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Men’s basketball
Resting on laurels won’t win any, coach tells returning champs

By Brian Fitzgerald

Like last year, the America East defending champion BU men’s basketball team returns to the court with high expectations. But you won’t find coach Dennis Wolff tripping down memory lane by playing 2001–2002 highlight videos to his players.

Billy Collins (MET’03) averaged 12 points and 8.1 rebounds a game last year. Photo by Tim Winn

 

Billy Collins (MET’03) averaged 12 points and 8.1 rebounds a game last year. Photo by Tim Winn

 
 

“What I’ve tried to say to them from day one is that it’s a new year,” says Wolff. “What happened last year is in the past. If we spend time living in the past, we won’t have a chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year.”

The Terriers’ top eight scorers are back, so they have every reason to anticipate another successful season and another NCAA tournament appearance. But Wolff knows that a team resting on its laurels can lose its focus. And right now the players are setting their sights on Stanford, a team that sent five players to the NBA in the past three seasons. The preseason NIT tournament game in Palo Alto, Calif., on Monday, November 18, will be televised on ESPN2. Tipoff is 9:15 p.m.

The prime-time start will draw an audience of fans who have been starving for college basketball since March to the nation’s premier early-season tournament, which includes such powerhouses as Kansas, North Carolina, and Florida. “We’ll be traveling across the country to play a program that has a great tradition and a good coach,” says Wolff. “It’s going to be a difficult game, but it’s a great opportunity for us to play a team like that on national television, on one of the first nights of the college basketball season. In terms of publicity and exposure for our program, it’s very good.”

Stanford, which finished second in the Pac-10, doesn’t have a marquee name this season. Curtis Brochardt and Casey Jacobsen turned pro; Tony Giovacchini and Kyle Logan graduated. Wolff knows, however, that a team that has made eight straight NCAA tournament appearances has enough key players to make it nine. “They’ve lost players, but they still have Julius Barnes and Josh Childress,” he says. Barnes averaged 10 points a game last year, and Childress scored in double figures in 10 games — all but 6 of them off the bench. Childress, a 6’8” sophomore, can also hit the boards with a vengeance, averaging 4.8 rebounds a game last season.

With increased playing time, the sky’s the limit for some of Stanford’s underclassmen who had to take a backseat to teammates who joined the ranks of the NBA this year. “Many of those guys are extremely talented players who were highly recruited and had to bide their time a little bit,” says Wolff. Now they’re in the driver’s seat. Even against a much-heralded team, it wouldn’t be a morale-builder to begin the season on the losing end of a blowout — which is how the Terriers ended the season last year with a first round 90-52 loss to Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament. But playing tough teams builds character. The Terriers have one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in America East, including games against Boston College on November 26, George Washington on December 11, and Florida State on December 28.

BU will be up for the tough games, because in Wolff’s eight years at the helm, he says, he would be hard-pressed to remember being in a position of returning so many significant athletes. “We do have a lot of talented players,” he says, “but for me the key issue in regard to whether or not we’re going to be successful is our chemistry.” BU fans’ first taste of Terrier action this year was a November 3 exhibition win, 92-79, against One on One, a team that features former college players from various East Coast colleges. Jason Grochawalski (MET’04) led BU in scoring with 18 points. In talking about the game, Wolff didn’t mention team chemistry, which usually gels later in the season, but he says that when the Terriers played unselfishly, they were successful. “We looked about the way a team looks in the first exhibition game of the season,” he says. “There were some good things, and there were things that we need to improve upon.”

Four BU players scored in double figures against One on One, underlining the fact that the team has quality shooters. At guard, Chaz Carr (CGS’03) last year had one of the best seasons in BU history. And Matt Turner (MET’03), who sat out the season six games into the schedule with a dislocated shoulder, proved that he still has his scoring touch with 14 points. Billy Collins (MET’03), with an MVP-type season under his belt, “is playing at an even higher level this year,” says Wolff. “He’s one of the best players I’ve coached at BU. He’s improved his shooting, and he plays well on both ends of the floor — a very unselfish kid.”

Scoring aside, Wolff says, the key factor in succeeding this year will be defense. Last season, BU finished 10th in the nation in field goal defense, at 39.0 percent. “Any successful team that I’ve coached, whether it has gone to the NCAA tournament or not, has always guarded well,” he says. “That’s a big statistic. If you’re holding a team to 40 percent or below shooting from the floor, you’re doing a hell of a job, and you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.”

Even size, which BU is not known for, got a boost with the injection of 6’9” freshman center Matt Czaplinski (CGS’02), who redshirted last season, and 6’9” Jacob Kudlacz (CAS’03), who played sparingly. “They’re going to give us a bigger presence inside,” says Wolff. “They both have the chance to be good players, but they need some experience.” Fortunately for them, BU is an experienced squad that has gone to the NCAA tournament and wants to go again.

“We have a chance to be a good team,” says Wolff. “If we coach the players the right way, and they play together the way we hope they will, we can accomplish our goals.”

       



15 November 2002
Boston University
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