Donahue is just the man to take young Eagles under his wing

by | College Basketball Insider

Steve Donahue has overseen successful rebuilding projects before, although not in the ACC. (Getty Images)  
Steve Donahue has overseen successful rebuilding projects before, although not in the ACC. (Getty Images)  

Troy Bell, Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Tyrese Rice and now Danny Rubin.

Usually, when I walk into Power Gym -- the practice court at Boston College-- it's littered with no shortage of recognizable names and faces on the court.

It's the local school -- only 20 minutes down the road. One that's supposed to breed familiarity.

However, when assistant coach Akbar Waheed asked if I needed a roster, I just laughed.

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Eddie Odio, KC Caudill, Jordan Daniels, Ryan Anderson, Lonnie Jackson, Dennis Clifford, Patrick Heckmann.

Who the heck are these guys?

Rubin, the walk-on from Chevy Chase, Md., is the veteran now. He's the same guy who averaged 4.1 points last season and 1.9 in ACC play.

But now he's one of the leaders of this Boston College team, arguably as inexperienced as any in the entire country.

"It's kind of crazy," Rubin said.

Kind of?

Only three faces remain from last year's team, the one that had first-rounder Reggie Jackson, Corey Raji, Joe Trapani and Biko Paris.

There's Rubin, Oregon transfer Matt Humphrey -- who sat out last season -- and sophomore guard Gabe Moton, who averaged 2.5 points a year ago.

"When I looked at a team picture from two years ago, there was just one guy in it that's on the team now," Rubin laughed.

Senior walk-on Peter Rehnquist.

"I never envisioned being in this situation," BC second-year head coach Steve Donahue admitted.

But Donahue doesn't seem a bit overwhelmed by the task that lies ahead.

The former Ivy League coach talks about the high character of this group and how he's been pleasantly surprised by its talent level and competitiveness.

Yet he knows this team will take its lumps.

"I have high expectations for myself and the team, but I'm also realistic that these guys are going to make more mistakes because they're going to be thrown into the fire so early," he said.

The positive is the core of this team will remain together for four years because it's unlikely there are any early entry NBA candidates on the roster.

Donahue has experience dealing with a situation similar to the one he faces now, although that was back in his days at Cornell. Now he's going up against Duke and North Carolina in what will once again become the most high-powered college hoops league in America the moment Syracuse and Pittsburgh are officially welcomed.

Donahue recalls Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale's freshman campaign at Cornell -- when the team's leading returning scorer, Adam Gore, tore his ACL in the opener against Northwestern. Cornell went onto go 9-5 in league play and finish third in the Ivy League.

"That's when people saw our group coming together," Donahue said.

And what followed was an incredible three-year run in which the Big Red won the league each of the next three seasons and wound up going to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

While the blueprint for Donahue and his staff is to rebuild the BC program in a similar fashion, there is no shortage of critics who feel as though the Eagles could anchor themselves in the ACC cellar this year -- and maybe beyond.

"I try not to think about that," said Clifford, a 7-foot freshman from nearby Bridgewater. "I try not to pay attention. I don't think that's going to happen."

But it's justified with the lack of returning talent -- and the anonymity that comes along with the seven-member freshman class.

"We heard that last year," Rubin said. "People said we weren't supposed to be that good. ... I don't really listen to it."

Heckmann, a versatile 6-foot-5 guard from Germany, looks as though he has the tools to excel in Donahue's system. Clifford is a skilled big man who will likely develop over the next few years. Anderson, Daniels, Jackson and Caudill all hail from California -- and none were highly touted. Then there's Odio, an unknown 6-foot-7 forward from Florida.

"I think we're going to shock a lot of people," Rubin said.

"These guys really understand the game and have a high IQ," said the grandfather of the group, 23-year-old walk-on Sal Abdo. "They may be 17 or 18, but they are extremely mature -- and the team chemistry is unbelievable."

"It's going to take some time," added Abdo.

But we'll get to know their names before long.


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