The Boston University men’s basketball team has a chance to make the 2016-17 season a special one.
Coming off an injury-plagued season in which they still managed to finish third in the Patriot League, the Terriers now find themselves healthier and more experienced than they were last year.
BU head coach Joe Jones isn’t too worried about how his team will make up for the lost production of guard John Papale and forward Nathan Dieudonne due to graduation.
“We have more depth than we did last year,” Jones said. “We have more overall experience than we did last year.”
Instead, Jones said that he is more concerned about who will fill the roles of the most vocal leaders from last year’s team.
“We don’t have two of our mainstays, two guys that were four-year starters,” Jones said. “That’s a big thing that we don’t have. Other guys have had to assume the role [of leader].”
Jones said collectively, the team is continuing to grow, and he praised senior forward Justin Alston for his leadership; however, he is not the only one. Junior guard Cedric Hankerson echoed Jones’ sentiments regarding veteran leadership.
“The veterans on the team are stepping up to take control,” Hankerson said. “This is Justin’s fifth year, and he’s really stepped up as a leader. This season, we have a lot of maturity. We’re experienced and we’re going to approach game with a different mindset.”
Senior guard Eric Fanning said that no specific player will be able to fill the void of Papale or Dieudonne, but that everyone needs to step up.
“I think certain guys have stepped up in different ways,” Fanning said. “Justin’s trying to be vocal. Ced is like John, the lead-by-example kind of guy. All the guys who’ve been here have the right to say whatever they want, and the coaches have made sure that we have the right to get on guys when they’re not playing as hard as they need to be.”
Fanning led the Terriers in scoring with 15.2 points per game last season, which was good for fifth in the conference and landed him spot on the Patriot League All-Conference First Team.
Undoubtedly, the underclassman who will play the biggest role on this team of experienced players will be sophomore point guard Kyle Foreman.
The Clyde Hill, Washington, native led the team in assists and finished second in steals. He ranked seventh in the conference in both categories on his way to a place on the Patriot League All-Rookie Team last season.
“[Foreman’s] assumed the leadership role of being the point guard and getting things done,” Jones said.
Jones said that he will rely on Foreman to play similar minutes this year — he averaged 29 minutes last season — until junior guard Eric Johnson gets healthy. Then, the Terriers’ depth should come in handy and allow Jones to rest his starters and give bench players a chance.
No matter who is on the floor, Jones stressed that the key to success this season for BU will be how well they distribute the ball and how unselfish they are.
“This group will have to be unbelievably selfless for us to win,” Jones said. “You’re going to have some guys that played major minutes and major roles that are going to play less minutes and not have as big a role. Everyone’s role is still vital to the outcome of our team. Everyone is important, and that’s the thing we have to get through [to the players].”
Having more scoring options isn’t the only thing the Terriers will need to adjust to. The arrival of 6-foot-7 freshman forward Tyler Scanlon and the return of injured players Alston and Hankerson will take BU some time to get used to.
“I think we’re all adjusting,” Jones said. “First, we’ve had to adjust to the guys we lost, we have to adjust to the news guys, we have to adjust to the guys coming back from injury. That’s going to take time.”
With an abundance of offensive threats, Jones has been able to hone his team’s focus on the other end of the floor.
“We should be a team that can score the ball,” Jones said. “My biggest worry is how well we can defend and rebound, how well we share the ball, how selfless we are as a group. Those are the major concerns right now. We’ve geared a lot of things towards that in practice, talked a lot about it, watched a lot of film. I think our guys have a much better perspective of what we need to do than they did at the same time last year.”
As opening night at Northeastern University on Nov. 11 approaches, Jones is carefully observing every practice to determine who has earned playing time and how his team best fits together.
“The big thing I’m watching is who’s performing on a daily basis,” Jones said. “First of all, who is playing unselfishly and who’s playing hard. Next, what do we need from each guy in order for us to be successful? I’m not basing it on what guys have done in the past, but more on what are guys doing right now.”
Jones said he has been pleased with what the Terriers have shown so far, and he hopes to see them continue to improve once the season gets underway.
“Overall, I’ve liked what we’ve done in the preseason” Jones said. “I’ve liked how hard we’ve played and I think we’re going to get better.”