Jim Christian, Boston College hoops at ACC Operation Basketball
Q. Coach, just what you can say about your five seasons at Boston College, what your takeaways have been, and kind of like that look in the mirror, what you’re seeing, what you’ve seen over the last five years as you step forward.
JIM CHRISTIAN: You know, I think every year is different. I think you build an excitement for each year, and without question, this group that we’ve assembled this year is just so much fun to be around because they’re just so connected. There’s so much energy in our gym.
So to watch the culture of our program grow and grow, even though we’ve lost some really key guys along the way, whether it be to the NBA or to injury, just a culmination of watching that is special. That’s what building a program is all about.
Q. Following up on that question, Coach, you did, as you said, lose some talented players, but you’ve got a number of them back, including these two, and Steffon Mitchell is a top rebounder. What do you see as potential areas of improvement this year for Boston College?
JIM CHRISTIAN: That’s a really good question. I think what happens when you lose a really great scorer, and Ky was a guy that could create a lot of shots for himself and just hit big shots, I think the team has to now absorb those points, and I think the best way to do it — and for us, one of our areas of growth that we’re trying to see is scoring from defense, just creating more havoc on the court, creating more transition opportunities where everybody can get involved and everybody can get excited.
And that’s really where our main focus has been, is where can we grow collectively to help our team grow long-term. I think our players have really been bought in from minute one of it. I think it’s a mentality that’s going to carry us through the year.
Q. Derryck, what you can say made BC the right fit for you when you were in the transfer partal trying to figure out where the best place was to go? And, Nik, navigating through adversity, what you can say about going through those injuries and what that taught you?
DERRYCK THORNTON: I think from the first time I talked to Coach first and just the staff, I felt extremely comfortable, and that was a huge thing for me is just being able to be comfortable. It’s a great education, great school, great style of play.
So those things all went into it. But I think just the relationship I built with Coach from our first conversation was better than I feel like any other coaches that I was talking to at the time.
I feel like from day one, I kind of in the back of my head knew that I would be at BC.
NIK POPOVIC: Also just to clarify, do we talk about my injuries or just the team injuries?
Q. Just what you went through.
NIK POPOVIC: I mean, I missed a few games because of injuries, but I mean, I came back, like normally. I didn’t have any like breakdowns after it. So it was okay for me to play and continue.
Q. Coach Christian, talk about the pluses and minuses of the 20-game conference schedule.
JIM CHRISTIAN: It’s a great question. Nobody has played it, so I don’t know yet, to be honest with you. I think it’s going to all play out. I think there’s some interesting challenges, especially starting in the ACC with a conference game in terms of what you need to do to prepare for such an interesting battle that usually comes down to a couple minutes here or there.
And long-term is the 20 games going to benefit us getting some more teams into the tournament? Or is the committee, which none of us are on, going to look at your non-conference choice of eight games, because these 20 games that we’re about to play, they’re taxing physically, they’re taxing mentally. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out long-term.
But for the kids, they’re excited, man. They want to play ACC games. Your fans want to see more ACC games. People want to view it. So it’s going to play out over time, but I’m interested to see how the season is because I know playing 18 games is demanding. It’s tough, and it wears people down physically. So now adding two more of those hopefully will help our league grow long-term and, in our situation, get more teams in the tournament.
Q. Nik, you shot better than 52 percent last year. You were the highest returning shooter in the ACC by far. I think the next highest was like 45 percent. What makes you so accurate?
NIK POPOVIC: I mean, I don’t think I’m as accurate as like the good players that made plays for me. I had a lot of wide-open lay-ups, especially against Minnesota last year when I went 100 percent. I think that game helped me a lot, like, fix my averages. But I also try to make like a lot of good shots, like take good shots, so that’s why I have such a high percentage.
Q. Coach Christian, can you touch on Nik’s development over the years and how important it is for him to continue for your team’s success this season?
JIM CHRISTIAN: Well, first and foremost, I’m probably more happy and pleased with his developments off the court as a person and just watching him grow and mature through good and bad, the way he handles situation now. Even frustrations.
It’s frustrating to be a college basketball player. You’re not going to be great every night. You’re not going to be great every day. So watching him handle those situations and developing relationships with myself, with his teammates, with the staff has really been beneficial for me to watch. And I think it goes hand in hand with how he’s improved as a player.
It wasn’t any particular skill or any particular difference in his work ethic, it was a maturity, and I think watching that and for him to continue that, now he’s got to find a consistency because I think the first thing he would tell you and I’m telling you is that there were moments he was fantastic and there was moments that he needed to be more consistent with a lot of different things, and I think he’s really willing and trying to do that.
So if you do that, then your senior year becomes a special memory for you, and that’s what I want for him and Derryck and Jared, our three seniors. I want this to be a special memory for them, and it should be, because they’ve really worked hard at it. They’ve really worked hard at creating something I think is going to be pretty special.
Q. For Nik and Derryck, just what you can say about this year’s team, how you would define it, kind of describe it heading into the season for BC?
DERRYCK THORNTON: I’ll start. I think our team, a huge thing is we compete, and that’s the most important thing playing in the ACC. It’s such a competitive league, and our team competes every day. We work extremely hard, and we play as hard as we can every day in practice, and I think just seeing that shows how — just how well of a season we’re going to have. If guys compete every day through thick and thin, I think you’ll be able to win a lot of games.
NIK POPOVIC: He said it pretty much all. But yeah, I would say we have a great energy this year, and we have a size to our team, so we’re going to use it to our advantage to play good and also like to make right plays and help us win.
Q. Can you talk about over the years, the player development for the guys that have come through your program have been an integral part. Can you talk about the guys you have returning and the new guys, their development over this off-season, how it’s going to play for you guys this year?
JIM CHRISTIAN: Yeah, player development for us is paramount. It’s a big part of how we recruit them, and it’s built into every practice, it’s built into every day, through a bunch of different ways — through on court, through being part of our practice, skill development throughout practice the whole year long. We don’t just do it in the fall.
And then a ton of video one-on-ones. So I try to watch as much one-on-one film with guys as I can watch so they have a complete understanding of what they need to do. They get clips every single day on what it is we think they need to do to develop. And their ability to buy into that, it’s never coaching. It’s all about the players. I can send you a million clips. If you’re not bought in to trying to get better, if you’re not bought in to trying to develop and see how that’s going to help us grow, and by us growing you’re going to get better, then you’re going to have some issues with it.
But we have a really bought-in group here, and the guys that you’re talking about, the development of Niko, the development of a Steffon Mitchell, who basically stayed at BC all summer, he’s probably shot more balls than anybody I’ve ever seen because he wants to develop and get better because I think that’s the key to success, man.
It’s got to start with them, and then we’ve got to like water it like it’s like a plant. That’s kind of what we pride ourselves on. That’s what our whole program is about, and our young players have bought into it right away.
Q. Coach, I haven’t heard you talk about the 20-game schedule. How do you think your team is going to adjust to play 20 ACC games, and how are you going to adjust?
JIM CHRISTIAN: It won’t really — from my perspective, every game is important, so it won’t make any difference for me. But in terms of these guys, I think that’s why you have older guys who have been through it. I think that the older guys, Derryck has played a ton of games, Niko has played, Steffon Mitchell is a junior but he’s played so many minutes, he’s practically — he’s a senior. Those guys have to get the team through the tough times.
Every team goes through a stretch where it’s tough, somebody is not playing well. And to get them through those moments, experience, not just my voice but their voice. I’m hoping as the year goes on, my voice and voice has to be less and their voice and voice has to be louder. If we’re getting that, then we’re getting the leadership that we need.
Q. Derryck, this journey of yours, what have you learned about basketball through your time? And most importantly, what have you learned about life during this journey?
DERRYCK THORNTON: I mean, I feel like I’ve learned so much about both. I think life gives you a lot of up and downs, and so does the game. You know, it’s your attitude and how you approach it, and I feel like I’ve learned that in my time as an athlete and as a man. I feel like I’ve learned that a lot. I love this game of basketball so much, and I feel like every year I fell in love with it even more. I’m just excited to be able to compete with my team and take this as far as I can.