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July 13, 2010
Instead, he was enthralled watching Cornell score a combined 165 points on stout defensive teams Temple and Wisconsin. Jackson saw the Big Red launching 3-pointers, running up and down the court, penetrating and cutting through the Owls' and Badgers' defenses.
How does all this work? Jackson wondered.
"Normally, I can read an offense, but it was harder with Cornell," Jackson said. "There was just complete chaos."
Jackson now will be part of that chaos, as his new coach is Cornell's Steve Donahue.
BC hired Donahue to inject some life into the program. Al Skinner won more games than any coach in program history and took BC to seven NCAA tournaments, but the Eagles had losing records in two of the past three seasons. Despite producing players such as Troy Bell, Craig Smith, Jared Dudley and Tyrese Rice, the program lacked buzz.
Reasonable minds shouldn't expect Celtics fans to trade their season tickets for seats at the Conte Forum, but Boston College hopes a fresh approach will at least make the Eagles more of a factor in a pro town.
"[Donahue's system] is more up-tempo and what you see in college basketball now, especially when ESPN follows those teams and how they play," said Jackson, who is expected to be a centerpiece of Donahue's first BC team.
If Boston College plays the way Cornell did during the NCAA tournament, the Eagles will find it a little easier to draw local attention.
Cornell's offense was at its best in its two tournament wins. The Big Red, who were a No. 12 seed, shot 56.3 percent from the floor against Temple, which had held teams to 37.9 percent shooting going into the tournament. In the second round, Cornell scored 87 points on Wisconsin, a team that had allowed 56.2 points per game. The Big Red shot 61.1 percent from the field and hit eight 3-pointers. The Badgers had held opponents to 41.8 percent shooting and 4.1 3s per game before running into Cornell.
In the Sweet 16, Cornell finally ran into another up-tempo team. Top-seeded Kentucky ended the Cinderella run with a 62-45 victory in the regional semifinals.
Those results might be a few years away for BC, though. Cornell was a senior-laden team that had made two previous tournament appearances.
Though BC has more tradition and better resources, the transition from Skinner's flex offense to Donahue's system will take time.
"We're not going to be able to play the way we did in my 10th year at Cornell, with that senior class last year doing everything we can possibly do in the playbook," said Donahue, who led Cornell to three of the program's five NCAA tournament appearances. "These kids will be doing certain things and playing a certain style that fits their strengths as well."
Though Rakim Sanders decided to transfer to Fairfield, where he will play for former BC assistant Ed Cooley, Donahue still has a veteran core. Boston College returns its top three scorers in Jackson and seniors Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. The Eagles also return Biko Paris and Josh Southern, who started 25 games apiece last season.
That's a double-edged sword, though. Donahue begins his first season with a roster full of upperclassmen -- but upperclassmen well-versed to Skinner's system. BC players are used to the point guard walking up the ball, setting screen after screen, playing inside the 3-point line and crashing the rim.
"We play a whole different style than these kids are used to," Donahue said. "We play fast. We spread people out. We have a unique system in that we use all five guys as passers, dribblers, shooters.
"No one has a specific role, but there are certain concepts that we do. We want to average 75-80 points per game. We want to utilize the '3.' That's way different than the way these kids played."
Donahue likes the pieces already in place. Jackson, who averaged 12.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season, could become a star in the system. Trapani, the team's leading scorer, may be the ideal power forward in the lineup. Raji, a 6-6, 218-pound forward, could be an asset with his versatility.
Still, the Eagles will have plenty of questions in the next few years. Boston College doesn't have a sophomore on its roster and there are only two freshmen in the 2010 class after Brady Heslip transferred.
BC also returns a group that went 15-16 last season. For the Eagles to compete in the ACC next season, they will need to lay the groundwork during pickup games over the summer. The process of integrating the new philosophy has begun.
"That's what we're focusing on," Jackson said. "Instead of walking the ball up sometimes in pickup, it's been more pushing the tempo."
When Jackson watched Cornell play in the tournament, he noted Donahue's trust in his players to make the right decisions. Donahue doesn't want that trust misplaced.
After building Cornell into a three-time Ivy League champion, Donahue had opportunities at a handful of programs, including Seton Hall and St. John's. Even after spending 20 years in the Ivy League as a head coach and an assistant, Donahue didn't seek opportunities to work at schools with less-stringent academic requirements.
"When I was going through the process, I thought I might have to entertain that," Donahue said. "That was a nervous time for me thinking, 'Should I do that?'
"I didn't feel comfortable with that. I don't see an advantage to having less of an academic reputation."
The trust Jackson noticed on Donahue's last Cornell team was earned. As entertaining as Donahue's system is to watch, it's also difficult to learn.
"The type of kid we look to run our system is probably more acclimated to a better academic situation," Donahue said. "I ask a lot of our players IQ-wise, to pick up a lot of things quickly. It wouldn't be fair to put some of these kids into that situation. They may flourish in other situations, but they may not flourish in ours. That's what I know. I don't know how to water it down."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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