He’s sitting in a chair, looking down, and eating a piece of pizza in a locker room so silent that you can hear him take each bite. To his left, Ryan Anderson has his fists in his face, and to his right, in the corner of the dry-to-the-bones dressing area filled with the most basic necessities, Joe Rahon is staring ahead with his eyes glazed over. But Olivier Hanlan is calm and ready to take questions from the media.
“O, there was a report in The Globe that said your future is up in the air,” a reporter asked. “What is your future, right now?”
Hanlan looked down and breathed something that was halfway between a sigh and a deep breath. He had answered the question so many times in recent weeks, but now, the excuse that the season was still going on was over, thanks to an overtime defeat to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
“I don’t know,” Hanlan said. “I’ll see in quite a bit of time. It’s up in the air, like you said.”
Then he paused, and stuttered a bit, and looked for the right words.
“So, I don’t really—you still focus on this team and trying to get better this summer and everybody’s gonna be here for the summer sessions,” he said. “You just try to get better as a team and see what happens in the future.”
That was March 12. Then, chaos ensued. The coaching staff was fired, and a new one was brought in within two weeks. Then, Anderson left the program. Hanlan’s and Rahon’s futures were still undecided come mid-April.
One month after Hanlan said his future was up in the air, he announced that he was staying. But why would the star of a team going through so many changes want to return for another year?
Last season, Hanlan was Boston College’s point guard, but he shared duties with Rahon. They were two different players slotting into the same position—Hanlan the scoring guard, and Rahon a creator who liked to dribble more.
“To be honest, it was just all over the place,” Hanlan said.
He wasn’t referring to the relationship between the two, or BC’s offense itself, but simply to how they decided who was going to take the ball up the floor on each possession.
“It was whoever was open first, and we would just kind of run in … But guys never knew who the primary, primary ball-handler was,” he said.
With Rahon making the decision to transfer to St. Mary’s after Hanlan decided to stay put, it became evident who the team’s primary guy at the “1” would be.
In the conversations new head coach Jim Christian and Hanlan had in that month, the new leader of the program showed the 2013 ACC Rookie of the Year film of his Ohio teams, and Hanlan liked what he saw. Last season’s offense played at a fast pace, getting up the floor quickly. The system worked to an extent, as the offense was very efficient, but Hanlan was working hard for his looks at the basket.
In Christian’s offense, Hanlan is going to be the focus. The primary ball-handler in the Ohio offense, which produced the likes of 2013 MAC Player of the Year D.J. Cooper, had the ball a lot and got so many open shots and simple assists that he could get confidence early in the game.
“In practice, I’ve been getting two to three times more assists than last year in terms of—it’s way [easier], it’s way more spread out,” Hanlan said. “It’s less cutting. It’s more like just spacing and let any play kinda just flow, and we kind of make a play off of that.”
Last season, Hanlan wanted to improve his assist numbers to become a more complete point guard, but that didn’t go according to plan. Becoming a better passer was supposed to make Hanlan look better in the eyes of NBA scouts in addition to helping his team. While Hanlan didn’t have an ideal season, the draft was still an option. But going to the NBA early has its cons.
Either way, his decision was a risk. If Hanlan dropped into the second round, he would not get one of the guaranteed multi-year contracts that guys in the first round sign. Second-round draft picks are essentially opportunities to try out. Sure, they have a shot to make a team, but if their good isn’t good enough, they’re sent packing.
Dave Smart coached Hanlan when the junior played for the Ottawa Guardsmen. He’s won 10 of the last 12 CIS (Canada’s answer to the NCAA) men’s basketball national titles. Smart still keeps track of Hanlan, and that’s putting it mildly. He tapes as many of Hanlan’s games as he can and still talks to his product regularly. Smart helped advise the guard on his decision this spring.
“He’s better off being somewhere where the people around him want to develop him,” Smart said. “If you’re a second-round draft pick, it is what is. You’re either good enough and they play you because you’re good enough, or they … they’re not trying to develop you, they’re trying to develop first-round picks, because they’re locked into those guys for three years. So, if you’re not going to be a first-round draft pick, the NBA’s not the smartest thing to do.”
Especially when you still have two years of eligibility left.
Ten years ago, many wouldn’t have considered the NBA Draft as something realistic for Hanlan.
“Grade seven and eight, I was never good,” Hanlan said. “I was never the best player.”
His first school had an awful basketball team, so he did end up being the best player there, but when he went to play for Smart, it took him a year or so to develop, and another year to become the top guy on the floor. Then Hanlan went to prep school to play for New Hampton head coach Peter Hutchins.
He laughs about it now, but described it like this: “I remember my first year, but like my first year at New Hampton, like the first half of the year, I was horrible. Even coach Hutch was like, ‘I don’t know if you can even play in the league.’”
When Hutchins referred to the league, he didn’t mean the NBA—he was talking about NEPSAC, the prep school conference in which he competed.
Hanlan picked up his game and found his stride in his second and final year of prep school to attract interest from colleges, but there was a problem with the NCAA over Hanlan’s credits.
Whenever Hanlan was getting recruited, his situation was a difficult one to understand, because he was one of the first players from Quebec to enter into the NCAA. Where he grew up, the school system and the classes students take are different from the typical American high school student. As a result, few schools wanted to take a chance on him, because if they gambled and didn’t win the waiver, then Hanlan would not able to play right away.
His dad was persistent in calling schools to convince them of Hanlan’s talents, so that they would take an initiative to work out his case. Then-head coach Steve Donahue and BC invested in Hanlan, and within two weeks of the guard committing to the school, the NCAA waived the Canadian, clearing the way for him to play right away as a freshman.
At BC, Hanlan came in as someone with potential and a high work rate, but few took notice until he started putting up big numbers and earning individual accolades.
“I came in as an underdog, and a lot of—mostly every team knows me—and every team scouts me like crazy, and I’m considered one of the top guards in the ACC, so definitely that’s the chip on my shoulder,” Hanlan said.
Tackling dummies are set up on the floor of Conte Forum. Other times, there were trashcans or cones, not to mention chairs to dribble around. In the summer, Hanlan might not have been sweating it out with Chris Paul and other NBA stars, but he was still out working on perfecting his trade, which includes perfecting skills like pulling up off the dribble and getting more comfortable scoring from 15 feet out.
But it’s not just about getting better at basketball—it’s also about becoming a teammate more aware of his surroundings. He’s not a kid anymore. Hanlan is a junior. On this team, he’ll have to lead by checking up on guys to see who’s struggling and who’s doing well.
“Sometimes,my first years, I was always a quiet guy,” Hanlan said. “It’s not like I don’t like talking to people, it’s just kind of my personality. But obviously, it got a lot better over this summer and this year starting up. Coach has made it one of my main focuses.”
Therefore, it’s important to look at who else was in the video of the workout at Conte, which Hanlan’s brother, Dee, posted on YouTube, because Hanlan isn’t out there by himself. The junior is accompanied by sophomores Garland Owens and Darryl Hicks. They’re all working on the same things and throwing a little 1-on-1 in there, too.
That’s because Hanlan is part of a team that is trying to stick together on and off of the court. Christian has emphasized togetherness as a means to achieving team goals that Hanlan has his eyes on. Despite all the individual praise the guard has received since gracing Chestnut Hill with his lethal scoring ability, he hasn’t been a part of a winning season. The only postseason basketball he has played has been three games at the Greensboro Coliseum, and two of them were against Georgia Tech.
The program as a whole wants an atmosphere more positive than the one in that locker room on that March evening in Greensboro, and it will be up to Hanlan, the team’s most talented player, to make sure that happens.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor