WHEN IT COMES to recruiting four- and five-star prospects, Boston College coach Steve Donahue has a distinct strategy: Know when to fold. BC doesn’t have the hoops lure of geographic rival UConn or its Carolina-based ACC foes, so Donahue finds that it’s best to be realistic. Which raises the obvious question: How did he land Olivier Hanlan, last season’s ACC rookie of the year? “You’ve got to find guys who people don’t think are good enough,” says Donahue. “Or ones they don’t know about.”
It’s hard to imagine the player who led all ACC freshmen in double-digit-scoring games (28) fitting into either category, but the Quebec-born Hanlan played his first two years of high school in Canada, off the radar of most American recruiters. Donahue was one of the few early courters thanks to his relationship with Hanlan’s AAU coach, Dave Smart, whom Donahue knew from his previous recruiting trips up north while at Cornell. Smart recognized Hanlan’s potential as a freshman and threw him up against older competition. After two years under Smart, Hanlan transferred to a New Hampshire prep school to increase his visibility. By the time schools like Virginia Tech and Notre Dame began pursuing Hanlan in his junior year, Donahue had already formed a strong bond with the guard.
Still, familiarity didn’t breed immediate results at the college level. Hanlan bricked plenty of shots and turned the ball over too often during last season’s nonconference games. Donahue’s solution? He let him play through his errors. “There was a learning curve,” sophomore guard Joe Rahon says of his roommate. “But we all saw the signs.”
Soon enough, so did everyone else. Able to drive and shoot the three, Hanlan tore through the conference, averaging 15.5 ppg, sixth in the ACC. Then he dropped 41 in the first round of the ACC tournament, the most in the tourney since 1970 and the best output by a freshman — ever.
With another year of experience playing against the country’s top competition, Hanlan and his teammates have BC in position to return to the Big Dance for the first time since Donahue arrived in 2010. Hanlan spent the offseason honing his jumper, and the maturing Eagles, who improved from 9-22 two years ago to 16-17 last season, return their top six scorers. And that includes a few other hidden gems. Donahue’s roster is stocked with underrecruited prospects like Hanlan, including junior swingman Patrick Heckmann from Germany and 6’11” freshman Will Magarity from Sweden. “If he was in this country,” Donahue says of Magarity, “he would jump off the page.”
It’s all part of Coach’s larger plan. When he first took over at BC, Donahue stripped the names off the Eagles’ uniforms — a team-first philosophy that generally doesn’t appeal to NBA-ready recruits looking to use the NCAA as a springboard.
Now, though, there’s no keeping a lid on BC’s talent. And the conference is on notice: “My mindset is the same as Coach D’s,” says Hanlan, smiling slightly. “As many wins as possible.”