Skinner still sees big things without Williams
Al Skinner met with his staff Thursday morning and went right to work, figuring out how Boston College will defend without Sean Williams as a backstop along the backline.
Was Skinner despondent? Did he decide to just pack it in and say 'See you next season?' Hardly. The one thing that defines Skinner is he never seems to change his demeanor. He would be the same if the Eagles were 0-5 in the ACC instead of 5-0. Nothing seems to faze him.
"We've just got to work our way through it but we've got plenty of ingredients and still are a viable team," said Skinner on Thursday, less than 24 hours after he dismissed the nation's third-leading shot blocker for his third violation of team rules in two seasons. Williams' classmate, and seemingly trouble-making partner, forward Akida McLain, was also dumped.
"Obviously we're better with Sean but we've improved since the beginning of the season," Skinner said. "We have to be much better defensively and more attune with each other. We're not afforded the luxury anymore [of having Williams in the back to allow the Eagles to gamble defensively]."
Skinner is a realist, though. He said he understands all the statistics that can show how Williams' blocks don't necessarily translate into points because they might sail out of bounds. But there is a psychological aspect to Williams blocking or altering a shot that will be missed.
"There may be truth in that statistical analysis but from a psychological impact he does make a difference," Skinner said of Williams. "There's no denying that he makes a difference otherwise we wouldn't be talking about how important he was."
But don't think for a second that Skinner is sulking. He wanted to make sure everyone understands that the Eagles still have potentially the ACC player of the year in Jared Dudley, who is averaging 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in five league games. Guards, Sean Marshall (19.4 ppg) and Tyrese Rice (15.8 ppg), are also on a tear in the ACC, so far.
The onus will be not on the starters, but the seldom-developed bench. Skinner will be asking 6-foot-11 junior Tyrelle Blair to suddenly be a contributor, more so than the 10 minutes a game he has been playing. He'll also have to start toughening up on defense to contend with the likes of Duke's Josh McRoberts and Clemson's James Mays, twice, and one time against North Carolina's tandem of Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright.
This also means more minutes for 6-foot-6 freshman Shamari Spears and if Dudley plays more in the post then freshman wing Tyler Roche will get more minutes on the perimeter. His time has been spotty at best, playing in only 10 games, and this will be the time to find out if he's an ACC player or not.
But losing 10 fouls, five from Williams and five from McLain, who was finally healthy after spraining his ankle against Kansas on Dec. 23 and played for the first time since then against Miami on Tuesday night, will be an issue.
"The biggest impact will be those 10 fouls," Skinner said. "It's not like the cupboard is bear. Tyrese and Sean have been playing very well. We've just got to revamp some things and we can still remain competitive in the league and reach our goal [to make the NCAA Tournament].
"We're still 5-0 at this time and nobody else is in that position," Skinner said. "We have more wins than anyone else in the league."
The Eagles are 13-4 overall, with 12 games remaining, including one more nonconference game against Hartford. It's hard to project what the Eagles need to do to reach the NCAAs since the toughest part of their schedule is upcoming with the two games against Duke, Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech and one against North Carolina at home. Road trips to Miami and Georgia Tech, the latter to close the season, will hardly be a walk.
The consensus within BC is that a plus .500 record will still get them into the Dance, but nothing is a lock, even for the ACC. Who the Eagles beat will play a factor in any selection. And the losses to Vermont and Duquesne at home aren't going away.
Skinner also put down any thoughts that the dismissals will crush next season's team. He said no one thought Williams would return for his senior season since he was projected to be in the late lottery of the NBA draft. McLain wasn't a real factor. Skinner points to the recruiting class the Eagles signed -- guards Biko Paris, Rakim Sanders and forwards Corey Raji, Josh Southern and Courtney Dunn -- as reasons for optimism. The reality is that without Dudley, Marshall and Williams, the Eagles were going to be young and likely struggling in 2007-08.
As for Williams, he's expected to return to Houston soon. Skinner said Williams and McLain could stay in school and finish the semester but he wasn't sure what they would do.
John Lucas, the former NBA guard and coach who has had a history of reforming players who have had on and off court issues, said Thursday he expects to see Williams in his gym. Lucas said Williams called him within an hour after being dismissed to tell him that he had bad news. Lucas said that Williams told him that it was a "wrong place, wrong time," incident. (Williams was picked up for marijuana possession after his freshman year and was booted out of school for the first semester as a sophomore where he then took classes at Houston and worked out with Lucas). Lucas said he would start to work with NBA teams to tell them that Williams is worth any risk a team would have after his multiple suspensions. His scoring is up to a dozen points a game and he has become a legitimate offensive option.
Lucas said he expected Williams to declare for the draft. So, too, did Skinner since Williams would have only one semester left to play in college if he were to transfer now.
When Skinner told the team of Williams' dismissal Wednesday night, he said they were "disappointed, and need some time to digest it, so we'll see what happens in the next couple of days."
The Eagles play at Clemson on Saturday. No one would expect a win, but a good showing without Williams might be a must for this squad's psyche. That's an outsider's view. Inside the Eagles' office, they don't fear the team losing its focus. Said one member of the staff, "Al has their attention, he's not going to lose this team over this."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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