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NATIONAL COLLEGE BASKETBAL

Emerging from shadows

Ex-BC recruits starting to shine

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 30, 2011
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The roster is replete with newcomers (nine freshmen). Expectations have been scaled down to the lowest level; a double-digit win total and a finish higher than 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be regarded as a surprise.

For Boston College and second-year coach Steve Donahue, baby steps are being taken back to respectability, with a core group of freshmen Lonnie Jackson, Ryan Anderson, and Dennis Clifford.

But there is a shadow roster as well, made up of the last recruiting class of Al Skinner, who was fired by the Eagles two years ago.

Skinner is still in limbo, making trips to college campuses, visiting with old friends connected with the game. He is also keeping in touch with the crop of AAU players from which the next generation of college stars will emerge.

One of the criticisms of Skinner was that he had lost his fastball in the vital area of recruiting. Skinner, not surprisingly, denies that.

“That’s ridiculous,’’ he said.

You make the call.

Let’s look at Skinner’s last recruiting class, players who had committed to BC but chose to leave when Skinner was dismissed.

■ Brady Heslip, a 6-foot-3-inch guard, sat out a year and is playing at Baylor, which is unbeaten and ranked No. 6 in the country. Heslip is fourth on the team in scoring and was just voted Big 12 Rookie of the Week. He is averaging 3.1 3-pointers per game, best in the conference.

■ Evan Ravenel, a 6-8 forward, is averaging 13.3 minutes, 5.5 points, and 2.5 rebounds coming off the bench for No. 2 Ohio State.

■ Kevin Noreen, a 6-10 forward, is averaging 12.6 minutes, 3.0 points, and 2.6 rebounds coming off the bench for West Virginia, which is 10-3.

■ Rakim Sanders, a 6-5 swingman, sat out a year and is now finishing his career at Fairfield, where he is averaging 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds and is the favorite to be Metro Atlantic Conference Newcomer of the Year, if not Player of the Year.

■ Papa Ndao, a 6-8 freshman forward, is in the rotation as a defensive specialist for resurgent Saint Joseph’s, one of the surprise teams in the rising-in-stature Atlantic 10.

Five players contributing to teams with a combined record of 53-13.

Throw that group into the mix at BC, and you would have what looks like a solid combination of shooting guards, big men, 3-point marksmen, and defensive players - a team that probably could look any ACC opponent (including Duke and North Carolina) in the eye.

It is pointless, though, to play the “what-if’’ game.

Donahue is building a sound foundation, with the type of players he likes. Whether they can compete at the highest level of ACC basketball remains to be seen, but Donahue has made it clear that this is a multi-step process, as it was when he turned Cornell from an Ivy League doormat into a Sweet 16 participant.

The Ivy League is not the ACC, and whether Donahue can re-create that success is an unanswered question.

But it seems that the talent level that was coming into BC under Skinner has proven itself in other places.

Skinner said he is starting to reach out to people in his quest to return to coaching. He has already visited DePaul, Connecticut, Stanford, South Carolina, and Arkansas. He is at New Mexico State this weekend.

“I’m getting a good grip on the talent at the AAU level and a feel for what’s out there,’’ he said.

Donahue is doing the same thing at BC, filling in the holes, making adjustments, looking for the right combination.

At the ACC level, almost everyone can do the right things with the X’s and O’s. It is the procurement of talent that is the difference-maker.

Two BC teams.

The real Eagles and the shadow squad.

If you want to pin a Cinderella tag on teams to be playing well in March, you could do worse than this group: Harvard, Creighton, Saint Louis, Murray State, and Davidson . . . If Saint Joseph’s stays in the mix, you could make a case that the Atlantic 10 is ready to have a good year, as long as traditional conference powers Xavier and Temple maintain their status . . . Another Zeller is ready to make some noise in college basketball. Cody Zeller, playing at Indiana for Tom Crean, is one of the reasons for the Hoosiers’ return to respectability. Cody’s big brother Tyler didn’t do bad in establishing himself at North Carolina a few years ago . . . St. John’s will meet UConn tomorrow afternoon in a Big East battle, but neither head coach will be at the game. St. John’s Steve Lavin is recovering from prostate cancer surgery, and UConn’s Jim Calhoun will be serving the second game of a three-game suspension for NCAA violations.

Give Providence coach Ed Cooley points for frankness after the Friars were pummeled by St. John’s, 81-67, Tuesday night. “Our kids were just pathetic in every imaginable way,’’ said Cooley . . . Who says scheduling is not a factor in success? Big East teams began conference play this week with an overall record of 115-10 at home, 16-13 on the road, and 20-20 on neutral courts . . . With all the fanfare surrounding Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, Virginia coach Tony Bennett has quietly built a dangerous team, with 11 wins in the first 12 games . . . Turf war in Kentucky tomorrow, with No. 4 Louisville visiting No. 3 Kentucky in the Pitino vs. Calipari battle for supremacy in the Bluegrass State . . . Interesting tidbit turned up by Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News. If Louisville beats UConn this season, the Cardinals will have wins over the defending Division 1, Division 2, and the NAIA national champions. The Ville beat Bellarmine and Pikeville in exhibition games in November.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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