State's hoop teams come together

BOSTON -- There are six Division 1 men’s basketball teams in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and on Tuesday, the head coaches of each team were all in one gym.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring together the collective strength of Massachusetts college basketball,” Boston University athletic director Michael Lynch said, standing at a podium erected on the free throw line in Case Gymnasium. “There’s some great college basketball in this state, and we thought it would be a good idea to bring everybody together.”

At a time of economic turmoil and collegiate conference upheaval, Lynch said he hopes the event showcasing the strength of the sport in the state will become an annual fixture.

“Our collective hope is that by raising the visibility of basketball in this way we can all benefit during the season at some point,” he said.

To increase visibility, Boston College’s Steve Donahue, Boston University’s Joe Jones, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Holy Cross’ Milan Brown, Massachusetts’ Derek Kellogg and Northeastern’s Bill Coen assembled at BU and, after a brief introduction by Lynch, broke off to meet with media members one-on-one and in small groups.

Most of the coaches came in slacks and team polos; four of the six schools brought team backdrops for their stations in the gym. The coaches took their positions and talked about the state of college basketball in the commonwealth in general and of their teams specifically.

Asked why college basketball doesn’t get more attention in the Boston market, Coen cited competition.

“I think it’s just we happen to be at times overshadowed by some pretty good franchises in the Red Sox and the Bruins and the Patriots and the Celtics,” Coen said. “When you look at the combined traditions of those franchises, it’s daunting. But college basketball, to me -- March Madness might be the most exciting sporting event in the country. It’s just a matter of getting people exposed to it, and getting out and catching a game.

“Once they come to one, they’ll come back. That’s our job as coaches, to really raise the level of awareness within the city of Boston and Massachusetts, and today’s been very helpful in that regard.”

Another way to raise the profile, the coaches hope, is to play each other. In November and December, there will be eight matchups between the state's six teams.

“Our opening two games are right here against BU and then we travel out to Amherst to play UMass,” Coen said. “Exciting times. There’s great competition, great rivalries. If you’ve ever been to any one of those games, they’re hotly contested. By the players, by the coaches and the fans. They’re exciting events and I would recommend anybody if they have the opportunity to go out and take in the fun.”

Kellogg said he’s often thought Massachusetts’ basketball programs should take a cue from the state’s hockey programs and replicate the Beanpot.

“I always thought that would be a cool thing for the basketball programs to do because for that one [Beanpot] day, Boston is the spot,” he told reporters. “It could be a basketball spot around the country, [where we could] say, ‘Look at us and see what kind of a product we have.’”

There’s a variety of programs to choose from, in a variety of leagues all with their own characters. There’s more to Massachusetts college basketball than just BC, which went 21-13 in Donahue’s first season in Chestnut Hill, but fell short of the NCAA tournament and lost 10 letter winners from last season’s team.

In his fourth season at Harvard, Amaker led the Crimson to a 23-7 finish that included a 12-2 record in the Ivy League, tied with Princeton for the title and the league’s automatic berth in the Big Dance. The tie forced a playoff, which the Tigers won on a buzzer-beater.

Harvard returns all 12 letter winners from last season and will be looking to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946.

BU rebounded from a rough start to its season to finish 21-14, winning the America East tournament to secure a berth in the NCAAs, where the Terriers hung with Kansas for a half before succumbing. Coach Patrick Chambers left for Penn State after the season and was replaced by Jones (who had spent the 2010-11 season as associate head coach at BC under Donahue).

The Terriers lost the school’s second all-time scorer, John Holland, but return their four other starters and 10 total letter winners.

Amaker said he’d love to see all the Massachusetts teams play each other, whether in one tournament or in home-and-home series throughout the season.

“I think it would be neat for our schools, neat for our fans and certainly neat for this market,” he said. “It would be great if we did it on a consistent basis and made a big deal of it like they do in other places.”