Offseason preparation gives BC new edge

NEWTON, Mass. -- The timing couldn’t have been better for Boston College coach Steve Donahue.

Coming off a 9-22 (4-12 in the ACC) campaign, one in which he relied almost exclusively on freshmen as he rebuilds his Eagles from the ground up, the coach knew this offseason would be critical.

“It was a great summer, because this was the first summer we could actually work with our guys,” Donahue said, referring to a rule change that allowed coaches to work with each player for two hours a week in the summer. “So it’s not like you could just kinda guess and take a look at them, 'Hey they look good,' they take their shirt off they look more muscular and they’re heavier.

“But we literally got on the floor with them, which I thought was great timing with us.”

BC had 11 new players in 2011-12, and the inexperience was easy to see at times. Being able to work with those players as they transitioned from freshmen to sophomores was a huge advantage.

“I just think we’re better across the board,” Donahue said at the Massachusetts basketball media day early last month. “I think we all made huge jumps over the last six months. To a man I think they’ve done a lot to do that. To do that, they’ve all taken the step and really bought into it. I think what you’ll see is bigger, stronger, better-skilled basketball players.

“Now the job is to continue that.”

The third-year BC coach got another opportunity this offseason, taking his young team overseas for some added seasoning.

The Eagles played four games during a 10-day trip to Spain, winning one and losing three. They got strong performances from sophomores Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford on the trip.

“You make your biggest strides between your freshman and sophomore year,” Donahue said. “And I thought to have all these guys doing that, and then you go on the trip and see where you’re at -- it was kind of like a wake-up call.

“We played great competition over there. Now you go like, ‘Oh, we’re not there yet. We’ve got another six weeks before October 15, let’s get back to work and make sure we get better over these six weeks.’ ”

Last season was hard for the Eagles and their fans. There were moments of elation -- the home upset of No. 17 FSU comes to mind -- but more often than not dejection was the default emotion. The Eagles just weren’t equipped to compete on this level for 40 minutes.

“You won’t see any of that stuff,” Donahue said. “We’ll be able to compete. We’ll be inconsistent at times, we’ll be still rocky with no upperclassmen, absolutely, but I think you’ll get a much better vision of what the program’s gonna look like when these guys continue to grow and we continue to add pieces to this group to make it better.”

Joining rotation players Anderson, Clifford, Patrick Heckmann and Lonnie Jackson are two point-guard prospects, three-star recruit Olivier Hanlan and two-star recruit Joe Rahon.

BC has only two upperclassmen on its roster: former walk-on Danny Rubin and Harvard transfer Andrew Van Nest.

At the ACC’s Operation Basketball, the Eagles were picked to finish last in the conference this season.

Any growth the Eagles enjoy this season will have to happen organically.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Anderson led the Eagles in scoring (11.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 rebounds per game) as a freshman. With a season and offseason of work under his belt, he’ll be expected to do more this season.

Donahue is happy with the work his players have put in, but will that translate immediately into more wins and fewer losses?

He isn’t saying that.

“I’ve never talked about wins even with my team,” he said. “I honestly believe if we focus on things that are important to us on both sides of the ball, off the court, in the weight room, and you’re meeting those and you’re talking about them and you’re constantly pushing yourself to get better, than those things will take care of themselves.

“We have way more expectations than we did last year," he added. "We’ve all been here, we all know what it takes and we all expect us to be a lot better.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.