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Basketball coach Jim Christian faces roster challenge at BC

Constant turnover in the college game has changed the recruiting landscape, says BC coach Jim Christian.
Constant turnover in the college game has changed the recruiting landscape, says BC coach Jim Christian.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

When he accepted the job as Boston College’s basketball coach last April, Jim Christian was well aware of the daunting challenge he would face in Year 2, having to replenish nearly half his roster.

“It’s nothing that I didn’t foresee,’’ said Christian, who had seven seniors graduate this month, while junior guard Olivier Hanlan, BC’s leading scorer the last three seasons, left early for the NBA in April, and sophomore forward Will Magarity transferred to Davidson.

That left the coach with nine vacant roster spots for the 2015-16 season.

Christian already has signed three high school players, including three-star prospect Matt Milon, a 6-foot-4-inch guard from Oviedo, Fla., to the Class of 2015 and hopes to fill out his remaining slots with high school prospects, two-year transfers, and a graduate transfer.

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“When I took the job at BC, I knew that half the roster was going to have to be replaced,’’ said Christian, who went 13-19 in his first season (4-14 in the Atlantic Coast Conference).

“Obviously, I’m not averse to what’s happening in college basketball. But there was no way we were going to play a year and have nobody transfer.

“Look at every school in the league. There was few, if any, that had rosters that stayed intact.’’

That included, most notably, Duke, which will have to replace half of its eight-man rotation that won the 2015 national championship.

In addition to the graduation of senior guard Quinn Cook, the Blue Devils also said adieu to freshmen Tyus Jones, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow, all of whom opted to leave early for the NBA.

The January dismissal of junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who has since transferred to Maryland, left Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski with no fewer than five roster spots to fill.

Christian said he was concerned by the recent spate of transfers across the country; there were 604 recorded by the NCAA in Division 1 basketball alone last year.

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“So what’s happened is the recruiting cycle, even for 2015, is more of an ongoing process and is going to go on into the summer,’’ Christian said. “It’s not the old school where you go, ‘OK, here’s the November signing date and here’s the April signing date.’ Guess what? It’s changed. At the same time, you are still trying to establish recruiting for 2016 and also 2017.

“So you’re constantly, constantly playing a game of catch-up because of all the turnover. It’s not like it was 10 years ago where by April or May everybody was done recruiting. It’s a totally different recruiting cycle. It’s a totally different animal.’’

Before Christian arrived at BC, Ryan Anderson transferred to Arizona and Joe Rahon transferred to Saint Mary’s. Both were recruited by Christian’s predecessor, Steve Donahue, who in March was named coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

When Christian came aboard, he filled the voids in his roster by signing a pair of graduate transfers: Aaron Brown from Southern Mississippi and Dimitri Batten from Old Dominion.

“This time last year, nobody knew who Aaron Brown was,’’ Christian said. “He wasn’t on anyone’s radar. And he wound up being our second-leading scorer [14.8 points per game].’’

Lonnie Jackson, who also was recruited by Donahue, graduated from BC and will transfer to Boise State, where he will be immediately eligible to complete his last season of eligibility.

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“It’s not a problem that’s unique to BC,’’ Christian said. “You have to be able to manage it. You constantly have to be recruiting and you constantly have to have your ear to the ground because of transfers that happen.

“It all comes down to trying to balance your classes so that you can sustain success. That was the goal when I got here. The goal was simple: You’ve got to increase talent and you’ve got to create culture. It’s never changed.”

Retooling a roster and creating balance among the classes can be a daunting challenge.

“The transfer thing, we’ve talked about it,’’ said Christian, who discussed the matter with other ACC coaches during the league’s meetings last week in Amelia Island, Fla. “There are some alarming numbers.

“There was a study done that found 21 percent of college basketball players leave after their first year and 43 percent leave after their second year. So it’s a total new trend.’’

One that has turned college basketball into a way station for NBA-bound players or those looking to improve their prospects by transferring.

The trend is exacerbated by the recent spate of graduate transfers, which has given coaches the luxury of adding a veteran player who doesn’t have to sit out a year.

“College basketball has become an instant-gratification business on a lot of different planes,’’ Christian said. “There are so many Division 1 teams compared to football. We have at least twice the teams, and that creates a larger number of players. So the percentages are a little more alarming than the sheer number.

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“So with 21 percent leaving after the first year and 43 percent leaving overall after the second year, that, to me, is an issue.’’

Given that climate, how does Christian intend to meet his ongoing objectives — to increase BC’s talent pool and create a winning culture, all while striking a balance among his classes?

“You’re going to have to take a look at some transfers, a graduate transfer who can play right away, because then you get that scholarship back and utilize it in 2016, kind of like we did this year with Aaron Brown and Dimitri Batten,’’ Christian said. “You look maybe at a young man who’s transferring after playing two years somewhere else and now you can balance out your junior class. That’s the way you do it.

“Obviously, we’ve got to get the right talent, guys who can compete in the ACC, who can be academically successful at Boston College. Then it’s a gradual process where, eventually, you can kind of balance these classes out. Right now transfers are a way to do that.

“I think the whole thing comes down to fact that you want young men who can be academically successful at Boston College, so it’s always about finding a guy who’s a good fit. A good fit basketball-wise, a good fit academic-wise, and it’s not just for the basketball team here. It’s very important all those boxes are checked.’’

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Although Christian returns six players, including 7-foot center Dennis Clifford, who averaged 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, the coach said it was difficult to predict what his roster would look like.

“Anybody who looks at our roster will see that we had seven seniors [to replace],’’ Christian said. “You knew coming in the door, regardless what type of year you had, whether it was a disappointing year or a great year, you knew you were going to have to replace seven scholarships.

“That’s not easy to do, because when we got the job in April, we were always behind. So it’s a game of catch-up. It’s not going to be done in one year.

“You keep trying to make as a good a decision as you can and get the right kind of kids who can succeed at BC. There are no miracle turnarounds, especially with that kind of numbers.’’


Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.