On his surprise holiday mixtape, Merry Christmas Lil Mama, Chance the Rapper reaches deep into his diaphragm to deliver a series of sing-song staccatos, “Shoulda! Left! You! In! 2016!” He’s addressing both his haters and his mistakes, bidding farewell to all the negativity of the past year.
His co-star, Jeremih, puts it more bluntly: “F—k 2016.”
Jim Christian would probably agree. In his second year as head coach of Boston College men’s basketball, the program suffered its first-ever winless season in conference play, finishing 0-18 in the ACC. Coupled with a winless year for the football team, the scrutiny piled on twofold. The stat immediately became infamous: BC was the first major conference school since World War II to lose every conference game in both sports.
But there was something especially painful about the Eagles’ drought on the hardcourt. First, a team trip to Chipotle resulted in eight players contracting norovirus and missing game time at the beginning of the season. In February, BC fell behind 37-4 to lowly Wake Forest, mustering just 14 points in one of the ugliest halves in recent memory. The next month, BC blew a double-digit lead to NC State, ultimately losing on a buzzer-beating layup. Then, after the last game of the season against Florida State, senior center Dennis Clifford went viral for breaking down in tears when asked about his favorite moment of the year.
“I try not to get too down,” Christian said after the final regular-season loss to Clemson.
Needless to say, the mood surrounding the program was anything but cheerful. Fast forward to 2017, though, and more people are buying into this team than they are gym memberships for their New Year’s resolutions.
Over the past five games, the Eagles are 4-1 with three wins over legitimate opponents, including their first ACC win in 664 days. First, it was a tip-in to beat the buzzer against Auburn at Madison Square Garden. Then, it was a stunning second-half comeback versus a 10-2 Providence team. On New Year’s Day, it was a 96-point offensive explosion that ended the winless conference streak with a bang. The difference-maker? A wide receiver-turned-point guard-turned-Flamin’ Hot Cheeto named Ky Bowman.
During the five-game stretch, Bowman has averaged 21.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, four assists, and 1.6 steals. Against the Friars, he scored all 16 of his points in the second half, sparking a 25-2 run that fueled the upset victory. The ACC Freshman of the Week followed up a 33-point outburst against Fairfield on Dec. 21 with a 30-point, nine assist performance versus Syracuse on Sunday. Only two other freshmen in the country (Malik Monk, Kentucky; Ervin Mitchell, Grambling State) have multiple games with 30 or more points—and Bowman has matched them in the last 10 days alone. The explosive play of Bowman has complemented that of Jerome Robinson, the ACC’s fourth-leading scorer, to form one of the most dangerous backcourts in the conference. With A.J. Turner manning the small forward position, Connar Tava playing power forward, and Mo Jeffers patrolling the paint, Bowman proved to be the missing piece at point guard.
— BC Men's Basketball (@BCMBB) January 1, 2017
Bowman is so good that he dishes out assists sitting down. He’s so good that the supposed point guard of the future, Ty Graves, packed his bags and left the team because Bowman was earning the bulk of the minutes. Bowman is so good that Nick Saban offered him a scholarship to play football at the University of Alabama to try and sway him from playing basketball. Alabama!
Perhaps the most impressive part of Bowman’s ascent has been its pace. Three weeks ago, it seemed as if he had picked the wrong sport. The former North Carolina football commit was averaging a mere 6.6 points per game, and logged single-digit minutes in back-to-back games before the Auburn victory. Christian’s unpolished experiment appeared more raw than refined, as Bowman was totaling more turnovers than assists. It was as if his basketball skills couldn’t keep up with his freak athletic ability.
Until he dyed his hair bright red, that is.
Since then, Bowman has been alarmingly efficient and wildly productive. In the last five games, he has shot 59 percent on 3-pointers, including a remarkable 7-for-8 from downtown against Syracuse. He fired from deep with a never-before-seen confidence and attacked the rim with the kind of ferocity needed against ACC competition. His motor rarely stops. Bill Maloney of Eagle in Atlanta wrote that he hasn’t seen a player with a vibe like Bowman’s since the days of Jared Dudley. His energy is contagious, the type that glues locker rooms together and attracts potential recruits.
It’s not always orthodox. At times, it’s frenzied and frustrating to watch. But if the last two weeks are any indication, Bowman has turned a corner in his development. And Christian’s patience—not only with Bowman, but with 2016 in general—is finally paying off.
For BC, that means the future looks brighter than it has since Al Skinner was in town. The Eagles finally have a young corps of two-way talent that can compete in the best college basketball conference in the country. But the upcoming road trip to North Carolina—a homecoming for natives Bowman and Robinson—should be particularly telling of their prospects in 2017. Miles away from the UNC football field, Bowman will try to prove once again that the basketball court is where he belongs—and that the ACC is where his team belongs.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor