Bad luck never had good timing.
When Boston College targeted Illinois State fifth-year transfer Deontae Hawkins in the offseason, the Eagles knew his experience along with his scoring and playmaking could fill a void that a young team desperately needed.
The Eagles watched it play out over the first seven games of the season as Hawkins averaged 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds with four double-doubles. But it was more than just the numbers. Whether it was in practice or a game, Hawkins immediately took on a role as a vocal presences, keeping everyone dialed in and taking charge of the critical communication on defense.
So having the 6-foot-8-inch, 220-pounder go down with a right knee injury last month in a loss to Nebraska was an instant blow.
After being evaluated by BC’s medical staff and getting a second opinion from the Celtics, learning that the injury would end Hawkins’s season was devastating.
Having to go into the Eagles’ Atlantic Coast Conference opener Saturday at noon against top-ranked Duke without one of their key pieces only added insult to injury.
“It’s hard, man,” said Eagles coach Jim Christian. “It’s so funny because in a short amount of time, the impact he had here was amazing. Almost everything I heard about him previously, he was the opposite of. Work ethic, coachability, off the court, he was doing everything asked because he wanted this opportunity.
“He wanted to make this year special and he was on his way to doing it on all fronts. I felt awful, man. It took me a while to get over it — not for me, but for him. It was hard to tell the team, it was hard to get prepared to play Hartford, it was hard.
Hawkins’s future is uncertain. He underwent surgery Friday. The Eagles will likely file paperwork for a sixth year of eligibility, but the decision will be up to Hawkins.
“It’s not an easy process,” Christian said. “It’s a very difficult process.”
In the meantime, the Eagles (6-3) will have to scrap their plans and press on once again as a young team battling in arguably the most difficult conference in the country.
“It’s been tough,” said junior guard Jerome Robinson. “He definitely made us a lot better. But they young guys have got to step up. They’ve got time to figure it out. It’s still early.”
Hawkins’s absence will accelerate the maturation process of freshmen forwards Steffon Mitchell and Vin Baker Jr.
Filling the void will take a collective effort, Christian said.
“I don’t think anybody can step into that role. Not anybody individually,” said Christian. “You’ve just got to collectively do what they do well to make up for it in groups. It’s going to have to be a bunch of people chipping in, guys who we had a little bit of a luxury to wait for them and let them develop, they’ve got to play a little more.”
Inevitably, more of the load will fall on the shoulders of the Eagles’ backcourt.
“They’ve got to play right,” Christian said. “If they play right, then they’ll score and they’ll also make the game a little easier for other guys.”
Robinson shook off some early shooting struggles and has averaged 20.6 points in his past five games. Sophomore Ky Bowman is the only player in the nation averaging at least 15.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.4 assists.
“I think it falls back on us a lot because Teddy [Hawkins] was another piece to use just to help take off some of the pressure,” Bowman said. “Now some of the other players have to step up.”
The home matchup with Duke (11-0) will be a baptism by fire. The Blue Devils, stocked with a star-studded crop of freshmen led by Marvin Bagley III, have been a freight train. They just steamrolled St. Francis, 124-67, on Tuesday.
“They’re loaded, young, big — they’re one of the tallest teams in the nation — it’s just tough, especially with us losing a little bit of height,” Robinson said. “But hopefully we can just outrun them. There’s a lot of different things we can do with them.”
The Eagles are 2-20 against Duke all-time, 1-16 since joining the ACC in 2007. But they’re 3-5 when they’ve faced the country’s top-ranked team.
As vulnerable as BC may be at the moment and as dominant as the Blue Devils may be, Christian said they’re still beatable.
“They’re also young and like all young players, they make mistakes,” he said. “The key for us is we have to take advantage of their mistakes. If we can do that, we can score, because it’s hard to stop them. This is a game you have to score the ball. If you can’t score the ball, it’s tough to beat them.”