Thursday, June 11, 2009

To leave, or not to leave? One transfer, four perspectives

From Terrier to virtual free agent and back again, Jake O'Brien's basketball status has undergone a major evolution since the end of last year. Perhaps the single player on BU's roster with the most unusual skill set -- a forward floating around on the perimeter? Blocked shots from the low block, but no rebounds? -- the America East Rookie of the Year seems even harder to contain with words than before. How does O'Brien's decision affect his future? How will the decision affect the basketball landscape? Let's look at the process -- and the outcome -- from four different perspectives.

Jake O'Brien: The natural starting point for this exercise. O'Brien entered this offseason in an interesting position. On one hand, the freshman forward was the unquestioned third wheel for an offense fueled by Corey Lowe and John Holland, despite possessing the talent to be a legitimate first or second option at many small-conference Division-I schools. On the other hand, the former BC High standout was coming off an excellent first campaign, with a skillset tailor-made for an uptempo offense a la Villanova; even ignoring the strength of O'Brien's relationship with former head coach Dennis Wolff, the forward figured to thrive in Pat Chambers' newly imported offensive system. Mix in some obvious displeasure regarding the timing and circumstances of Wolff's departure, and you have the makings of a difficult decision.

It shouldn't be a surprise O'Brien opted to test the transfer waters. With three years of eligibility remaining, the lanky forward stood to benefit more from a change of scenery than Lowe or Holland, who have just one and two years of eligibility remaining, respectively. Neither should it be surprising to hear O'Brien decided to return. The option was made available by Chambers and the athletic department, the Terriers are in a position to win big next year, and O'Brien has every opportunity to improve on his freshman season beginning this fall. If O'Brien is truly comfortable with returning to Boston for another campaign, the previous few months shouldn't have a negative effect on his play.

Teammates: While O'Brien was considering his options, every other current Terrier opted to stick around and see what Pat Chambers has to offer. To be fair, John Holland was the only other major player with enough remaining eligibility to give any credence to transfer rumors, but the point remains.

If there's a risk in O'Brien returning to BU, it lies in the possibility of his fellow teammates harboring resentment over how this aborted transfer played out. O'Brien's return seems to indicate a willingness to make amends where necessary and get back to basketball, but so far there hasn't been any public indication of how the rest of the Terriers will react. If players don't feel comfortable playing with O'Brien as a result of his offseason decision-making process, it threatens to impact their performance -- whether O'Brien is immune to the effects of said lack of comfort or not -- and hurt the team. The responsibility for maintaining the peace ultimately falls to...

Pat Chambers: Make no mistake, how Chambers handles O'Brien in the coming months constitutes his first big test. How do you best bring a player back into the fold without resorting to special treatment?

By all accounts, Chambers is a people person. It's impossible to hear the man speak for more than a few seconds without becoming aware of his intense enthusiasm. Now the head coach is faced with the prospect of reintegrating a player who was at one point acutely disinterested in remaining a Terrier into a group Chambers is still getting to know. Will Chambers rely on associate head coach Orlando Vandross to ease whatever remaining tension exists? Will he take charge of the situation and attempt to win his charges over with energy and passion? Or will he take a back seat and let events run their natural course?

On a side note, the aborted O'Brien transfer presents a fan interest challenge for Chambers as well. Repeated serenades of "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" following O'Brien 3-pointers have served to illustrate fans' affinity for O'Brien. Chambers has already taken a proactive approach to building fan support, starting a blog and emphasizing the importance of student support immediately upon arrival. There is a distinct possibility of the head coach taking an interest in making sure O'Brien's return is greeted with cheers rather than boos.

America East: For the past two seasons, the Terriers have found themselves at the top of the coaches' preseason poll. While the legitimacy of those lofty perches is debatable, BU figured to be a contender again in 2009-10 were it able to retain in-house talent. O'Brien, as one of the Terriers' better players, figured to knock last year's third-place finishers down a peg with his departure. With O'Brien back on board, the Terriers figure to sport a legitimate frontcourt come fall; that, combined with a deep and talented backcourt, instantly makes BU a major contender for the conference crown next season.

BU is a better team on paper with O'Brien on the roster -- a much better team. Yes, it's possible his return causes chemistry problems. Yes, it's possible for those problems to become significant ones. And yes, they don't play the games on paper... but the better team on paper is deemed to be better for a tangible reason. O'Brien is a very good basketball player, he should help BU in numerous ways next year, and when all is said and done the Terriers should benefit from his presence.


Salem said...

Props for actually spelling out "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt."

Matt said...

Props for actually singing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt."

You're still going to be at some games next year?

Salem said...

If geography and finances permit, of course.