Reflections On A Trying Season

March 9, 2012

By Greg Joyce, Sports Editor

ATLANTA— Just 20 minutes after their season officially ended in a 78-57 loss to NC State in the ACC Tournament, head coach Steve Donahue and his players tried to put the season into words. With the season finally coming to a close, the postgame interviews allowed for the team to reflect on the season that had just concluded, and the future as well.

A year that included nine wins and 22 losses is no doubt a tough one to last through for Boston College. The mental and physical toll that a season in the ACC can have on any player is rough, never mind a group like the Eagles—one laden with nine freshmen, four of them in the regular starting lineup.

BC was led all year by its fearless leader in Donahue. The attitude of a team always starts at the top, and the Eagles had an amazing example to follow by looking at Donahue. Right from the first time I talked Donahue this year before the season began, it was easy to tell the mindset he was going to bring to the gym each day.

“There’s going to be failure when you’re out with this many young guys in something new,” he said back in November. “For us to achieve great things, I honestly believe we’re going to have to fail. Now the key part is how do you handle that? Are you patient? Are you understanding? Did you learn from that and react in a positive way and got better because of that? I firmly believe all of our kids are good enough to play at this level. But to have them all go through this at the same time and not expect that you’re going to get some failures is just unrealistic.”

When I talked to Ryan Anderson, Jordan Daniels, and Lonnie Jackson in late October, they echoed their coach’s expectations. And over four months later, even after a 22-loss season, their positive outlook remains the same.

(Photo by Daniel Lee/Heights Editor)

“[This season] is going to help a lot,” Daniels said in the quiet BC locker room. “The feeling that we get after a game like this, it really pushes us. You really don’t want to feel that again, losing like that. So we got a year under our belts, we know what to expect coming into next year, when we’re not freshmen anymore. That’s just motivation for us. We’re still learning the ropes, but we’re going to get in the gym and just work on every aspect.”

Instead of sulking over a gloomy season, the Eagles are focusing on how they can use this season to better themselves in the future. Sitting right next to Daniels, Jackson had a similar attitude as his classmate.

“This year gave me a barometer of how hard I have to work and where I have to get to be a guard in the ACC,” Jackson said. “I can’t wait to start getting better, getting in the weight room, and working on my game—just taking my game to the next level. I’m going to use those mental images [from the season] in my brain when I want to give up during my workouts, when I want to quit. I’m going to use those as motivation to keep on pushing.

“The season was great, and we fought hard in this game. Next year we just gotta find a way to get over the hump.”

After I talked to the freshmen, I walked out of the locker room to find Matt Humphrey walking down the hallway to the bus by himself. While Anderson, Daniels, and Jackson all remained upbeat, the eldest member returning to next year’s team seemed to have a little less patience with the way the season went.

“It’s real trying,” a visibly frustrated Humphrey said of the season. Leaning up against the wall and choosing his words carefully, the junior continued. “Especially when I’m used to a certain way of doing stuff. I understand everybody’s young, but we played 30 games this year, you know? We should have, toward the end of the season, tried to come together—which we did, for the most part. We got a few wins. It is what it is.”

The freshmen have three more years to work with, while Humphrey has just one. Even though his demeanor is different from his teammates’, and at times it appears negative, it’s tough to blame him. The young guys know they have the time to come together and create something special. Humphrey does not have that luxury.

Regardless, the team will now have the offseason to work on a number of areas, but first will come some rest. After playing 31 games, guys like Anderson and Dennis Clifford will especially benefit from the time to recover.

“This was a hard stretch for all of these guys,” Donahue said. “And not only are they young guys, but they’re big guys. I don’t know how many guys, whatever class they were in this league, played more than Dennis Clifford and Ryan Anderson. They were playing 30-plus [minutes] every game. The games we were in there, they were playing 35 or 37 [minutes]. No bigs play that in this league. It’s just our lack of depth. So they’ll get their bodies back.

Anderson answered honestly when asked about the upcoming downtime.

“A lot of us freshmen are tired and worn down from a long ACC season, and it is going to be good for us to get a little break,” Anderson said. “I think Coach made a good point that it’s good for our bodies to rejuvenate after a long season like this.”

Meanwhile, Daniels took a harder approach to the downtime, though it’s possible that he had more left in the tank than some of his bigger teammates.

“It is [nice to have the rest], but you’re willing to fight through [the fatigue] to keep playing,” the speedy point guard said. “We all don’t want it to end, but now that it’s here, we’re gonna do what we have to do to get ready for next year.”

Standing in the hallway outside of the locker room, Donahue elaborated on points he made in his press conference. Though the season was likely more frustrating for him than it was for anyone else, he remained energetic about the future. As usual, he had a hoarse voice from all the in-game coaching he did, but his tone was positive when talking about his players.

(Photo by Daniel Lee/Heights Editor)

“I have great confidence in that they really want it,” he said. “There’s no doubt. They’re great kids, they really understand what it takes, and we’re going to have a great six months. We have a foreign trip planned at the end of the summer, we’re going to add pieces, and we’re excited. I can’t wait to get going—I wish we could hop in the gym right now and start teaching.”

Donahue continued to reflect on the season, when a reporter asked him if he thought he got everything he could out of his team this season. It was like the team was a sponge—they tried to soak in everything they could from their coach, while Donahue tried to wring out every drip he could out of his players. He responded that he thought he did get everything he could have from his team, though it was a “fine line” determining how hard to push his players.

“You want to get in practice and stay there for four hours and teach them and do everything you can. I tried to teach as much as I could every day, but there was a stretch there where I had to back off,” he said. “We could talk about things and show things on film, the assistant coaches were grabbing guys. It was so overwhelming at times.”

And leave it to the former Cornell coach to throw in a math analogy to describe the learning process.

“You think about doing math—you can’t throw high-level calculus out there when you haven’t learned Algebra One,” he said. “It was kind of like that. I had to slow down.

When all was said and done on Thursday, BC had recorded its 22nd loss, the most in school history. Walking into the BC locker room, the somber body language throughout hit you like a brick wall. But luckily for the program, the words spoken by its freshmen were nothing but encouraging. They had clearly learned from their coach, who summed it up perfectly in the end.

“I think in two years, if the guys do what they should do, and we add pieces, I think we will look back on this as an unbelievable opportunity that these guys had and that we will be that much better for it, if we utilize it properly,” Donahue said.

The words are there. In eight months, there will be nine freshmen-turned-sophomores in the BC locker room with a year of experience under their belt. At that time, we might begin to see the impact of the season that just ended. Only time will tell.


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