Hanlan, Boston College eager to take next step

Boston College guard Olivier Hanlan opened eyes with his record-setting performance in last year's ACC tournament. (USATSI)
Boston College guard Olivier Hanlan opened eyes with his record-setting performance in last year's ACC tournament. (USATSI)

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Olivier Hanlan has a chance to be this year's Shane Larkin.

The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year is now a sophomore. The hopes surrounding his team are high.

And if Boston College can survive a vicious non-conference schedule in November and December, Hanlan should have a legitimate opportunity to do for the Eagles what Larkin did for Miami last season -- make them nationally relevant.

The 6-4 Hanlan averaged 15.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season for Boston College while shooting an impressive 39.4% from three-point range. He also scored 41 points in an ACC tournament win over Georgia Tech -- the most any freshman has ever scored in the event.

Still, in order for Hanlan to emerge on the national stage and become known as one of the better guards in college basketball just as Larkin did a year ago, he's going to have to make a difference in the one statistic that matters most.

Winning. BC was 16-17 last season, 7-11 in the ACC.

"I think Olivier had a better year statistically than Shane did as a freshman," Boston College coach Steve Donahue said when presented with the Larkin comparison. "But what Shane did is elevate his team. He really benefited greatly from the players around him and made them better. With Olivier's instincts, he can be that. He has to improve though."

And that's just what Hanlan has been trying to do since the end of last season.

"I've been really spending a lot of time working on my point guard skills," Hanlan said. "I need to know when to use my teammates, and when to get them the ball. I've got to be better at stuff like that. I've got to do a better job of using my teammates this year."

Donahue said he expects everybody on the Eagles' roster to be "a little bit better than they were a year ago."

Everyone of significance is back from last year's team that finished eighth in the 12-team ACC, and Boston College should get mileage from three newcomers in freshmen Will Magarity and Garland Owens along with Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicvech.

The 6-8 Dragicevich trimmed his body fat in half since arriving from South Bend and gives the Eagles another person who can stretch the defense along with veterans Joe Rahon, Lonnie Jackson, and Patrick Heckmann. The trio of Rahon, Jackson, and Heckmann combined to make 156 three-point shots last season.

With junior big man Ryan Anderson (14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds per game last season) likely to play a lot of minutes at center at 6-9, Boston College will have five guys on the floor the majority of the time who will all be able to put the defense on their heels.

"It makes sense for us as much as we can to have five guys out there that can pass, dribble, and shoot," Donahue said. "That's why Ryan Anderson at the five is a hard matchup. Especially now. He's older, he's stronger, he's quicker. He's way more athletic than he was. To add that piece and then to spread it around to four guys, that should really help us."

With two All-ACC players at their disposal in Hanlan and Anderson, Donahue now has the personnel he needs in place to exploit mismatches and limit the defense's ability to double team one of his stars.

"The whole way we play is that we want guys to have lanes so that if you're good enough to go by your guy spacing isn't going to be an issue," Donahue said. "Now we're putting better shooters around Olivier and Ryan and guys are getting better. That's going to benefit Olivier greatly. We got to the foul line the second most in our league last year and we were a young team. A lot of it is Ryan and Olivier, but the other part of it is our spacing. I think we can be a top five team in the nation in terms of made threes. That's the goal. If we're going to win in this league, we're going to have to average 75-80 points. We're not going to grind it out. That's not our team. We have to score."

And that should be easier with two point guards on the floor to create in Hanlan and Rahon, who Donahue feels is a bit of a forgotten man when people talk about the Eagles.

"I think he's as good as there is," Donahue said of the 6-2 Rahon. "You win games with guys like Joe Rahon. He was overlooked last year. He had a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio in his rookie year in the ACC. He led us in minutes played and averaged 10 points per game. And he's way better than he was last year."

Everyone will be need to be incrementally better for Boston College to navigate its non-conference schedule. The Eagles will travel to Providence, USC, Purdue, Auburn, and Harvard while playing neutral site games against UMass and VCU. There will also be a game against UConn in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden and then a match up the next night against the winner/loser of Indiana vs. Washington.

"We can't afford not to play a great schedule," Donahue said. "You can't go 12-1 with a soft schedule and then go into the ACC and expect to win 13 games and make the NCAA Tournament. I think we're ready for it though. I think we're tougher. I think we're going to guard a little better, and just try to utilize our quickness."

Donahue is entering his fourth year at Boston College and it feels like if there was ever a year for the program to have a chance to get back to the field of 68 this would be it. The 6-11 Magarity is 20 years old and should add some toughness up front next to veterans Eddie Odio and Dennis Clifford, who is still nursing a knee injury but is slowly working his way back.

Still, if the Eagles are to beat some of the nationally recognized teams on their schedule and have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, it all comes down to Hanlan. He came out of nowhere last year as a freshman and now appears to be ready to display new things as a sophomore.

If an improved supporting cast augments his ability to facilitate and he continues to shoot the ball at a consistent rate, Hanlan won't just be one of the best guards in the ACC.

He'll be one of the best guards in the country.

"I don't think there's any question that we couldn't see Olivier's progress coming at the rate that it did last year," Donahue said. "I thought he'd be a kid that would take a couple of years, but he was going to be a really good ACC guard. His athleticism has improved greatly. He always had a very good first step and was very good at changing speeds. Now he adds some explosiveness at the end of that. His shooting has improved so much. I think he never really worked on it, and now you feel like if you give him an open look you feel like it's going in. You never know these things though until you get a kid in your program. How hard is he really going to work? How much does he really want it? How much does he learn? That's where this kid is off the charts. He wants to be great."

If he is, Boston College has a chance. With the schedule they're about to undertake this season, that's all they can ask for.

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