front. There's no questioning whether Williams, an ultra-athletic 6-10 junior, can impact the game on the defensive end. The question is whether he can stay out of trouble. He recently was suspended for the second straight season, this time missing the first two games for an academic issue. He sat out the first semester a year ago, after a marijuana-related arrest.
"It's simple. (Williams) needs minutes," Skinner said. "You can't play if you're suspended, and you can't play enough if you're in foul trouble. If he can just stay on the floor, he's going to be effective."
Williams, when he is in sync, is arguably the best shotblocker in the country. He also converts easy baskets when the Eagles get out in transition.
"He makes such an impact with his athleticism," Dudley said of Williams, who set the school record for blocks as a freshman despite coming off the bench. "The key for him is staying out of foul trouble."
The future of junior forward Akida McLain, who was slated to move into Smith's power forward spot, is up in the air. McLain was suspended for the start of last season after passing counterfeit $20 bills, and this year he's out for the first nine games for academic reasons.
The loss of McLain may not be critical. His shaky status will give freshman widebody Shamari Spears a chance to show what he can do. An undersized (6-5) power forward, Spears scored a game-high 23 points in the Eagles' opener against New Hampshire.
Spears hails from the same program, Blair Academy in New Jersey, that produced NBA players Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva. Spears reminds many BC folks of former Eagles standout Danya Abrams, because of the two players' similar body builds, soft hands and quick feet.
Since it's been difficult to rely on Williams over the past year, plodding 6-10 big man John Oates has started the last 38 games for the Eagles. Oates takes up space, passes well from the high post and can make open shots from the perimeter. However, he's not much of a threat in the paint, on either end.
Skinner doesn't typically use a deep rotation, so don't expect BC to go with more than seven or eight guys consistently. Freshman Tyler Roche will see limited minutes and is one of the team's best perimeter shooters.
"We are what we are," Skinner said of the post-Smith Eagles. "We're not going to change much."
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1997 NA 22-9 NCAA 2nd Round
1998 NA 15-16 None
1999 NA 6-21 None
2000 NA 11-19 None
2001 NA 27-5 NCAA 2nd Round
2002 NA 20-12 NCAA 1st Round
2003 NA 19-12 NIT 2nd Round
2004 NA 24-10 NCAA 2nd Round
2005 NA 25-5 NCAA 2nd Round
2006 11-5 (3) 28-8 NCAA Sweet 16
x -- won ACC title
Name Ht./Wt. Pos. Class
Jared Dudley* 6-7/225 WF Sr.
Sean Marshall* 6-6/212 WG Sr.
Tyrelle Blair 6-11/240 C Jr.
Akida McLain 6-8/220 BF Jr.
John Oates* 6-10/255 BF Jr.
Sean Williams 6-10/235 C Jr.
Marquez Haynes 6-3/185 WG So.
Tyrese Rice 6-1/190 PG So.
Daye Kaba 6-4/200 WG Fr.
Tyler Roche 6-7/208 WF Fr.
Shamari Spears 6-6/245 BF Fr.
- -- returning starter
What had been a 1-2 punch of Craig Smith and Jared Dudley is down to one, with Smith now playing in the NBA. Dudley, a do-it-all forward and an All-ACC pick last season, now has to lead a program that won 77 games in his first three seasons. Many others will chip in, but Dudley is the star. Sean Marshall, an inconsistent but experienced role player, also has to pick up some slack and be there for his team in late-game situations. He got off to a slow start, going just 7-for-21 from the floor and 2-for-9 from three-point range, in the first two games of the season. Dynamic point guard Tyrese Rice played significant minutes behind and with valuable leader Louis Hinnant (now playing in Europe) as a freshman last year. Now Rice runs the show, without a natural floor-leader mentality and without another true point on the roster.
Other Key Returnees
Center Sean Williams and forward Akida McLain weren't with the team when the Eagles beat New Hampshire and were upset by Vermont (at home) in the first two games of the season. Why? They were in trouble -- again. Williams, a shotblocker who really is the difference between BC being a good team and being one better than that, missed half of last season after his on-campus arrest for marijuana possession. McLain, out for seven games last year after his offseason arrest (involving counterfeit bills), will miss the first nine games of this season. This year's suspensions are believed to be related to academics. Both players are vital to the success of the team. John Oates, a reliable shooter and passer who developed into a solid post starter last year, was going to start over Williams anyway, with coach Al Skinner hoping to play the two big men together at times. Guard Marquez Haynes, now a sophomore, may be the most athletic player on the roster. He'll have to play some at the point.
It's tough to have a better debut than the one turned in by freshman Shamari Spears, a bulky (6-6, 245) power forward from Salisbury, N.C., who scored 23 points (8-10 FG) in his first game and averaged 18 points over the first two games. Of the rest of the freshman class, wing shooter Tyler Roche is the only one getting significant minutes. Transfer center Tyrelle Blair blocked four shots and averaged 14.5 minutes in the first two games.
ALSO Worth Noting
Dudley got off to a good start, with double-doubles in his first two games. Of his 25 rebounds in those games, 15 were offensive. ... Free throw shooting, which hurt the Eagles last season, may be a problem again. The team hit under 68 percent in the first two games. ... The season will be highlighted by the best two-game home stretch in the history of the program. Duke and North Carolina will play in Conte Forum within a four-day span in February.
Chart By: The BC Insider