CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ryan Anderson said it was difficult not to feel the disdain. At first, it was subtle when he and Boston College teammate Dennis Clifford showed up as the Eagles’ representatives at last year’s ACC Operation Basketball and were treated like outcasts by the conference players in attendance.
“Just the whole feeling was that . . . we weren’t good enough to be here,’’ Anderson said.
That feeling was magnified when the Eagles, who finished 9-22 overall (4-12 in the ACC) in 2011-12 under second-year coach Steve Donahue, were picked to finish last in the 12-team conference. BC, however, exceeded all expectations by finishing eighth after going 16-17 overall, 7-11 in the league. BC was 4-1 in March and 3-7 in the 10 conference games they played that were decided by five points or fewer.
With all five starters returning from that squad, the Eagles were treated more respectfully in the preseason media poll Wednesday, when they were picked to finish eighth in an expanded 15-team conference.
“I remember last year not only were we picked last, but we were picked last by 60 points,’’ said Donahue, whose team garnered 457 points in the voting to finish 6 shy of Maryland and 20 points behind ACC newcomer Pittsburgh. Duke was picked to finish first, garnering 50 out of a possible 54 first-place votes.
Asked if it was a reflection of newfound respect after the Eagles made an end-of-season stretch drive with victories over Virginia, at Clemson and Georgia Tech in the regular-season home finale, Donahue said, “I do think it’s indicative of what people think about us . . . Honestly, I still think there are people who don’t believe it until they see [for themselves], and that’s fair.’’
Anderson, who was named to the All-ACC third team after averaging 14.9 points and 8.0 rebounds last season, said he took note of the difference in how he and sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan, the ACC’s Freshman of the Year last season who averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists, were treated by their ACC competitors when they showed up Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton for the league’s media day.
“This year, guys came up and shook your hand, where last year they’d just walk past you,’’ said Anderson, a 6-fot-9-inch junior forward from Lakewood, Calif., who was voted a cocaptain with sophomore guard Joe Rahon. “It’s little things like that, that make you feel like you belong here. They have respect for us and we have respect for them, because we know they’re good players, too.’’
The Eagles, who return the most experienced players in the ACC with a league-high combined 278 starts, appear to be a team to watch this season.
“We still haven’t done anything, we still have a lot to accomplish,’’ Anderson said. “We came close a lot of times and I think that’s why we gained a lot more respect, but we haven’t actually done anything yet, so that’s what motivates us.’’
It motivated the Eagles to stay back at school for both summer sessions, where self-improvement was not the exception but the rule. Anderson attended several big-man camps while Hanlan went to several point-guard camps run by LeBron James, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul. Junior forward Eddie Odio lived in the weight room and put on 15 pounds of muscle to bulk up to 209 pounds, while 6-11 junior center Kyle Caudill shed about 15 pounds to trim down to 269.
And Clifford, the 7-1 junior center from Bridgewater, Mass., who was slowed last season by Chondromalacia patellae, an inflammation of the underside of the kneecap, spent the summer rehabbing from surgery on both knees.
Donahue said Clifford was cleared to begin running in two weeks and it is hoped he will be back playing in a month, possibly in time for BC’s Nov. 17 home game against Florida Atlantic.
It is one of three home games the Eagles will play out of their first nine contests of an upgraded nonconference schedule aimed at putting BC in position to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.
“It takes hard work to get to where we want to be and I think we’ve worked hard,’’ Anderson. “I feel like we deserve some of the respect we’ve received, but like I said, we haven’t really accomplished anything.
“I don’t want to come in here next year and talk about missed opportunities, and losing games close,’’ Anderson said. “I want to be able to say how we’ve had a good year.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.