If Steve Donahue stays as Boston College basketball coach, his predecessor, Al Skinner, fired despite being the school’s all-time winningest coach and taking the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament seven times, has to be wondering when the basketball bar got lowered to limbo level at The Heights.
Sports Illustrated reported Thursday night that Donahue, who has presided over the two most loss-filled seasons in BC hoops history, including a school-record 24 defeats this season, had been told he will return for a fifth season. But athletic director Brad Bates declined to sign off on that report when reached by the Globe Friday evening.
Yes, BC had a brutal schedule (one Donahue crafted); kenpom.com rated it the second-most difficult in the country behind Kansas. But unless you think arthritic-knee-afflicted center Dennis Clifford is the second coming of Patrick Ewing it’s hard to justify going 8-24, two years after 9-22, especially when one of the precious victories came against Division 2 Philadelphia University, which listed the Dec. 15 game as an exhibition on its website.
Donahue has a 54-76 record and zero NCAA Tournament berths at BC. His only winning season, his first, came with Skinner’s provisions, including NBA-er Reggie Jackson.
Donahue is an earnest, affable, basketball lifer from Philadelphia who sold paint so he could take a nonpaying assistant coaching job at the University of Pennsylvania. He won three straight Ivy League titles at Cornell and took the Big Red to the Sweet 16. His offense moves with the efficiency and effectiveness of a Swiss watch. He inherited a BC program with some issues behind the scenes that he has cleaned up.
He can coach, but he’s not the right coach for Boston College right now.
Thou shalt recruit is the first commandment of power conference basketball.
Outside of guard Olivier Hanlan, the 2012-13 Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, and finesse power forward Ryan Anderson, the Eagles simply do not have ACC-caliber talent.
Donahue has either been unable to land the type of players he needs to compete or in some cases has misevaluated them in his own backyard (Methuen’s Georges Niang).
These are halcyon days for hoops prospects in New England, and BC needs a basketball version of ever-present and effervescent BC football coach Steve Addazio to take advantage. It’s OK if BC doesn’t get a blue-chipper such as Everett’s Nerlens Noel, an NBA lottery pick who did one year in the NBA internship program at Kentucky.
But you would think the Eagles would have stumbled into landing one impact player from New England.
Wayne Selden (Kansas), Noah Vonleh (Indiana), Niang (Iowa State), Jake Layman (Maryland), Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Pat Connaughton (Notre Dame), and Zach Auguste (Notre Dame) are all local kids who would have looked good in maroon and gold.
Bonzie Colson Jr. of New Bedford (Notre Dame) or Jacquil Taylor of Cambridge (Purdue) would have fit the lone scholarship Donahue has available for 2014, one BC still doesn’t have a taker for.
Donahue, who was on the recruiting trail the day when reached for comment, said recruiting the elite players in the Boston area is BC’s No. 1 priority.
“I worked my butt off for Noah Vonleh. I have a great relationship with Noah,” said Donahue. “I saw Noah play more than any other college coach, probably 10 times as much as any college coach. He played for the same high school coach as Olivier Hanlan. Noah is a great kid with a great mom. We’ll eventually get those guys. That’s our goal. We’re going to keep working on those kids, show them BC is a great option for them.”
In a Globe profile of Donahue written in 2010, about a month after he took the BC job, Donahue acknowledged that going from evaluating players for the Ivy League to evaluating players for the ACC would be his toughest transition.
Prescient. BC didn’t offer a scholarship to Niang, a tweener forward with a versatile game. He is averaging 16.6 points per game this season for Iowa State, earning third-team All-Big 12 honors.
“I love the kid. I didn’t get to see him enough to make the determination,” said Donahue. “He had no other high-major offers, either. Iowa State did a tremendous job of getting him early.”
Donahue has secured a verbal commitment from Class of 2015 power forward Jeremy Miller of Milton and New Hampton School. Rivals.com rated Miller in its top 100.
“I think what it takes is years of relationships to get the elite players in your backyard,” said Donahue. “[Jeremy Miller] is the first top-100 player committed to BC since 2002 and the first four-star since Craig Smith. We’re building ties. When you’re Kansas or Indiana you can show up and say, ‘I’m here.’ We have to work a little harder.
“My focus is on the area kids. We have relationships now, deep relationships with every Division 1 prospect, high school coach, AAU coach in the next four classes.”
Leo Papile, a former Celtics executive and the doyen of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC), one of the elite AAU outfits in the country, said Donahue and his staff have been very active recruiting local talent, especially in the Class of 2015, which features highly sought-after guard Terance Mann of Lowell.
Papile gave Donahue an A for effort and communication in recruiting.
“Did they misidentify the Jake Laymans and Georges Niangs of the world? Only they can answer that,” said Papile. “I have no issue with my players or my children playing for Steve. I think he is above the grade for a college coach of today for integrity and general basketball knowledge. I don’t say that for a lot of guys.”
But Papile also said there is no hiding from BC’s current roster, results, and the success of the local players who got away.
Skinner wasn’t adept at mining local talent. But when you’re winning and bringing in future NBA players such as Troy Bell, Smith, Jared Dudley, and Jackson, no one cares what hometown is listed next to their name in the media guide.
“Ultimately, whether you’re recruiting blue-chip players or kids barely getting sniffs it doesn’t matter, if they compete well on the court and graduate that’s successful recruiting, then,” said Bates. “At the end of the day, all of us at BC are in a performance business, and we want to perform as athletes, scholars, leaders, and servers.”
If BC basketball is a performance, it’s time for a different act.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.