Coming into the season, Boston College coach Jim Christian made it clear that he’d take his two starting guards over any backcourt in the nation.
He saw how high the ceiling could be for junior Jerome Robinson and sophomore Ky Bowman, even if the Eagles’ recent struggles had made it hard for others to see it the same way. But the leap that Robinson made this season, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring, forced everyone around the league to take notice. And another splashy season from the fiery (and fiery-haired) Bowman kept him on the radar as one of the conference top young talents.
Robinson was named first-team All-ACC on Sunday and finished runner-up for Player of the Year behind Duke’s Marvin Bagley III. Bowman was tapped as an all-conference honorable mention.
“I said it before the season,” Christian said. “I didn’t know if the whole country knew how good they were, but I thought they were the best backcourt in the country, and I think all they did was go out and prove it.
“Night in and night out, they were the focal point of the other team. I mean, that’s all teams try to do is figure out ways to take them out, and it was very difficult to do because it’s just the character and the hard work.”
After going 9-23 a year ago (2-16 ACC), the Eagles turned their fortunes around (17-14, 7-11). They were fueled by Robinson and Bowman, who rarely left the floor, both finishing in the top 10 in the ACC in minutes.
“I think it just proves how much we worked,” Robinson said. “We knew where we were last year. I definitely wasn’t happy with what happened last year. And you just use it as motivation.
“You see how hard you work and where the success takes you and people started recognizing and it almost makes you want to work harder because you don’t want to go back to where you were.”
Robinson gave the Eagles 24.3 points a night in ACC play. His 46-point outburst against Notre Dame in February was the biggest scoring night in the conference this year.
The leap he made from his sophomore to junior seasons was more than dramatic.
“It’s not a physical one,” Christian said. “You don’t get taller, you don’t get stronger. You get poise. You get confidence. You get a better understanding of the situation. And then there’s some basketball things that he does better, but I thought for him in particular, the growth was more mental than physical. It was just confidence.”
Bowman was the only player in the ACC to rank in the top 10 in scoring (16.9) and assists (4.8) and top 15 in rebounding (6.7).
“The one thing that makes Ky special is he enjoys the hard stuff, where a lot of guys don’t like the hard stuff,” Christian said. “They don’t like to put in all the extra hard work or watch film — the hard stuff. Some people like it. He does, and that’s what makes him a good player.”
Together, Robinson and Bowman combined for 37.6 points overall, making them the top scoring tandem in the ACC.
Their breakthrough started in the offseason with workouts in Santa Monica, Calif., where they honed their skills against pros, including Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
“Neither one of us settled this year,” Bowman said. “We just wanted to prove we weren’t glad with where we were as a team last year. So we knew it was going to take a lot of work throughout the summer to get our team where we wanted to be, and we still look at it like we aren’t where we want to be, but we can get there.”
The Eagles’ 17 wins were their most since 2010-11. They will open the ACC tournament Tuesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against Georgia Tech.
“It’s definitely cool getting the respect,” Robinson said. “Like, around the league, you can tell with different guys, they just treat you differently. I really just feel like it was the work.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.