Boston College men’s basketball coach Jim Christian had an offseason epiphany. It was simple but seismic: In order for the Eagles to break through in the Atlantic Coast Conference after a decade of mediocrity, the first thing that needed to change within the program was its mind-set.
A 10-year NCAA Tournament drought looms over the Eagles heads, but snapping that inauspicious streak starts with setting their goals higher than simply getting to the dance.
“I talked to our team like, ‘We play in the ACC, man. We need to try to get to the Final Four like everybody else in that league,’ ” Christian said. “Stop thinking about this, stop thinking about that. Stop thinking about trying to get to the tournament. We need to try to get to the Final Four. There are 15 teams. Why are we different. We need to come out here and try to get to the Final Four like everybody else. Approach each day like that, play each day like that, stop listening to what everybody says.”
That mentality change started with Christian himself. In five years at BC, Christian is 62-100, 18-72 in the ACC.
“It’s got nothing to do with the players,” Christian said. “It’s got to do with what the players are thinking about, what we’re talking to them about. It’s just the way I’ve approached it. People call me crazy. They might be right. But I think if you don’t approach it that way, then what are we trying to do.”
The Eagles are by no means a preseason darling, but that’s nothing new. BC was picked to finish 13th out of 15 teams in the ACC this season. They’ve been picked to finish last twice since Christian arrived in 2014.
“Polls? Who cares, man?” Christian said. “I took a poll in our locker room. We were picked fourth. I did. Here’s a poll. Where are we picked? Our team picked us first. That’s all I care about. The rest of the stuff, have at it.”
Last year, Christian kept a clock in his office counting down to Selection Sunday. He took it down this year. That motivator is still present, but he wants the players to draw it from within.
“I want them to have big ambitions every single day,” Christian said.
“To come out here, which needs to be the case, is that we’re trying to do some big things. We should be trying to do some big things. That’s what we’ve been talking about.”
The Eagles took a step back last season, going 14-17 (5-13 ACC) after going 19-16 the year before and getting an NIT bid.
“We came with the wrong mentality,” Christian said. “We were just trying to get to the tournament. Why? Why weren’t we looking bigger than that? We should be definitely trying to get to the tournament. That’s a step to us trying to get to where we’re trying to go. It’s a step. Why are we not thinking like these other teams? You think Carolina’s trying to get to the tournament? It’s a step. They want to get to the tournament, they’ve got to do everything the can to get to the tournament, but they’re trying to win it. Why are we not trying to win it?
The Eagles lost star guard Ky Bowman, who signed with Golden State. Derryck Thornton, a graduate transfer from USC, will assume the reins at point guard, but the Eagles will also lean on a core group of veterans, including center Nik Popovic and forward Steffon Mitchell.
“We’ve got to start controlling what we can control and have our ambition,” Christian said. “To be totally honest with you, it’s time to start thinking differently. That’s what everybody else is thinking. We’re in the same league as everybody else. Stop complaining. We know who we are. We know what we have. We know what we don’t have. The score is 0-0, man. Let’s go play.”
Christian compared his team with last season’s Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the 10-team Big 12. Behind third-year coach Chris Beard, they went 31-7, won the regular-season conference title with a 14-4 record, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and buzzed through the bracket, making their first Final Four appearance, falling to Virginia in overtime in the national championship game. Christian spent three days in Lubbock this summer and considered it a learning experience. He brought what he learned back to BC.
“The first meeting we actually lined our stuff up with Texas Tech’s,” Christian said. “Here’s what they did really well in their league. Here’s what we did. If we want to play that, we need to move our stuff up to there. We can’t be a ninth rebounding team. we’ve got to be top three. We can’t be down here in forced turnovers. We’ve got to be up here if you want to get there. So it’s the conversation, but it’s a good conversation. It’s what’s supposed to be happening.”
The Eagles won’t have to wait to measure themselves against the rest of the ACC. They open their season Nov. 6 at home against Wake Forest.
“We play in the best league in the country,” Christian said. “We’re in the league. We’re trying to win. We have to start believing that we can do what the best things in this league are doing. We should be pursuing that and not listening to what anybody else thinks we should do. Because I think that’s the case.
“We have to make sure our team, in their mind, feels like they’re putting in enough work, they’re putting in enough time, they have enough opportunities, which, of course, we get, to do something special. Otherwise, what are we out here for? Why would we limit ourselves on Oct. 14 of what we’re going to do? Play it out.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.