By Lenny Megliola
Boston MetroWest Daily News
November 22, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL -- Some folks may see this as Boston College entering a brave new world. Al Skinner thinks that's overstating it a bit.
Hey, he means no disrespect to the ACC. Are you kidding? Skinner's not crazy. Sure, his Eagles are the power conference's latest addition, and they're coming in as true strangers to Tobacco Road. Nobody's ever linked Chapel Hill to Chestnut Hill.
The Eagles will travel to North Carolina as part of their maiden ACC voyage. They also will go to Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia and N.C. State. They may be new neighbors, but they won't be greeted with a welcome wagon.
So what else is new?
"I don't remember any place in the Big East where they welcomed us," Skinner said.
BC took a lot of heat for leaving that league behind, a year after Miami and Virginia Tech bailed. If BC still has a bull's eye on its back, Skinner isn't losing sleep over it.
"We've been competitive in the Big East," he promised, "and we'll be competitive in the ACC."
Indeed, the Eagles won a Big East-best 115 games over the last five years, along with three regular-season conference titles, and they're not exactly bereft of proven talent as they move to the ACC. Two starters, senior forward Craig Smith and junior forward Jared Dudley, made first-
team All-Big East last year as BC went 25-5, losing to Wisconsin-Milwaukee 83-75 in the NCAA Tournament.
Smith is a 6-7, 250-pound behemoth who can bruise you down on the blocks as well as face up and drill 15-footers. After averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, he considered entering the NBA draft but changed his mind.
"When you've had the success he's had, the potential is there to leave early," Skinner said. "I credit him for putting everything down on paper and thinking it out. I don't think (staying) hurts him at all."
What it does for the Eagles is immeasurable. Smith clearly is the leader of this team.
"He's more mature, and in better shape than he's ever been," Skinner said. "He's quick for a man his size. ... When you talk about BC, let's face it, you talk about Craig Smith. He can shoulder it."
Smith's from Los Angeles but has been in the Boston area for a long time, having prepped at nearby Worcester Academy.
"He has great hands, and he can beat you inside or out," Skinner said. "He's a tough out. Nobody handles the ball like he does. There's been no other player like him at BC, and there's no one like him in the ACC."
Dudley, the Big East co-most improved player last season, started every game during his first two years at BC. The soft-spoken 6-7, 225-pound forward from San Diego was good for 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in 2004-05.
"He's a very unique player," Skinner said. "We don't really run plays for him, but the ball goes through him."
When that happens, good things often follow. Dudley, who averaged 3.2 assists a year ago, can pop from outside or slash through the lane. As effective as Dudley was last season, it took Skinner only a few practices to notice the new-and-improved version.
"Jared's gotten better," Skinner said. "His shot has improved. He's bigger and stronger. And he's always made good decisions."
Smith and Dudley are the primary reasons why BC was picked by the ACC coaches and media to finish second, behind Duke.
Junior Sean Marshall, like Dudley, has started all 64 games since coming to Chestnut Hill, and like Dudley and Smith he's from California. The 6-6 Marshall gives the Eagles a deep threat (42 three-pointers in each of his two seasons) at shooting guard. He averaged 11.1 points last season. Because he spends a lot of time deep on the wings, Marshall doesn't get to the foul line much (he is just a 65 percent shooter when he does), and he doesn't grab many rebounds (2.7). But he shoots 45.8 percent from the floor.
"Sean's probably made the most improvement since he's been here," Skinner said. "He was basically a shooter. But his ball-handling has improved, and he's become a great rebounder."
Another returning starter, senior Louis Hinnant, plays the point. He looks to pass first (a team-best 4.8 assists per game) and generally makes wise decisions with the ball.
"He's the brains of the outfit," Skinner said. "He knows the offense very well and knows how to attack. There are no mistakes. He has the complete confidence of his teammates."
Hinnant, Dudley, Marshall, Smith. That's four starters returning, with a total of 305 games under their belts. Still, the Eagles will need some sophomores to step up. Akida McLain, a 6-8 forward (3.9 ppg), got his feet wet as a freshman, but he was suspended indefinitely in mid-November for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Another second-year player, 6-10 John Oates, hardly played at all last season.
Then there's Sean Williams, one of college basketball's ultimate X factors.
The good news: The 6-10 Williams, a Texas product, was a shotblocking whiz as a freshman. His intimidation was such that opponents were either passing up or altering shots in mid-air at the sight of him. His wingspan and jumping ability galvanized the Conte Forum fans. His 63 blocks in 27 games set a school record. His future looked bright, and the coaches looked forward to working Williams into the offense this season.
"He's unique," Skinner said, "a Bill Russell type."
The bad news: Williams ran afoul of the law (on-campus marijuana bust) this summer and was suspended from school. He won't be returning before the second semester, if at all. He's been taking classes back home in Houston, with the intention of returning to Chestnut Hill. That will require the approval of BC's dean of students, as well as athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who appears to be leaning that way.
"He's a good kid," DeFilippo said. "I like him."
BC, which clearly needed more scoring punch in the backcourt, brought in freshman gunners Marquez Haynes and Tyrese Rice. At Richmond's L.C. Bird High, Rice averaged 27 points last season and set the Virginia state record for three-pointers (314). His offensive abilities could lead to increased minutes.
"He's going to be the backup point guard," Skinner said.
Skinner said the 6-3 Haynes -- 14 points and 4.1 assists per game as a prep senior in Texas -- is "one of our fastest players. He can shoot and he plays hard." Another freshman, 6-7 Evan Neisler from North Carolina, is "our utility player," Skinner said.
Skinner (UMass, 1974) is in his ninth season at Boston College (147-100). Since missing postseason play in his first three years, the Eagles have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five, although they haven't been able to get past the second round. He previously was the head coach at Rhode Island (138-126) for nine years. Now his team jumps into the mighty ACC.
"Everybody's excited about the move," Skinner said. "It's a positive move for BC. Obviously, it's a real challenge for our guys."
How positive a move, only time will tell. "You don't know until you get into it," he cautioned.
Now the Eagles are into it. Deep.
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1996 NA 19-11 NCAA 2nd Round
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
x - won ACC title
Name Ht./Wt. Pos. Class
Louis Hinnant* 6-4/190 PG Sr.
Craig Smith* 6-7/250 BF Sr.
Jared Dudley* 6-7/225 WF Jr.
Sean Marshall* 6-6/212 WG Jr.
Akida McLain 6-8/220 WF So.
John Oates 6-10/255 C So.
Sean Williams 6-10/230 C So.
Marquez Haynes 6-3/185 WG Fr.
Evan Neisler 6-7/205 WF Fr.
Tyrese Rice 6-0/183 PG Fr.
* - returning starter
Providence coach Tim Welsh was talking about whether or not BC will be getting Sean Williams back from suspension. When reminded that the Eagles still entered the ACC with two of the best players in the conference in Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, Welsh didn't hesitate to add, "in the country." The pair combined for 34.5 points and 16 rebounds a game last year. Smith is an All-American. Dudley isn't far behind. Both will be more than a handful for a group of teams that haven't seen them much, because neither fits a traditional mold. Smith is an undersized power forward with incredible quickness on the block. Dudley is just ... well, Dudley, with BC coach Al Skinner always quick to point out that his "junkyard dog" doesn't have all that much talent. A 26-point, 19-rebound effort in the team's exhibition game showed a Dudley who has added strength and, apparently, a little bit of size. Williams is a shotblocker (school-record 63 as a freshman) who makes BC a different team. His return, which likely will come around Dec. 20, is vital if the Eagles are going to be more than just good.
OTHER KEY RETURNEES
Underrated Louis Hinnant, a former wing guard who has played the point throughout his BC career, continues to make the right decisions with the ball. Last year, he had 134 assists, 57 turnovers and 37 steals while averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. Sean Marshall, a rainbow-shooting swingman, must continue to develop his all-around skills. He averaged 11.1 points a game last year and led the team with 142 treys (Dudley, an inside player, was second with 30), but his inconsistency has hurt the team. Akida McLain, who played little as a freshman, was arrested for passing counterfeit money over the summer. He served suspension time in November but will be needed when he returns. John Oates may start at times, but he won't be around at crunch time, and his playing time will plummet if/when Williams returns.
BC fans at the team's exhibition game were anxious to see rookie guards Tyrese Rice and Marquez Haynes. Rice struggled before hitting four high-arching three-pointers in a row in the second half. (Perhaps the 343 threes he hit in high school were no fluke.) He also sported some very tricky passing maneuvers. Haynes, who showed quickness and extreme athleticism, will fit in as a combo guard. Skinny forward Evan Neisler also flashed some ability, but it's difficult to see where he'll fit into the team's typically short rotation.
ALSO WORTH NOTING
Though Hinnant is 6-4 and Rice is 6-0 (barely), the taller Hinnant will handle the point when they play together. ... Even if Williams returns on schedule, he already will have missed a potential game with either Oklahoma State or TCU (Las Vegas Invitational), plus a Madison Square Garden date with Michigan State and the ACC opener at Maryland. ... BC will host Duke on Feb. 1 in what already is viewed as a very tough ticket around Boston. ... Because he's not in school this fall, Williams wasn't included in BC's media guide. He is, however, listed on the team roster at the school's official website.
Chart By: The BC Insider