After offseason surgery, Josh Southern enters his second game of the season against Texas A&M and receives the ball in the low post. He immediately passes out to a shooter in the corner. ESPN’s color commentator chuckles and says “here is a man who never looks for his shot. Ok hands and a big body that will provide some depth and size in the middle, but a very limited big man. You’ll see him immediately look to pass if he happens to touch the ball.”* Late in the game Josh Southern rips down a rebound and puts it back up for a layup. In an empty arena on Thanksgiving, the *slap* of the ball as he pulls it down is audible on TV and seems to startle the announcers. In a derisive tone generally reserved for walk-ons who hit meaningless threes in garbage time, the commentator shouts “Josh Southern rips down a rebound and puts it back with authority! How about Southern getting involved in the offense.”*
Four years earlier, in the summer of 2006, Josh Southern was one of the hottest recruits in the country. With offers from Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Wake Forest, Ohio State and others, the 6-10 big man out of Saginaw, Michigan was known as a force in the middle with a developing inside game. His decision to attend Boston College was a bit of shock for BC fans used to losing out on such prospects. He was the formidable front court presence in a promising incoming class of Rakim Sanders, Corey Raji, and Biko Paris that many considered the most talented class in BC’s history; a group that would mesh with superstar Tyrese Rice as Boston College continued its surprising run as a top 4 team in the ACC. This would be the class that broke through Al Skinner’s Sweet Sixteen ceiling and cemented Boston College as one of the great programs in college basketball. Four years laters, Al Skinner is out of couching, Rakim Sanders has transferred to Fairfield, Corey Raji in on pace to miss 500 career lay-ups, while Boston College has just lost its 3rd game to an Ivy league school in three years. And Josh Southern actually scoring is an amusing sidenote for ESPN announcers stuck covering a second-rate Boston College Basketball team in an empty arena on Thanksgiving.
Steve Donahue is a relentlessly positive man, who constantly praises the efforts and talents of his players. Rare is the interview where he doesn’t discuss the contributions of nearly every player on his team. So when his praise of Josh was limited to doing a good job getting in shape over the summer and “There’s no reason [he] can’t help us in ACC play this year“, it was easy to assume that Josh would play out the year much as he had the previous 3, contributing little and leaving BC as one of the most overrated recruits in BC history. Missing much of preseason with minor surgery didn’t give any reason to change that opinion.
But as the Old Spice Classic went on, Southern continued to look for his shot from time to time. It wasn’t always pretty, but he contributed 5 and 7 points respectively against Wisconsin and California respectively. On a couple occasions the ESPN announcing team brought out its “here is a man who never looks for his shot” talking point, only to have Southern immediately look for his shot. He just looked “different”, grabbing a tough rebound or two, looking for his own shot from time to time.
Fast forward to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. 5,000 people and 3,000 empty seats watch two rebuilding teams battle. The crowd is small, but sounds surprisingly electric on BC scores, chants of “Let’s Go Eagles” are clearly audible on TV. Southern has four assists and Bill Rafferty on several occasions extolls Southern’s passing touch and soft hands (Boston blogger Gethin Coolbaugh and Steve Donahue covered this two weeks earlier as well). Then comes UMass. Boston College’s best interior player, Corey Raji, is out with concussion symptoms and Southern is forced into 28 minutes of playing time. He responds with a 16 point, 7 rebound performance, the most points he’s scored in his Boston College career.
I wrote yesterday about the effect of Donahue’s positive reinforcement on the three point shooting, and I think the same goes for Southern in the low post. The team has started feeding him the ball in the post on occasion and he is clearly has the green light to look for his shot when he’s left one on one in the post. He’s still rusty in this regard, you’ll notice that he often stops looking for open shooters once he decides he’ll be shooting, which future opponents will pick up on film. But, I think part of this is just getting comfortable with being part of the post game for the first time in his career. His strong passing skills otherwise indicate that he may be able to adapt and start hitting open shooters if teams collapse on him.
I realize I’m getting way ahead of myself here, its only a couple of games into the season but I think there’s a possibility that Southern surprises people this season and becomes an option down low for the Eagles that makes Steve Donahue’s offense even more effective as defenders begin sagging off the three point line to provide support down low.
If that happens, ESPN commentators won’t be chuckling at him the next time they come to the Heights and the potential for this Boston College team starts to look far rosier than a 10th place ACC finish.
Ed. Note: I’ll keep these short on the front page so this blog isn’t overwhelmed by unread Boston College ramblings.