March 25, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL Many Boston College fans always had the feeling that Al Skinner would find a way to fix it. The BC basketball season, that is.
Skinner has had so much success making his understated style work during his time at The Heights that many expected him to have an answer to why his team was going down the drain this year. The veteran coach had to have something that would make it all better.
But there was no fixing when it came to this team, which skidded all the way to BC's first losing season since 1999-2000. The failures, the reasons why, have been documented in this space before, but Skinner was always the hidden variable, the reason why things would turn around.
Well, except for one game in the ACC Tournament, where BC turned Maryland from an NCAA hopeful into an NIT team, it just never happened. The Eagles expended all of their energy getting that one tournament victory and were then thrashed by Clemson, a team that flamed out in the NCAA Tournament. The 82-48 loss was the worst for the program since Connecticut came into Conte Forum and beat the Eagles 91-54 on March 8, 2003.
In short, it was just one of those years. There is every reason in the world to think next year will be better, but this one was tough to watch.
Reviewing, the Eagles started well, going 10-2 out of the gate. There was a win at Michigan and then one at Maryland. The two losses were painful a tremendous comeback against Providence at the TD Banknorth Garden that ended in a defeat in a game BC should have won, and a home loss to rival Massachusetts.
There were trouble signs, to be sure. But there also was a 10-2 record for a young team. Even a 25-point home loss to Kansas wasn't enough to cause much worry, because the Jayhawks were one of the best teams in the country.
But then came a real danger sign. BC lost, at home, to mid-major Robert Morris, a team that would catch fire down the stretch but then not even make it to the Northeast Conference title game.
Skinner was worried that night. You could see it. He was at a loss for why his guys wouldn't move, wouldn't push the ball, against a team trying to keep the score low. He said the team on the floor that night was not the one he was seeing in practice.
The players responded. They blew out Wake Forest and beat then-No. 21 Miami.
But optimism? Forget it. There would be a pair of six-game losing streaks, and the Eagles lost 12 of their last 14 to finish 14-17. That barely qualified them for next year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
And make no mistake, things will be better next year unless Tyrese Rice decides to leave. There was no indication that would happen, and Rice said during the ACC Tournament that, while he still had to talk to Skinner about it, he expected to be back next year.
The beleaguered Rice finished the season with a 21-point scoring average, while averaging a shade under five assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. He was under intense pressure from start to finish and for the most part held up well. His 23 points in the first seven minutes of a loss to North Carolina was probably the highlight performance of the season.
Freshman wing Rakim Sanders (11.3) was the only other BC player to average in double figures, but his freshman inconsistency was indicative of what this team was all about.
The Eagles will return their top six scorers and add an intriguing incoming class that also includes transfer Joe Trapani, who sat out this past season after moving in from Vermont.
FOOTBALL: SPRING, NFL NOTES
One of the biggest pluses Boston College football coach Jeff Jagodzinski had going for him as he opened his second spring practice was getting an early look at freshman running back Josh Haden.
With seniors Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth gone, the Eagles don't have an experienced running back on hand, and many are thinking that Haden will be the answer. Haden finished high school early and will take part in spring drills, getting the early jump on the rest of the rookies.
The staff also will get an early look at quarterback Codi Boek, another of the more intriguing newcomers. The transfer hasn't played a lot of college football but was a top recruit out of high school, and he comes in with what looks like a chance at challenging Chris Crane, the heir apparent to Matt Ryan, for the starting job.
Meanwhile, Pro Day at BC was a success, with Ryan throwing as 42 NFL types from 22 teams looked on. Kansas City coach Herm Edwards, whose team has the No. 5 pick in the draft, spoke highly of Ryan afterward.
"The thing this guy has is his ability to win, and that's the thing you look at with a quarterback," said Edwards, who was there along with general manager Carl Peterson and new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. "Some guys have it, and some guys don't. He's very level-headed. What he can do when you watch him play is, he believes if he has the ball at the end of a game he's got a chance to win."
Ryan, who had only four incompletions (three drops, one overthrow) among his 52 throws, thought it went well. He didn't take part in the Senior Bowl nor throw at the NFL Combine, electing to wait and do his throwing on his home field (covered by a bubble during the offseason) to his former receivers.
"I made those decisions, and I've stood by them," Ryan said. "I've stood by the decisions I've made throughout this entire process."
Ryan saw what happened to Brady Quinn in last year's draft, and he even talked to Quinn while the two worked out in Arizona prior to Pro Day. The fall of Quinn, Ryan said, offered special notice of what goes along with the position.
"That's part of the draft," Ryan said. "That's part of playing the position that you play. You get a lot of the attention of playing quarterback."
Two former NFL running backs BC product William Green and former local high school star Omar Easy also worked out. Both are trying to get back to the NFL.
Green, maybe the most talented athlete ever to play for BC, looked chiseled and scored high marks in testing. He's 28 now and determined to make it back.
"I just want a shot," he said.
During his visit to campus, Green noticed the upgrade in the facilities at BC. The new football building opened after he left the Eagles (2001 season).
"That's how they got us here, talking about that place," Green said. "It didn't happen while we were here, but it's great to see now. It's a great place."