BOSTON -- Boston College is finally leaving the Big East behind.
The Eagles defected to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005, but they brought along with them the bruising style of play long a tradition in their former conference.
Even as new ACC rivals like Duke and North Carolina ran their way to NCAA titles, BC clogged the lane with big bodies like Craig Smith and still barged into the tournament three times in five years.
Then, last spring, BC fired Al Skinner after 13 years during which he became the winningest coach in school history. In came Steve Donahue, the former Cornell coach who plans to pick up the pace and bring a more exciting style to a campus that was slow to embrace Skinner's teams.
"We'll be happy if we win 120-115," guard Reggie Jackson said. "We want to play the least amount of half-court offense that's possible."
Donahue took Cornell to three straight Ivy League titles and a trip to the round of 16 this year, earning the first NCAA wins in school history. And when BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo grew disenchanted with Skinner's plodding style -- and the declining attendance that went with it -- Donahue's up-tempo offense seemed like the perfect solution.
"It's definitely different from what they did here previously," Donahue said recently, interrupting his own workout for an interview in his office. "The way we'll be spacing people out, we'll have five guys at the perimeter at times. We're going to be a team that plays fast."
Jackson and point guard Biko Paris could be the key to speeding things up.
Paris did most of the ball-handling last season, averaging 4.6 points and 4.1 assists in 25.5 minutes. Jackson started just 20 games but led the team in minutes; he also led the Eagles with 4.5 assists per game and was second in scoring and third in rebounding.
He could be even more important this season.
"We rely on guards to do a lot in the open court," Donahue said. "I think Reggie's athletic ability is going to pay dividends. He is very dedicated to his craft."
BC has returning starters Corey Raji, Joe Trapani and Josh Southern in the frontcourt -- all seniors. Donahue isn't worried that their experience in Skinner's system could turn out to be a liability if they can't keep up, praising Trapani in particular for learning the new scheme quickly.
"There are certain guys that will be good in any system," Donahue said.
Donahue led the Big Red to a 29-5 record last season -- the most wins in Ivy history -- and the school's first ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 in 59 years. Cornell beat favored Temple and Wisconsin to become the first Ivy team to reach the Sweet 16 in more than three decades; they lost to top-seeded Kentucky 62-45 in the East Regional semifinals.
In some ways, he said, coaching at Cornell was harder than in the ultra-competitive ACC. With no postseason tournament, the Big Red knew that if it didn't win the Ivy League -- a goal that could collapse with a single regular-season loss -- it had no chance to reach the NCAA tournament.
In the ACC, seventh place will probably be good enough for a tourney berth. But Donahue wants the Eagles to have the same intensity for every game and every possession; last year, he said, the players spent too much time moping after a bad play or celebrating a good one.
"They just kind of relax and take it all in," he said. "It's a mentality -- whether something good happens or something bad happens. There's a lot of talent here, but I need to get them to understand how important the little things are."
That means the same attention to detail in practice, or in the weight room. Donahue hopes this will solve one of the Eagles' other problems from last season: A lack of interest from the student body.
Skinner was criticized for being out of touch with the campus community, and in letting him go the school noted that attendance at Conte Forum declined in each of his last four seasons.
Donahue, who followed the news conference to announce his hiring with a campus pep rally, has already led his players into the community, selling season tickets, manning booths at a campus fair and taking players on service outings.
"Like everything else: When you give a little, you get the most out of it," Donahue said. "I think some coaches forget that the reason the basketball team is here is so that the student body has a better college experience. I want to let them [BC students] know that this is their team."