BU basketball looks beyond limitations

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
6:43
PM ET
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM



The second year at a school is supposed to be easier on a coach. He's become familiar with his players and they've gotten to know him as well. He's put in his offensive and defensive systems. He knows who to talk to in admissions and who the important alumni are.

But for coach Joe Jones, his second year at Boston University might be more challenging than his first -- which was taxing in its own way.

Having endured a season that started 4-11, included a seven-game losing streak and was capped by an early exit in the America East tournament, Jones was eagerly anticipating his second year at BU.

He was already working on how to replace the departed five seniors, including AE player of the year Darryl Partin, when the school announced in June it was leaving the America East effective next summer and joining the Patriot League. The conference immediately voted to ban the Terriers, a charter member of the league since 1979, from postseason competition.



The move prompted senior forward Jake O'Brien, the 2009 America East rookie of the year, to announce he was transferring. O'Brien had remained loyal to BU through three coaches -- Dennis Wolff, Pat Chambers and Jones -- and a broken foot that required two surgeries, the first of which forced him to watch from the sidelines as the Terriers won the America East championship and played in their seventh NCAA tournament and the second of which cost him all of last season.

Because O'Brien wanted to play at least once in the NCAA tournament during his college career and the likelihood of the Terriers gaining an at-large bid was remote, he told Jones he was leaving, delivering the second body blow in a month to the coach. O'Brien ended up at Temple.

This summer "has been very interesting," said Jones with a wry chuckle.

While he acknowledges the limitations the program faces, Jones bristles when he hears that the Terriers don't have anything to play for this season.

"Obviously, it's going to be a chore at times just because of the conference ban being in the back of [the players'] minds," Jones said. "But we've really got to have the approach that we've got to become the best team that we can become.

"Every year we talk about playing for championships, and that's going to be the goal. The regular season championship is something we're going to compete for."

O'Brien's departure was significant, not just because of his consistent double-figure scoring and tenacious rebounding or the veteran leadership he would have provided. Losing him meant BU was down to 10 players.

"Obviously, we're going to have to be in great shape this year," Jones said. "That's one of the main themes we talked to our guys about when we found out our roster was going to be so slight. We're going to have to do things a little bit differently."

Not only will BU be slight in numbers, it will also be slight in height. At 6-9, O'Brien also was the tallest player on the roster.

"We're going to have to try to speed the game up a little bit more because we're going to be small," Jones said. "We don't have a lot of size. We're going to have to try to use our quickness as an advantage. I think that's going to be one of the things that we have maybe that some of the other teams don't have."

Another thing a lot of teams don't have is D.J. Irving (11.4 ppg, 5.4 apg). The 6-0 junior point guard became the first BU player to lead the conference in assists since 1990. His 157 assists rank among the top 10 for a season in school history. He's also good at creating his own offense and routinely takes on the toughest defensive assignment.

Despite all he's asking Irving to do, Jones isn't too worried about his point guard wearing down. The second-team All-America East pick averaged nearly 33 minutes a game last season. He'll probably be on the court even more this season.

"We really expect a lot out of D.J. this coming year," Jones said. "There's going to be a lot of attention put toward him in terms of stopping him, because he's going to be one of our better players, so he has to continue to expand his game."



At 6-7, junior Dom Morris (6.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was already pretty agile for a player his size. But since he dropped about 15 pounds during the summer, Morris has become quicker underneath the basket and an even bigger factor around the rim.

"He's another guy a lot like D.J., a lot is going to be asked of him," Jones said. "Defensively, he's going to guard the best post player on the opposition. We're going to look for him to really anchor our defense, and there's going to be a lot of attention on him as well."

Jones calls 6-5 junior forward Travis Robinson (5.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg) one of his "glue guys," someone who holds the team together and keeps it focused when times are tough.

"He's one of those guys that you need to have him if you're going to win," Jones said.

After missing the first seven games of last season because of a leg injury, 6-7 sophomore forward Malik Thomas (4.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) became one of the team's better rebounders. Jones would like to see him do more offensively.

Zach Chionuma (2.0 ppg), a 6-5 sophomore guard, played in nearly every game but never got on track as a freshman. Jones believes he has too much talent not to be more of a scoring threat this season.

James Kennedy (0.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg), a 6-6 sophomore forward, missed the final 16 games of his freshman season with an injury.

"We're hoping that some of the nagging injuries are past him so he can get ready to be a productive player on the floor for us," Jones said.

Even if the freshman class wasn't considered by some one of the better at the non-BCS level, these newcomers would be counted on to contribute right away. But as it is, Jones has loaded up with elite talent.

Maurice Watson, Jr. (Boys' Latin/Lansdowne, Pa.) is one of the program's most heralded recruits, ranked among the top 100 players in the country by ESPN. Playing for his father in high school, the 5-10 freshman forward scored 2,356 points, second most all-time in the Philadelphia Public League.

"He's another playmaker," Jones said. "I think he'll definitely take some pressure off D.J. and allow D.J. to play off the ball a little bit to make the game easier for him."

John Papale (Choate Rosemary Hall/Wallingford, Conn.) was the New Haven Register player of the year. The 6-3 freshman guard is a talented 3-point shooter who can also create a shot off the dribble and score at the rim.

Nathan Dieudonne (Trinity/Crestwood, Ky.) was the first player from a private school in 50 years to earn Kentucky's Mr. Basketball award. The 6-7 freshman forward broke his foot during the summer but should be back in the fall.

Look for 6-8 freshman forward Justin Alston (Archbishop Carroll/Washington, D.C.) to provide frontcourt depth.

"We're going to be a young team," Jones said. "We're not going to have any seniors. … We'll be one of those teams that will probably end up playing nine to 10 guys because we're going to have to."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B+

BENCH/DEPTH: C

FRONTCOURT: B

INTANGIBLES: C


To prevent this from becoming a lost year, BU has to focus less on what it can't do than what it can. Jones will have to be at his best as a motivator to keep his players as enthused about the season as he is.

"To be honest with you, I really am excited about this season," Jones said. "I'm excited about the challenge for us to go into this year and really prepare ourselves every day to be the best team and the best individuals we can be.

"One of my things is I want to be able to lead this team to a successful season this year. I just on a daily basis want to get the most out of my staff and the most out of my team. If I'm doing that, we're going to have success. There's no doubt."

If nothing else, Jones can use 2012-13 as a springboard toward a successful transition to the Patriot League. Jones, who coached seven years in the Ivy League, is familiar with the new conference.

"I think it's a real positive move," Jones said. "It's a great move for our university to be affiliated with some of the more prestigious universities in the country. … I think those experiences I had at Columbia will serve me well."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

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