The Inside Look: Men’s Basketball
By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor
Thursday afternoon, one day after the Boston College men’s basketball team knocked off No. 15 Florida State, I sat in on the first practice after the big win. It was horribly ordinary and boring, just the way head coach Steve Donahue likes it.
After 15 minutes of film, the players jogged onto the court and spread out to their respective baskets for form shooting. It’s nearly impossible to tell what this team accomplished last night. They’re all in good spirits, but it feels more like the joy of Hillside selling their favorite sandwich that day rather than defeating a ranked opponent for the first time in their young careers. With two guys at each rim, they worked on swishing the ball from three feet away, using only one hand. Jordan Daniels and Lonnie Jackson always shoot together, and they always take the rim closest to the Powerade. It’s important never to refer to the Powerade as Gatorade, a manager mentions. Powerade is the Coke to Gatorade’s Pepsi when it comes to BC basketball.
Donahue comes over to talk to Daniels. Less than 24 hours ago the undersized point guard led his team past the conference leader, but it’s time to get back to work. With four seconds left in the game last night, Daniels had two chances to put the Seminoles away needing to knock down just one free throw. His first shot clanked off the rim, but he drained the second one sealing the victory. That was not good enough for Donahue however, as he’s making it a goal to work on the freshman’s free throw shooting. Daniels just finished orchestrating an offense full of young players against one of the best defenses in the country, but Donahue knows that this squad still needs to work on the basics.
The entire practice ends up being a lesson in fundamentals, and all of the Eagles are familiar with it. Donahue doesn’t even need to call out the drills, everyone knows where to go when each buzzer sounds. After form shooting, they move out to the three point line and work on shooting off the pass. Donahue calls out reminders about passing into the shooting pocket and stepping into each shot with a focused glare on his face. Although everything they’re doing right now is basic, it doesn’t mean that it requires less concentration from his players.
Patrick Heckmann, who has been sitting on the sideline in sweatpants and a BC hoodie watching his teammates shoot, strolls over to talk about how bored he is. There’s nothing exciting about practice here, but the results of this fundamental work was evident Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the German forward wasn’t able to play against the Seminoles because of his recent bout with mono. It’s supposed to be another two weeks until he can get back on the court.
“I’m not sick, I’m fine,” Heckmann says. “But the blood-test still shows I’m sick.”
Once the Eagles are done with shooting, they move on to the basics of Donahue’s motion offense. After five minutes of passing around the arc and cutting without shooting against no defense, things start to gradually get more complex. Donahue informs his guys that they are allowed to back cut now. After the first and second unit get some run with this new wrinkle, ball screens are thrown into the mix. Ten minutes later the offense begins to looks similar to the one that dropped 64 against the Seminoles, but there’s still no defense on the court, and there won’t be at all that day.
The guards move down to one end of the court to keep working on motion while the bigs go through some post moves on another rim. At one point Daniels accidentally passes to Gabe Moton in the corner when it was Matt Humphrey’s turn to shoot, and Humph slaps his hands in frustration, the same way he does when the point guard misses the junior during a real game.
Donahue informs his players that it’s time to work on back cuts, and some guys start to get excited. It’s Eddie Odio time. While most of the guys have been talking a lot during practice, calling out their cuts and saying nice shot when someone drains a three, Odio has been relatively quiet, until now. Odio hasn’t seen much playing time this season, but he has tremendous hops and finishes at the rim with extreme power. Every player gets excited when they get to feed Odio for an alley-oop off a back cut. Odio is a silent highlight reel, his impressive vertical and explosive ability to finish always more emotive than his words or facial expressions. Some of the guys smile in awe when he reaches his right arms far back to save a bad pass from Jackson that he slams home any way. Jackson looks over to make sure I caught what just happened.
After Odio’s mini halftime show during the motion work, things start to loosen up a little bit. Jackson makes fun of Donahue’s yelling of “Back! Back! Back!” during a cutting drill, and Donahue slightly chuckles. The pace never slows down and none of the guys let up their concentration, but they’re starting to have more fun and Donahue looks okay with it. He’s still calling out slight tweaks like cutting with a hand up and finishing strong at the rim, and all of his guards listen closely.
There’s a water break, and then Donahue calls out a drill that is met with elation from the players. Three minutes are put on the clock and 140 points are added to the visitor score. The players run a 3-on-0 fast break with one shooting a lay-up, worth one point, and the other two taking 3-pointers. Another three players hop on and replace them, heading down to the other end of the court to do the same thing. This is the first time in two hours the guys have had any real competition, even though it’s just a number on the scoreboard. At the halfway mark everyone peaks at the scoreboard reading 140-68. They’re just slightly off pace, and Peter Rehnquist starts encouraging his teammates even more than he had been. Sprints will likely ensue if they don’t hit the goal. Three pointers keep falling on both ends, and it’s going to be close. With 30 seconds left on the clock, they need 29 more points. Everyone is clapping and greeting teammates with nice shot after a made jumper. Ten seconds are left on the clock and the scoreboard reads 138-140. Rehnquist starts clapping and says, “We got it.” He knows that the next 3-pointer by Jackson is guaranteed, and sure enough it swishes through the net.
Some guys give high fives after the drill, but that’s about all the celebration there is. They clap it up and meet at the center to go over travel details for the weekend and then break out with a, “Family on three. 1-2-3, Family!” They’ll meet again today and Saturday to go through the same routine.
Nothing magical happened Wednesday night against the Seminoles. It was just a culmination of the constant repetition of basketball fundamentals and the steady mastering of a free-flowing motion offense. This young squad is starting to put it all together, and on Sunday in Blacksburg they get another chance to prove it to a shrinking number of doubters. Until then, they’ll keep going through Donahue’s routine that has them looking better, game after game.