Legendary NBC News anchorman David Brinkley once said, “A successful man is one who can lay a foundation from the bricks others have thrown at him”. Such pretty accurately describes the current condition of Boston College basketball and the role in rebuilding it that Coach Earl Grant faces.
While Monday night’s 87-57 loss at upstart Wake Forest was a sobering reminder of how far the Eagles have to go on the court, let’s not lose sight of the task which Grant, his staff and current team is undertaking and how the scattered and broken bricks tossed at him by former head coach Jim Christian are being laid back in place one at a time.
The 2021-22 season is unlikely to equate much of that effort in wins and losses. That said, BC has already surpassed its win total both overall and in conference and will almost assuredly find a way to win a few more and perhaps even escape the last or next to last place finish projected by most in the preseason polls.
When I evaluate coaches, there are a few things I value highly and are those foundational components that go beyond the Xs and Os and even beyond recruiting.
- Simply by watching their team play, can I tell what they emphasize?
- How do they communicate with their players?
With Jim Christian as the coach, even after eight seasons, I couldn’t answer those questions accurately. With Earl Grant, I believe I can do that today.
What are those areas emphasized by Grant?
Watching an early season interview with College of Charleston transfer and Grant player, Brevin Galloway, he harped on how Grant would not allow negative thoughts or attitudes of any sort into his program. How he surrounded himself with those types of people and that, perhaps more than anything else, is what I am taking away from this team to date. Even last night in the blowout loss, the bench was still in the game at the end, cheering on their teammates.
It is easy to dismiss this as what losers lean on when there is nothing else to acknowledge, but belief in yourself and in your teammates and coaches that is unwavering, should not be underestimated.
Win or lose, most every night, the Eagles compete. There is a major difference between playing hard and playing well, one which at times people confuse, but this team plays hard. They are almost always not just on the floor for loose balls, but the first team on the floor for loose balls.
Some of this is actually measurable.
They are an 8-10 team with a positive rebound margin and rebound rate (percentage of total rebounds). They rank 59th in the country this season after finishing last season 284th. If you want to credit the additional size, perhaps, but consider that they shoot only 41.4% from the field while giving up 45.4% and they should be outrebounded.
They are also plus in terms of forcing steals vs their opponents, arguably being a less efficient ball handling team this season.
Old school mentality, Grant constantly harps on defense and has built this team from the defensive end out. The results have been mixed, but the message and what is important is clear. To play, you must defend.
Value the Ball
Turnovers, long a bugaboo in the Eagle program are also a key message. Every interview, every analyst before every game, discusses turnovers. Once again, BC hasn’t been great here, but there is an emphasis and that message will resonate.
Grant brings a level headed, consistent approach to every public discussion we see with his players. He and his entire staff are enthusiastic without being maniacal and it is very difficult to tell the score of any game from watching his demeanor on the sideline. It is simply next possession, next game, but he has clearly instilled confidence in them from this approach.
Coaches are ultimately judged on wins and losses and whether the message actually resonates with enough top tier recruits to win at this level is still very much up in the air, but in year one where the most important thing is establishing a culture Grant is doing a more than admirable job. He’s already succeeded in one way Jim Christian never did, being crystal clear with the values on which that foundation will be built.