Joe Jones was shocked.
He was on campus when he got the call, telling him that because BU will be transferring to the Patriot League in 2013-2014, his team would not be eligible for the America East tournament and effectively would not have a shot at the NCAA tournament.
“I think the first thing I would say is that for all the athletes at BU, it was hard,” the second-year Terriers coach said at the Massachusetts basketball media day last month.
Boston University was picked to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll.
Once the news was delivered -- athletic director Mike Lynch met with the team to discuss the decision -- it was up to the Terriers to digest it as best they could. Some found they couldn’t. Jake O’Brien, who missed BU’s previous NCAA appearance with an injury, decided to leave the school in search of a better path to the postseason.
“For our guys, I think it was a lot for them to handle,” Jones said. “I think, alright you’re not gonna be able to play in your conference tournament, now you lose a kid that is a very good player and is a good friend. And so they have to handle that.”
After the initial shock wore off, Jones said, the players did as well as he could’ve hoped.
“I gotta be honest with you, and this is not blowing smoke, they have done an unbelievable job handling all the things I just talked about,” Jones said. “And really feeling like we have a chance to compete for a regular-season championship, that that’s not gonna sway us at all from our goal each and every season to play for a regular-season championship. But to go through that and I think to embrace the challenge that they have speaks volumes.
“And to me, that’s what sports is all about," he added. "Things aren’t always gonna go your way. So you’re gonna have to adapt.”
The loss of O’Brien, who transferred to Temple, hurts. The Terriers already lost last season’s leading scorer, Darryl Partin, to graduation. Partin, the AE Player of the Year, scored 19.6 points per game, 19th in the country.
O’Brien, the 2009 AE Rookie of the Year, would’ve been expected to shoulder some of that load. But after missing two seasons with recurring foot injuries, he couldn’t stomach not having a shot at the NCAA tournament.
“I felt really bad for Jake,” Jones said. “Being a member of the team and not being able to play when they won the America East championship had a huge part in this, wanting a chance to compete for the conference championship and thinking about getting to the NCAA tournament I thought were the reasons he left.”
The decision still hurt.
“That hurt my heart because me and Jake were pretty close,” D.J. Irving said. “I mean, I understand his decision to leave but, yeah, that hurt me.
“I think he made the right decision, because he didn’t get a chance to play with us in the NCAA tournament in my freshman year,” Irving said. “So he wanted to get a chance to be a part of that. I understand his decision completely, I probably would’ve done the same thing.”
For the Terriers point guard, the AE’s decision means every game BU plays becomes more important, because if BU is to have any shot of postseason play, it has to win the AE regular-season title.
“I think it motivates us because we know from the first game of the season, every game counts, every possession counts,” Irving said. “So it’s gonna make us go even harder in the beginning, rather than trying to get better during the season.
And while it’s a hard pill to swallow now, Jones believes that in the long run the move to the Patriot will be a good one.
“I think it’s gonna be terrific,” Jones said. “I think from top to bottom it’s gonna be a very strong conference. I think right now it’s probably at an all-time high in the last 10 years in terms of the notoriety that the league is getting with Bucknell and Lehigh being so strong.”
But that’s for another day. For now, the Terriers will focus on the task at hand … and try to suppress their disappointment at the AE’s decision.
“You’ve seen it happen with other teams, but when it happens to your team it shakes you up a little bit,” Jones said of the decision. “Because we all play for championships. Like, c’mon, you’re playing for a championship, you’re playing for a right to play in the NCAA tournament. We all know that’s the goal.”
And because of a decision that was outside of the team’s control, it’s a goal that just got a whole lot harder for the Terriers to achieve.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.