May 2, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- Despite the success the Boston College basketball team has had over the past six years, there always has been a question about the caliber of non-league competition confronted by the Eagles every year.
Back in 2003, the only one of those six seasons that saw BC settle for the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament, a loss to local foe Northeastern and a weak non-league slate were given as the two big reasons for BC's omission from the Big Dance despite 18 wins.
Next year, the Eagles will have things a bit tougher. BC, which will join the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in 2006-07, also will visit Kansas (on Dec. 23) for the first half of a two-season, home-and-home series. The Jayhawks will visit Conte Forum in 2007-08.
"They're going to be very good, and it's going to be a great game in December," BC coach Al Skinner said. "There's no question about it."
Boston College has played the Jayhawks only once. In 1958, No. 16 BC, coached by Bob Cousy, beat No. 19 Kansas in the first round of the NIT at Madison Square Garden.
The Eagles were hoping to host Michigan State of the Big Ten. That would have been the second game between the two schools in two seasons. MSU beat BC at Madison Square Garden in December. BC, now without Craig Smith and Louis Hinnant, also will host Duke, North Carolina and Maryland in league games next season.
BC also is close to completing a deal that would resume the Eagles' series with former Big East rival Providence. The Eagles and Friars are only 45 minutes apart, and the connection between the two is lengthy. Both sides have talked about continuing the series since the Eagles left the Big East.
Even though it was the offseason, the basketball team continued to make news. After the losses of associate head coach Bill Coen (head coach at Northeastern) and assistant Ed Cooley (Fairfield), Skinner announced a pair of hirings.
With Pat Duquette and administrative assistant Bonzie Colson moving up from within, Mo Cassara, who coached Smith at Worcester Academy and has been the head man at Division III Clark for the past two years, is a new assistant. Preston Murphy, who played for Skinner at Rhode Island, will take over Colson's old duties.
Cassara, an assistant at Dayton in the one year between Worcester Academy and Clark, will bring a local prep school connection to the program. Murphy, a 1999 URI graduate who came up just short of an NBA career, brings Skinner something he loves -- a familiar face. Skinner called Murphy "an outstanding person who has a love for the game."
"Al's very comfortable with them, and that's what's important to me," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said. "He's very, very comfortable with his assistants, and he's got great confidence in them and feels they'll be a great fit on his staff here at Boston College. Al's been right before with the people that he's chosen."
Speaking of Coen, it was believed that he would be inheriting former BC guard Steve Hailey across town at Northeastern. But Hailey, who was at a junior college last year, has not gained admission to Northeastern and apparently will not be re-joining his former coach.
BIG-TIME TEAM DREW TINY CROWD
With the weather at least partially to blame, a small crowd showed up for Boston College's annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game at Alumni Stadium.
"Bet you guys thought we left Boise," BC coach Tom O'Brien quipped, after the White Team beat the Maroons 27-17.
O'Brien, of course, was referring to the wintry conditions the Eagles played in at the MPC Computers Bowl, which marked BC's sixth straight postseason victory. The late April game wasn't played in weather quite as bad as what the Eagles faced in Boise, but it was a lot worse than one would expect in April, especially at the end of a warm week in Boston.
"Holy cow," O'Brien said. "I thought this was spring."
BC fans want the program to be up there with the national big boys, and not just qualify and win one of the lower-tier bowl games every year. But part of being big-time is crowd support and, weather or no weather, the spring game was poorly attended, despite a series of events going on all over campus.
Backup quarterback Chris Crane was 9-of-13 for 124 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to key the White Team's win. Tailback Andre Callender ran for 83 yards, while L.V. Whitworth, the likely starter in the fall, had a 69-yard run for the Maroons. For the day, Whitworth netted 67 yards on 11 carries.
The Eagles played the spring game without several regulars, and one (safety Ryan Glasper) was on crutches from recent leg surgery when he accepted the $1,000 McGillis Scholarship. That's named for the former Eagle who lost his battle with Leukemia in 1992. Like all of his teammates who sat out the spring game, Glasper is expected back for fall practice.
"Everybody should be ready and healthy by August," O'Brien said.
While the spring game was going on, punter Johnny Ayers was a few hundred yards away, playing for the BC baseball team in a chilly doubleheader against Clemson. In fact, Ayers, a second baseman/outfielder, had the sacrifice fly that produced the winning run in a 3-2 victory in the opener of the twinbill.
Former BC and NFL players Fred Smerlas and Steve Diossie, both now local radio and television personalities, were in the pressbox during the spring game.
DeFilippo said he continues talks about resuming the football series with former Big East rival Syracuse. The schools have battled for Northeast talent for years, and the series is a natural. But it doesn't look like it's going to happen before 2011 or 2012, after BC has another run with Notre Dame (2007-10). There's also talk that the teams could end their seasons against each other every year.
The talks with Providence in basketball and Syracuse in football were the first signs of healing between BC and its former Big East brethren. Most remaining Big East teams have said they would never play the Eagles in either sport, because of the animosity created over the league switch. Nevertheless, there appears to be a chance for the Eagles to play St. John's in basketball again, somewhere down the road.