By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 12:11 AM
Danny Rubin wasn't sure what Boston College Coach Steve Donahue wanted when he pulled him aside during warmups before a game against Holy Cross in November. The Eagles were coming off an embarrassing loss to Yale in the second game of the regular season, a contest in which Rubin did not leave the bench.
What happened next, though, defied even the most optimistic of projections for Rubin's career.
After impressing in practice during the summer and into the preseason, Donahue informed Rubin he would be starting against the Crusaders. The development had Rubin "surprised but excited."
He scored 14 points in 23 minutes that night in a 69-54 Eagles victory, and has started almost every game since. It's such a startling development that those who know him closer to home have trouble explaining how Rubin has done it.
"I'm not shocked because that's how hard Danny is working," Landon Coach Andy Luther said. "But on television and starting ACC games? I don't think anyone expected that."
Rubin's journey to this point began during his sophomore year of high school. That's when Donahue, then the coach at Cornell, first noticed Rubin's smooth shooting stroke and skinny 6-foot-6 frame.
As time wore on, schools from the ACC, Patriot League and Ivy League inquired about him. But even after averaging 18 points as a senior and leading Landon to consecutive Interstate Athletic Conference titles, most wanted Rubin to spend a year building his strength at a prep school.
Even Donahue said this week he "wasn't sure if [Rubin] was ready for Division I college basketball at any level."
"There were a lot of people saying I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that," said Rubin, whose older brother, Alex, played at Division III Williams College. "There wasn't really a bright spot for me towards the end of my senior year; I wasn't sure what I was doing."
So Rubin took just a week off after the high school season ended before remaking his body with grueling workouts at Landon. He forced himself to go head-to-head with quicker and stronger players, exposing his weaknesses for the purpose of eliminating them. He hoped to avoid the prep school route, but only Cornell and Colgate remained as Division I options.
Rubin wanted to go to Cornell, because he believed Donahue's offensive system - which relies heavily on the three-point shot - was the perfect match for his skill set. But then Donahue was hired by Boston College in April after leading the Big Red to an Ivy League title and a Sweet 16 berth in last year's NCAA tournament.
Rubin, meanwhile, was in a bind. Shortly thereafter, though, Rubin got a phone call from Donahue. The Eagles had an open roster spot for a walk-on. Would Rubin want it?
Rubin's answer came quickly, because playing basketball at an ACC school with a quality academic reputation was what he called "almost like a dream come true."
"Everything pretty much aligned up perfectly," he said. "I just kept working hard and it worked out for me."
Rubin's body went through even more transformations when he began training with Boston College's strength and conditioning staff last summer. Though he hasn't added much weight to his 170-pound frame, Donahue said it was clear once preseason practices began that Rubin was "more ready to play college basketball."
Still, though, walk-ons rarely play, let alone during their first year. But perhaps Rubin's biggest stroke of luck came from playing for Donahue, a coach who never had scholarship players during his 20 years in the Ivy League and who therefore is a proponent of rewarding players who practice the best.
"He's opened my eyes," Donahue said of Rubin. "It still took me a couple of months in practice and into the regular season [to realize] that he was someone we could utilize. . . . Just because Danny was a walk-on and all these other guys played three years, I'm watching him in practice. He knows our system. He's smart enough to know what he can do. And he's helped our basketball team."
Rubin is averaging 5.5 points but plays more than 20 minutes most nights.
He's shooting a team-best 44.4 percent from three-point range for a Boston College squad squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble at 14-8, 4-4 in the ACC.
The highlight of his season so far came in December, when he scored nine points in a win over Maryland at Comcast Center. Many of his high school friends were already back in town for winter break and got to see firsthand what a dramatic rise he'd made in such a short amount of time.
Luther has begun using Rubin's story as a lesson for his current players who aspire to play in college.
He hopes they understand "Danny made this possible for himself" by essentially starting his first year of college basketball as soon as his high school season ended.
Rubin, too, has spoken with several Washington area seniors who are now in a similar situation as he was last spring.
But even he's still trying to fully digest just how far he's come in the past year.
"It's been awesome. I couldn't have expected much more than I've gotten," Rubin said. "I haven't had much time to think about it just because the season's been coming so fast and I'm really focused on what our goals are for this year. But I realize how great of an opportunity this is for me. It just goes to show hard work really does pay off."