Ky Bowman was a three-star recruit who was regarded more highly on the gridiron than the hardwood, while Jerome Robinson was also a three-star recruit with offers from the likes of Youngstown State, Western Carolina, and Old Dominion. Both came out of North Carolina and went on to star in the ACC under head coach Jim Christian, proving the likes of North Carolina and Duke wrong for passing on them, and on Thursday night, the former Boston College men’s basketball guards met on the national stage.
Robinson’s Los Angeles Clippers beat Bowman’s Golden State Warriors in a primetime shootout, with Robinson even hitting a 3-pointer over his former teammate. The duo embraced at halfcourt when the final buzzer sounded, and the ensuing picture is a memorable one. I’m sure recruits took notice, too, as in just a few years, the Eagles and Christian have made a name for themselves in terms of guard development. The free reign that Christian affords his guards has produced results, and it’s a big reason that BC has taken meaningful strides in recruiting the last few years and is only poised for several more seasons that feature capable backcourt talent.
“Some of it might be the style of play and the kind of freedom we give those guys to play on the perimeter,” Christian said at his team’s media day when asked about the uptick in guard interest. “We don’t pigeon hole, we’re just trying to teach them how to play with a little more versatility … Everybody comes off ball screens, everybody plays with the ball or without it, everybody can push the break.”
Christian’s offensive system has spit out a steady stream of capable guards who’ve taken leaps and bounds in each season under him. The two obvious names are Robinson and Bowman, but Jordan Chatman graduated this past year after taking a step forward each year, Wynston Tabbs displayed unbounded potential in his 14-game stint before injury, and this season’s name to know is Derryck Thornton.
This past June, Thornton, a former five-star recruit and grad transfer from USC committed to BC, filling the void left by Tabbs when he was shut down with a season-ending knee injury. It was a big get for the Eagles as they were going to have to lean on a freshman at point guard if he didn’t come through.
Thornton is a case study in why Christian’s ability to produce elite talent at the guard position is having a positive impact, as he chose BC over the likes of Gonzaga and St. John’s after extensive film study of the Eagles. What popped out to him on the tape? The freedom that both Robinson and Bowman had within BC’s offense and the steps they were able to take each year before departing for the NBA.
“I think that’s a big thing for me just to have freedom and play through mistakes here and there,” Thornton said. “Not having to look over your shoulder every two seconds for play call stuff like that … In watching those two guys I got to see how much freedom they got to play with and that was intriguing to me.”
In looking at Bowman and Robinson, you can see just what Thornton is talking about. Each player improved each season—if you look at the “Box Plus/Minus” statistic that sports-reference.com has calculated for every college player since 2010-11—you’ll see this leap. The statistic is based on box scores and measures how much a player contributes to his team, with the baseline compared to the league average. Robinson jumped from 0.5 his freshman year to 4.4 as a junior, and Bowman (arguably more well-rounded on the stat sheet) went from 4.7 to 6.0.
Robinson, the 13th overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, sharpened his game each year before it all came together in an impressive junior season. He went from averaging 11.7 points per game on 45 percent shooting his freshman season to erupting for 20.7 points per game as a junior, knocking down 53 percent of shots within the arc and hitting at career-best 40.9 percent from distance. Robinson was a sleek, volume scorer who had the ability to take over any game.
“He showed that he was a professional scorer,” assistant coach Scott Spinelli told 247Sports. “He could score from all three levels. He could beat you off the catch or off the dribble. He could post you up or blow by you. He could score in transition or in the half court set.”
That development helped lead the Eagles reach the NIT, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Bowman displaying similar growth. The shifty guard from Havelock, N.C., averaged 19 points and 7.5 rebounds as a junior, really pushing BC forward once Tabbs was out with an injury. While he posted a career-low field goal percentage (40.4 percent), he was playing almost 40 minutes per game for the entire season and the 31-game schedule will grind down anybody at that volume, especially as the team’s primary ball handler. Still, Bowman impressed enough to land a two-way contract with the Warriors, and has a chance to earn meaningful time in their rotation with Klay Thompson sidelined for the year.
With two bright young guards in the NBA, the Eagles have a tremendous recruiting pitch. They’ve proven that Christian’s system can help guards take the right steps toward the next level, and that is quickly translating to recruiting wins. Thornton’s decision to come to Chestnut Hill was a big one, but it followed another former top-100 recruit in Providence’s Makai Ashton-Langford electing to transfer to BC.
Ashton-Langford was described out of high school as a “a playmaking lead guard who has a natural instinct for getting to the rim and smoothness to his game,” which fits the mold created by the likes of Bowman and Tabbs. He in turn brought his brother along, as DeMarr Langford—an ESPN Top-100 shooting guard—picked the Eagles over ACC rival North Carolina State.
In sum, that’s three talented guards all signing on with BC in a single recruiting cycle. That follows the addition of Jairus Hamilton—an ESPN Top-100 recruit—who arrived last season after watching Robinson, Bowman, and the Eagles make an inspired run in the ACC Tournament. Throwing in the fact that current freshman Jay Heath is expected to get major minutes alongside Thornton this winter, BC is looking at a plethora of potential and talent in their backcourt. Right now, playing as a guard under Christian in the ACC nonetheless looks plenty appealing for recruits, and he knows it.
“[Guys] want to be in a place where the coaching staff is dedicated to them understanding what it’s going to take for them to get better to have a chance to play at the next level,” he said. “I like it when Jerome comes back and says, coach, a lot of stuff we worked on helps me now.”
While the results on the hardwood have been varied—BC is coming off of a 14-17 campaign in which it managed just five wins in conference play—you can’t dispute that Christian and his staff have built up a strong model for backcourt development. The Eagles have two guards in the NBA right now from the last three years, and you’d be remiss not to expect impressive development at the position moving forward.
Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond expressed his faith in Christian this past offseason, and for good reason: The seventh-year head coach has a knack for developing talent and potentially game-changing recruits are starting to take notice.
Featured Image by Nell Redmond / AP Photo