At a certain point this season, my Cornell teammates and I realized we weren't being led by your typical college basketball coach. Steve Donahue, formally known as Coach D, came to be known as "Captain D" as the season wore on.
It started as an inside joke within the team because of his propensity to stand on top of a rollaway basket on our side courts overseeing practice (like a sea captain posts himself atop his vessel's perch and gazes intently out at sea and the boat's course).
Coach's new name gained further steam when he continued to use the phrase "stay the course" at every possible moment: before practice, after practice, after a win, after a loss, etc. It was all to make sure we knew we wouldn't achieve any of our goals if we weren't the hardest-working team in the country that day.
And even though the name's still funny, I realized - maybe during our Sweet 16 run this March - the persona of Captain D is what separates him from other college basketball coaches. A coach has to know his Xs and Os, be able to motivate his players, manage game strategy and recruit. While Coach D excels in all of these areas, Captain D inspires extreme self-confidence in his players. Even if we weren't one of the best 16 teams in the country this season, each member of our team was 100 percent certain we were.
This uber-confidence trickles down from the top. All of us could always sense that coach expected to win every game, even early in my career when we weren't winning Ivy League titles, and that attitude rubbed off on us before every game and practice. I'd be shocked if any head coach in the country oozes as much confidence as Steve Donahue.
Take it from a guy who didn't see a minute of significant playing time in his first three seasons. Despite not giving him any reason to put me into a critical game, Coach D, for some reason, had the confidence in me to give me a shot during this season's Legends Classic versus Drexel.
After our starting power forward, Alex Tyler, went down with an injury, coach threw me into a hotly contested game with the game on the line. While I had very little confidence in my own abilities - I honestly had played a minute of competitive basketball since high school - the fact that the Captain had enough faith in a little-used reserve to make two huge free throws to ice a big win is incredible.
Think about it. How many coaches around the country would stick by a guy who, honestly, hadn't panned out for his first three years, let alone throw him into crunch time of an important game?
There's no doubt in my mind the Boston College basketball program will experience a quick turnaround. For those who don't know what Cornell basketball was like before Steve Donahue got here, picture the New Jersey Nets trying to compete with the Lakers (Penn) and the Cavs (Princeton) without the promise of free agency and NBA lottery picks (scholarships). Starting from the cellar, he had to shatter the seemingly bulletproof monopoly that the P schools had on the Ivy League.
It's hard to see someone leave who is so synonymous with Cornell basketball, but everyone kind of expected something like this could happen once our tournament run ended in Syracuse. The attitude on campus, especially among the returning players, is bittersweet. While guys like Chris Wroblewski, Adam Wire, Aaron Osgood and Max Groebe are obviously upset to see the Captain go, everyone understands this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Coach D and his family.
Osgood tweeted this morning, in an allusion to Pirates of the Caribbean that, "A new course is being set. We were the Black Pearl, now Flying Dutchman." While Cornell basketball's course may have changed overnight due to a change in leadership, the ship - whatever you want to name it - is undoubtedly headed in the right direction.
Donahue turned Cornell into a basketball school, and if BC's players "stay the course" they should turn things around in no time. Just listen to what the Captain has to say.