When Joanna Bernabei-McNamee hit the recruiting trail two years ago after being hired as head coach of Boston College women’s basketball, her challenge was pitching players on the potential of a program that had just gone 7-23, and finding players that would buy in to turning it around.
But after leading the Eagles to 20 wins last season for the first time in nearly a decade and winning Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year honors, Bernabei-McNamee is facing new challenges as she tries to take the program to the next level.
“Early on when we first took the job, we had all the visions of turning the program into a successful program but we had to sell players on that vision because it hadn’t been done yet,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “But now when we talk to players and we’re talking to younger recruits and coaches, they can really see the vision now because we’re turning it into reality.
“Now it’s not so much that people have to really believe in something that hasn’t been done yet. They can actually see the steps that we’ve made and the progress we’ve made going toward one of the top teams in the country, which is the goal.”
The Eagles already have reaped the benefits on the recruiting trail, lining up a trio of players last fall in the 2020 class that are expected to make immediate contributions.
The group is led by 6-foot guard Josiah Lacey, an ESPN five-star recruit from Westtown (Pa.) High School.
“She is athletic, has the ability to shoot from the outside and also finish around the basket, and her length and her speed allow her to play really good defense,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “I think she’ll be a really good two-way player that can generate some offense, and also not just by working within the offense, but also with her good defense.”
The Eagles also added a floor general in Kaylah Ivey out of Riverdale Baptist in Maryland.
“She is really a pass-first point guard but truly has the ability to score,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “That’s really the best kind of point guard. She has great court vision, she sees the floor, she knows the correct pass, but she can also hit the 3 and hit a pull-up jumper. I see her being able to fit into what we do offensively.”
Bernabei-McNamee’s offense depends on a skilled post player, and 6-foot-2 inch forward Sydney McQuietor fits the mold coming out of Keller (Texas) High School.
“She’s a crafty lefty,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “She’s a touch undersized at the post, but because she has that craftiness and the ability to shoot and a really soft touch around the basket, I think she’s going to have the capabilities to do something for us as well.”
The Eagles’ 2020 class is ranked 22nd in the country by Blue Star Basketball. The players started online courses at Boston College this week.
In a normal summer, the Eagles coaching staff would get seven weeks with incoming players, with four hours of skill development and four hours of weight training along with pickup games. The weekends provide an opportunity to host recruits, and for players to bond either on campus or with trips into the city.
As the country continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eagles have had to navigate different circumstances.
“That’s the part of this that really stinks for us, is we take so much pride in the way we develop players once we get them, and I think the biggest growth for skill development is in the summertime,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “They always say that’s when players are made is during the offseason and I completely believe that.
“That they’re missing out on right now is tragic I think for our players, but I do think this distance will help them. You know how absence makes the heart grow fonder? I really think they are all dying to get back together. They miss each other, they miss us, they miss Boston College.”
As the Eagles look to 2021, 6-foot-2-inch forward Ally VanTimmeren (Jenison High School, in Michigan) announced her commitment to BC in May. Recruiting under quarantine forced Bernabei-McNamee to adjust.
“The thing, I guess, that makes it most different for us is that face-to-face, our personality and getting to know us and what we’re about comes through a lot better when we can be together and really in front of recruits and their families,” she said.
Without the true face-to-face experience, she had to take advantage of technology, whether it was by hosting a Zoom meeting or sharing a video so recruits could get a sense of the campus experience.
“A lot of the process was already under way,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “The 2021 class, we had already established good relationships with them and it was more looking forward to getting them on campus for their official or unofficial visits. Then when this whole pandemic hit it was more, ‘OK, you’re not going to get to visit us officially or unofficially right now, but we can bring part of campus to you via Zoom.' ”
Typically, the recruiting process gives recruits a chance to meet the current players and get a feel for the program. The NCAA tweaked its rules to allow recruits to reach out to players. Recruits from the 2021 class can participate in team Zoom calls.
“I hate that we’ve missed out on being in person,” Bernabei-McNamaee said. “We’ve spent so much of the recruiting process on the phone and maybe doing FaceTimes or on the phone. We really cherish the time when we finally get to come face-to-face with them. So missing out on that part has been a little sad for us, but everybody’s on an equal playing field and everyone’s missing out on that right now.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.