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BOSTON – Boston College center Dennis Clifford wandered into the basketball offices last spring looking for a handful of candy and instead got an earful from Jim Christian.
The new BC coach wouldn't let Clifford sneak by without stopping to chat — part of a high-energy and personal approach that Christian hopes to bring to the Eagles a year after they finished second-to-last in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"He said, 'I want to know you guys,'" Clifford said. "I thought he might just be saying that, but the first time I walked through the office to get some candy and didn't say 'Hi' he was yelling at me."
The Eagles (8-24, 4-14 ACC) fired Steve Donahue last year after his fourth season turned out to be a step back from the team that finished just one game below .500 in 2013. Christian arrived in Chestnut Hill after two years at Ohio University and a record of 232-152 in 12 years as a head coach.
"They were 8-24 last year. You can't be the same team you have been; that wasn't working," he said last week on the parquet floor of the TD Garden for media day of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader. "I want to change the culture right now."
But in order to do that, he said, he has to get to know his players — not just what they can do on the court but what's going on off of it. That's why he wants to chat with everyone every week or so: to find out if they're unhappy with their roles, if they have a nagging injury or a tricky midterm or if something isn't right at home.
"That's a good thing to have, when you are comfortable hanging out with your head coach," Clifford said. "You see him yelling at you during practice, and you see it's not personal."
Here are some other things to look for from the Eagles this season:
STICKING TOGETHER: The easy thing for Christian to do would have been to start bringing in his own players. But that would have meant writing off the season for a senior class that includes Clifford, guards Patrick Heckmann and Lonnie Jackson and forward Eddie Odio. "I want them to maximize their last year," Christian said. "I told them I wasn't waiting. I think they respect that."
SPLITTING APART: Joe Rahon and Ryan Anderson did transfer out after Christian was hired, costing the Eagles two of their three leading scorers. But BC held onto leading scorer Olivier Hanlon, who averaged 18.5 points last year and figures to be the key to the offense again in 2014-15.
BORN TO RUN: The high energy isn't just talk. Clifford says the Eagles have been running more in practice, and Christian is hoping to wear other teams out with a fast-paced style. Clifford said it's working: "When you walk into the gym, you see him fired up for practices, you want to go," he said.
CLIFFORD, THE BIG MAROON AND GOLD DOG: Now a 250-pound senior, the 7-foot Clifford is bulkier than he was when he arrived in Chestnut Hill as a freshman. The Eagles can only hope it helps him hold up to the rigors of an ACC season after he played in only two games last year because of a right knee injury that also troubled him a season earlier.
NEW COACH, NEW FLOOR: What's an image makeover without a new floor? The BC logo with the eagle in flight remains at midcourt, but the maroon color inside the paint is gone and now the floor is two-toned. The floor is light-colored wood and darker between the 3-point line and the key. The area inside the key is light.
The Eagles hope it's more than a cosmetic change.