As the sun rises on another season for Boston College men’s basketball, the third of the Jim Christian era, a unique optimism is building within a program that went 7-25 and lost every single ACC game last season. In a sense, the optimism isn’t exactly surprising, as it’s hard to imagine this season turning out worse than the last one. But this is more than just optimism by default.
“It’s my third year,” Christian said last Friday. “And for the first time, I feel like at the base and core of our program we can finally start identifying who we are and kind of what we want to be.”
While this line of thinking was floated last season, Christian never made such an emphatic declaration. And there are definitive reasons to take his claim seriously this year. For the first time in his tenure, Christian has a young core of perimeter players he can mold in his system. Since these players handle the ball for the vast majority of the game, it is crucial for a recently hired coach to install a backcourt of his choosing. With the departure of noted gunner Eli Carter, the Eagles’ primary backcourt players—sophomore Jerome Robinson and freshmen Ky Bowman and Ty Graves—all have at least three years remaining on the Heights.
“I won’t play a guy on the perimeter this year at the one, two, or the three that’s not a freshman or a sophomore,” Christian said. “They’re going to play virtually 90 games together, and they make a lot of sense for what we’re trying to do.”
This capability for organic growth is the main reason for the coach’s renewed optimism, despite the loss of Carter and Dennis Clifford, as well as the transfers of Matt Milon and Sammy Barnes-Thompkins out of the program.
With all the new faces on the team, let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at the Eagles’ roster for the 2016-17 season.
Projected Role: Starting Point Guard
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 23.4 Points, 8.7 Rebounds, 4.7 Assists, 2.4 Steals (Havelock High School, North Carolina)
Bowman, who has focused exclusively on basketball for just over one year, is a former North Carolina football commit. Much to the delight of the coaching staff, he brings that physicality to the hardwood. At 6-foot-1 and a chiseled 180 pounds, Bowman is far from the typical freshman that needs time to physically adjust to the collegiate game. In addition to his frame, he boasts the best athleticism on the roster. Already, he shows promise as a lockdown defender, with the foot speed to move laterally with any assignment and the strength to keep his body in front of the offensive player. If Bowman can force a turnover on defense, he has the ability to run a one-man fast break. His potential as a nightmare in transition has led Christian to place an emphasis on increasing the Eagles’ pace during the preseason.
Offensively, Bowman initially projects as more of a driver and secondary creator in the half court. He can use his speed and strength to drive through a defense that has already been bent and either finish at the rim or kick the ball to an open shooter. In pick-and-rolls, Bowman’s energy can sometimes get the best of him, and he needs to learn how to change speeds a bit more. He commits some turnovers simply because he’s playing too fast. Bowman’s jumper, while at times inconsistent, will develop as the season progresses. He should be capable of making catch-and-shoot 3-pointers from the beginning of the season.
At least initially, look for Bowman to have a role similar to the one Marcus Smart plays on the Boston Celtics. Play physical defense on opposing ball handlers, run in transition, and attack the rim in the halfcourt.
Projected Role: Starting Shooting Guard
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 11.7 Points, 4.0 Rebounds, 3.0 Assists
One year after surprising the ACC as an unheralded recruit from North Carolina, Robinson finds himself the face of BC’s basketball team. A 6-foot-5 combo guard, Robinson possess a creative ability to get his shot off anywhere near the basket. He is easily the team’s best player in pick-and-rolls, with the handles to slice through a defense and the ability to calmly make routine passes. Showing maturity beyond his years, Robinson already grasps the nuances of playing at different speeds, with excellent change-of-pace dribbles. He is also the only player on the roster capable of reliably creating his own shot in one-on-one situations.
The presence of Bowman, as well as Graves, will help Robinson play the role he is best suited for. He works more efficiently by starting possessions off the ball, even if many possessions will finish with the ball in his hands—Robinson had 22 shots in the Eagles’ exhibition game against Stonehill last week. Off the dribble, he’s most effective at shooting mid-range jumpers. Though he shot 38 percent on 3-pointers last season, most of them were of the catch-and-shoot variety.
Robinson shot well in limited post-up chances last season, using his height to score over smaller guards on quick-hitting plays. In the paint, Robinson has a variety of finishes, with both hands. Though he sometimes struggled to score efficiently there early last season, he improved by the end of the campaign, showcasing deceptive explosion.
One area of improvement for Robinson is free throws—for a player that constantly drives to the rim, he shot just three free throws per game his freshman season. Against Stonehill, he got to the line eight times, highlighting his new emphasis on aggression and finishing through contact, something Christian has been drilling hard in preseason practice.
Projected Role: Starting Small Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 5.8 Points, 3.6 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists
BC’s highest-ranked recruit since 2007, Turner had an extremely disappointing freshman campaign. Shooting just 33.8 percent from the field and 26 percent from beyond the arc, he struggled to establish any offensive consistency. While looking smooth in practice, Turner’s shooting stroke sometimes betrayed him during games. Turner’s thin frame—he packs just 190 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame—often made driving all the way to the rim difficult and finishing in traffic nearly impossible, especially against top-tier competition. He attempted just 15 free throws in ACC games.
This season, if Turner plays to a slightly different role, he might be able to have a rebound. Instead of lead scorer, he may be better cast as a perimeter shooter and secondary creator. Toward the end of last season, Turner displayed good passing vision, especially on the break. Against Stonehill, he had a team-leading seven assists. He made several nice passes from the post, where he can use his size to see over the defense and pick out open shooters.
On defense, though his frame leaves him at a bit of a disadvantage, Turner’s lengthy wingspan presents opponents with a stiff challenge. He’s capable of guarding wings and stretch power forwards, allowing Christian lineup flexibility.
Projected Role: Starting Power Forward
2014-2015 Per Game Stats: 12.3 Points, 6.2 Rebounds, 3.3 Assists (Western Michigan)
Tava, a graduate transfer from Western Michigan, redshirted during the 2015-16 season as he rehabbed a broken foot. While undersized at just 6-foot-6, Tava brings a highly skilled, albeit floor-bound, presence to the Eagles’ front line. BC has been looking for a playmaking four since Patrick Heckmann graduated two years ago.
One of the first things that sticks out about Tava is his hands. He has exceptional hands, snagging nearly everything in sight, from rebounds and loose balls to tough passes in traffic. He has learned to compensate for his lack of size with an array of finishes around the rim, designed to ward off bigger rim protectors and quickly get the ball on the glass. He attacks relentlessly and shot over five free throws per game during his last two seasons at Western Michigan. If anything, his size only proves to be a disadvantage on the defensive end of the floor, where larger players can shoot over him in the post.
Tava has excellent handles for a power forward, capable of taking a rebound from one end of the floor to the other. He is also comfortable initiating the offense from either the low post or the high post, having averaged at least three assists his last two seasons at Western Michigan. Tava’s jumper is a weakness. He has shown occasional ability to hit a 3-pointer or mid-range jumper, but those will be shots that an elite defense will willingly concede to him.
Projected Role: Starting Center
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 5.2 Points, 4.8 Rebounds, 1.1 Blocks (Delaware)
Jeffers will man the center position for the Eagles this season, after the graduation of Dennis Clifford. While his offensive skill set will likely be limited to dunks and putbacks, Jeffers is a player who knows his role and won’t try to go outside it. Though he shot just 40.2 percent last season, after shooting 57 percent the prior season, Jeffers has surprised coaches in practice with his energy and ability to finish around the rim. Against Stonehill, he managed to score 20 points, even mixing in some rare post-ups against much smaller defenders. Jeffers struggles to shoot jumpers and free throws, but if he continues to run the floor hard and set good screens, he can still have a positive impact on this offense.
His main contribution to this team will come on the defensive end of the floor, where Christian is counting on him to be the lynchpin of his scheme. Though his 6-foot-9 frame is smaller than many ACC centers, his bulk will allow him to control the boards. Jeffers’s biggest test will come in his ability to defend pick-and-rolls, jumping out at the ball handler and scurrying back to protect the rim in time. Not the most explosive leaper, his rim protection skills will be tested against the elite athletes that ACC teams have on the wing.
Projected Role: Backup Point Guard
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 11.2 Points, 2.2 Assists (High Point Christian Academy, North Carolina)
Graves, though a more highly touted recruit that Bowman, appears set to start the season as the backup point guard. This mainly stems from his transition to the physicality of college basketball, as Graves’s 6-foot, 160-pound frame is significantly smaller than the majority of starting ACC guards. In practice, Bowman has sent Graves clattering to the floor a few times on bull rushes to the rim.
Much like he did in high school, it will only be a matter of time before Graves figures out how to compensate. And when he does, he will pull neck-and-neck with Bowman for the top point guard spot on the team. Graves is extremely athletic for such a small guard, needing just one step from a standing position to dunk the ball. He has mastered the change-of-pace game that Bowman still needs and has a very tight handle.
Graves also has the vision of a true point guard, seeing his teammates at all times. He has honed the mental aspect of the position and knows how to set up the offense. While he may not possess the transition skill of Bowman, he makes up for it with half-court acumen. Graves will likely struggle finishing around the rim early in the season, but he has developed a very smooth 3-point stroke, which will enable him to make an impact on the scoreboard.
Projected Role: Backup Shooting Guard
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 2.8 Points, 1.0 Rebounds, 0.8 Assists (BYU)
Chatman, a 23-year-old sophomore transfer from Brigham Young, will fill the role of the departed Milon. He shot 34 percent on limited chances last season, but has flashed a quick, compact shooting stroke in practice. Chatman will excel on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, forcing his defender to stay attached to him at all times. He has a bit more athleticism than Milon, showing the ability to slash to the rim with one or two dribbles. Chatman will likely serve as the consummate role player, sticking to spot-up 3s and the occasional drive, while keeping the ball moving if he’s not open.
On defense, he knows his positioning at all times and possesses solid fundamentals. He will not be a liability on that end of the floor, as Milon was. Additionally, Chatman’s maturity and work ethic will leave a big imprint on the young guards.
Projected Role: Backup Small Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 4.8 Points, 3.3 Rebounds, 1.3 Assists
Improbably, Owens is now the veteran of the Eagles’ roster, the only player to have been on Christian’s first two teams. After Bowman, Owens is the most athletic player on the team, having put together a highlight reel of putback dunks and alley oops last season. Defensively, Owens is one of Christian’s most reliable players, with the size and speed to stick with everyone from point guards to some power forwards. He has good defensive instincts, rarely reaches, and plays within the team’s scheme.
During his tenure with the Eagles, Owens’s biggest obstacle to playing time has been his lack of a defined offensive skill set. He has never developed a reliable 3-point shot, making just 10 threes over the last two seasons, and generally makes few jumpers. This sometimes clogs the offense’s spacing, with his defender sagging far into the paint. Owens has compensated by using his athleticism to convert some brute-force drives to the rim, but he still struggles to score points outside of putbacks and fast breaks.
He has made himself a reliable initiator of the offense, showing good passing skills, but if Owens can’t threaten the defense with his jumper, he will be hard pressed to see more than 20 minutes per game.
Projected Role: Backup Power Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 3.5 Points, 2.0 Rebounds, 1.0 Assists
Before struggling mightily in ACC play—he scored just three total points in the month of January—Meznieks flashed some of the skill set required by a playmaking four. Though Tava will play that role for the Eagles this season, Meznieks may get the chance to fill the role for the bench unit. Though not reliable, he has shown an ability to knock down open 3-pointers and make the right pass as the screener in pick-and-roll situations. But things get a bit dicier if Meznieks is forced to attack off the dribble. He sometimes dribbles into a crowd and lacks the athleticism to finish well around the rim.
Defensively, his athletic deficit makes chasing some power forwards a challenge and he offers little in the way of rim protection. He is a solid positional defender and often looks to take charges. If he can make an improved effort on the boards—something he really struggled with in ACC play—Meznieks will be deserving of 10 or 15 minutes per game off the bench.
Projected Role: Backup Center
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 8.0 Points, 7.0 Rebounds, 3.0 Blocks (The Sagemont School, Florida)
At 6-foot-11, Popovic is the tallest player on BC’s roster. He is a bit of a plodding big man, and will need some time to adjust to the speed of the college game, as evidenced by his five turnovers against Stonehill. Though he has the bulk and skill requisite of major-conference post players, Popovic needs to work on making quick, decisive moves. Occasionally, he’ll hold the ball too long and turn it over. He also needs to improve his passing out of the post. Popovich does have a useful jumper that he will shoot out to 15 feet.
On defense, Popovic can be a huge deterrent in the paint but will likely struggle if asked to step out to ball handlers near the 3-point arc. He will be able to block shots effectively and handle the rigors of defensive post play. However, he needs time to grasp the Eagles’ system and understand his positioning within it. If he makes mental strides during the season, Popovich may be a player who warrants extra playing time down the stretch.
Projected Role: Reserve Center
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 2.1 Points, 3.4 Rebounds, 0.4 Blocks
Despite standing 6-foot-10, Reyes weighs just 215 pounds. As a result, he frequently struggles with the physicality of interior play. He only played in seven games—a foot injury cut his season short in December—but he didn’t flash much of the skill set that a player of his weight would need to use as compensation. Reyes doesn’t have much of a jumper and struggles to get off the ground quickly, leading to inefficiency in the paint. Defensively, ball handlers can blow past him relatively easily and he lacks the shot-blocking ability to make them pay for it. If Reyes can improve his jump shot and make more quick, confident decisions with the ball, he might be able to join the back end of the rotation.
Projected Role: Reserve Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 1.5 Points, 0.5 Rebounds
A walk-on from Somerville, Mass., Ghebremichael only saw action in two games last season. He figures to see action only in huge blowouts. He has a good 3-point shot and a long, lanky frame. Other than that, there is very little known about Ghebremichael, as he barely even sees action in practices.
Projected Role: Reserve Guard/Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: 0.6 Points, 0.3 Rebounds
Gehan, who joined the team as a preferred walk-on last season, played in seven games, seeing no more than four minutes of action each time. He has a pure 3-point shot, with textbook form. He might even be the most deadeye, gritty catch-and-shoot marksman on the team, a skill he’ll showcase in garbage time minutes.
Projected Role: Reserve Forward
2015-16 Per Game Stats: Unknown (St. Thomas More School, Connecticut)
Sagay is Christian’s swing-for-the-fences recruit. He’s a very raw player, with great athleticism. He has a 3-point shot that vacillates between serviceable and erratic, depending on the form he uses. He’s still learning the team’s scheme and fundamental positioning on defense, as well as how to play in set offense. But his potential comes through in his transition runs and vertical leap. Sagay might not play much this season, but if Christian can model his habits and skills, he may have found the heir apparent to Garland Owens.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff