Boston College men’s basketball coach Earl Grant is flush with continuity, a rare occurrence in the new age of high-profile collegiate athletics.
According to Grant, only he and Marquette coach Shaka Smart are beginning the 2023-24 season holding similar pat hands. The Eagles have three starters and nine lettermen back from a team that won eight regular season ACC games, including upset victories over Florida State and Virginia, and one in the conference tournament.
“We have nine returners, which is rare in this era with transfers and NIL,” said Grant. “Somebody told me at the ACC meetings there are only two teams (in Division 1) that have that many returners and they are Boston College and Marquette.
“It’s been pretty refreshing and there were times in practice before I can actually teach a play or teach a scheme, the older team might do it before I teach it.
“They teach the other guys on their own so there is a great understanding of what we are trying to do. That’s because of the continuity and all the returners.”
The trio of returning starters include 7-foot center Quinten Post, who missed the first half of last season with a foot injury, point guard Jaeden Zachary and forward Prince Aligbe, who lit it up during the Eagles’ summer tour in Europe.
BC men’s basketball coach Earl Grant instructs his Eagles during a recent practice. The Eagles return three starters. (BC Athletics photo)
Despite the wealth of depth and experience on the roster that accounted for nine conference wins, BC was picked to finish 12th in the ACC preseason poll. Post, who was the ACC Comeback Player of the Year last season, was voted preseason All-ACC second team and freshman guard Donald Hand was one of the five players listed on the Rookie of the Year watch.
“I pay attention to it and I don’t love it,” said Grant. “We have good players and they are doing some good things, but I don’t love it and I don’t get to vote on that for myself.
“Every year they vote us pretty low. We are going to keep working at it and focus on the non-conference and be as good as we can be when the time comes to play that second season.
“We know it’s a fight on every corner and we have a pretty good group. But I’m not going to dwell on that because that is where they picked us.”
The Eagles’ goal is to play in March beyond the ACC tournament and last season’s 16-17 overall record was the result of some unforgiveable non-conference setbacks. BC suffered toxic losses to Maine, Tarleton State and New Hampshire and struggled to beat Stonehill.
BC begins the season at Conte Forum against Fairfield on Monday, Nov. 8, and plays regional games against Harvard, Central Connecticut and Holy Cross. BC opens ACC play at North Carolina State on Dec. 2. Grant knows the Eagles must clean up on their non-conference opponents if they hope to compete in the Big Dance or the NIT.
“The goal is to be playing in March and having a chance to advance in March,” said Grant. “Whatever that means, that’s where we are at and that means progress and that’s breaking through to the other side.”
A tall order
Post describes himself as a “modern big.”
The 7-0, 250-pound graduate pivotman from Amsterdam elected to return the Heights to get more seasoning for what he hopes will lead to the pro career. That would involve establishing his credentials as a “modern big” for all to see in the rough and tumble of the ACC.
“The modern big means having the ball in your hands a lot,” said Post. “Old school basketball was post up with your back to the basket and then it got to the point where bigs were setting pick and rolls. The modern big knows how to play with the ball in his hands.
Boston College’s Quinten Post eyes the basket during a Feb. 22 game in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
“That means he is a kind of playmaker, shooting the three, passing and dribbling. Those are the things I can do and make reads, find the open guy, shoot the ball and be a playmaker from the center position.”
Post also has some unfinished business to attend to. Post missed the front end of last season with a foot injury and only appeared in 19 games with 13 starts. He scored 286 points (15.1 ppg.) with 23 treys, 107 rebounds, 29 assists and 17 blocks. That was good enough to get some pre-NBA Draft workouts with the Celtics and the Nets.
“Had I been an NBA first round (pick), I of course would have gone,” said Post. “I was going to work out for five teams but I tweaked my ankle. It was super cool experience getting the feedback. I missed a lot of last season so a lot of these teams were not familiar with me. But they were intrigued with what I bring as a modern big.”
Zackery is the one returning starter best left on the floor in all situations.
That was certainly the case last year when he 6-2, 220-pound junior guard from Salem, Wis., appeared in 33 games with 31 starts and logged a staggering 1,093.33 minutes (33.1 per game). He finished second in scoring with 10.7 points per game and 31 treys. He led the team in assists (90) and steals (45), and grabbed 104 rebounds.
Point guard Jaeden Zachary, shown during a recent practice, will run Boston College’s offense. (BC Athletics photo)
“This year I need to step up and be more aggressive and not just score points but create for everybody,” said Zachery.
Zackery would switch off from point guard to the shooting guard last season, sharing the ballhandling duties with Makai Ashton-Langford. Grant has several guys who can take it up the floor, but he wants Zachery full time at the 1 this season.
New old guy
BC has many ACC-tested players back, but the one that got away is the toughest to replace. Makai Ashton-Langford was the Eagles’ most influential can-do player on the floor because he could score from anywhere and defend like a demon, but he transferred to the University of Central Florida.
To help fill the void, Grant imported Claudell Harris Jr., a 6-3, 190-pound junior from Charleston Southern, where he was a Big South second team all-star. He wrapped up his sophomore year with 17.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
“I wanted to play in the ACC and Boston College gave me the opportunity to get play time, make shots and evolve my game,” said Harris.
New old look
Shooting guard Mason Madsen ditched the clean-cut well-adjusted Midwest look for something more West Coast radical chic from the 1970’s. Madsen let his hair grow out and donned an oversized logoed sweatband to go along with a full complement of facial hair.
“He looks like Bill Walton,” said Grant. “I don’t know if I’m going to have him clean it up if it gets too long, but he’s a free spirit. I don’t get caught up in guys trying to have their personalities and be themselves. I think he looks OK, like a hippie but he looks OK.”
In spite of his first name, Madsen didn’t throw up a lot of bricks last season. The 6-4, 195-pound senior guard from Rochester, Minn., led BC with 40 made three-point shots. Madsen played in a lot of pain last season and was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease he is treating.