Sunday, September 25, 2011

Like a Phoenix, The Friars are Rising From the Ashes

In 1973 two local kids put a small, regional, catholic school on the map. Not only did Marvin Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio lead Providence college to the final four, they established the school as a viable national force. Over the next three decades, Providence built upon that foundation, in the process producing an astonishing number of NBA players and becoming a farm for elite coaching talent like Rick Pitino, Rick Barnes, and Pete Gillen. Although Providence was as good of a program as almost any in the country, there were, and continue to be, structural disadvantages that make the Providence's margin for error slim. As hard as it is for me to say, Providence is not UNC, Duke, or even UCONN; they are a program that is on the level of Xavier, Marquette, or Villanova. What these programs have shown, however, is that with the right coach anything is possible. Unfortunately for Providence, that coach has been missing for over a decade. As fast as the program shot off in the 70s, it had fallen off the map by the end of this season. Were the Friars going down the same path as Iona, Canasius, or Loyola Marymount? These were the questions being asked in all corners of Friartown.

Then came a glimmer of hope. It came in the form of a hometown hero. A man who valued integrity about anything else. Ed Cooley was the complete package. He would win and he would be at Providence for a long time.
Although Cooley's initial impression was positive, the challenges of recruiting elite talent to Providence continued to be at the forefront of any conversation. Early this summer, I was ecstatic when reports were coming out that Providence was in the running for Georges Niang. This was the type of player who might not wow recruiting geeks, but was messing up AAU babies his whole career. This was the type of player I thought Providence needed to recruit because the bigger names would never choose the Friars consistently.

My assumptions would be rocked, however, when Cooley pulled a recruiting coup that will be talked about on Smith Hill for years to come. Not only was Providence able to secure a verbal from Kris Dunn, but they were able to beat UCONN in a head to head battle. Dunn's verbal represented an amazing talent upgrade (he will be a burger ball player), while making Providence a "hot" school. Dunn is known for being personable and friendly with many in the prep ranks. He is 2011 version of Jalen Rose, a player who puts a program on the map with his affable personality.

The windfall of securing the Dunn verbal instantly paid dividends. Ricky Ledo would be next. The mercurial Providence native was another top 25 player. Out of nowhere Providence had their Allan Ray, Randy Foye class. Although Providence's momentum was undeniable, there were still voices out there that said that this was a flash in the pan; a case of regional kids wanting to stay home. I would be lying to you if I didn't think this. Could Providence really continue to land top 100 players without some intimate connection?

This weekend represents a whole new turning point. Chris Obekpa and Jakarr Sampson are both top 100 players and word on the street is that they are about to pull the trigger and verbal to Providence. Both of these guys are not New England natives, yet are still putting Providence on the top of their lists. If Obekpa and Sampson end up signing, Providence's four man class will either be 1 or 2 in the country.

In a only a few short month, Providence has risen from the lowest point in program history to a place where optimism is never ending. There are still questions that need to be answered and this next season will be tough. Conference realignment, staff shakeups, and player indecision all will continue to be wild card factors, but what can be said is that Providence is back!


John Hendrie said...

Looks like Cooley found the 2012 version of Ruben Garces and Rob Sanders. Couldn't be more pumped. Obekpa is gonna be sending everything back. Can't wait.

Ryan M said...

Welcome back to the party PC...we've missed you. Integrity is not why Cooley is the right guy, he is a sneaky, cold blooded recruiter and doesn't play fair, exactly what you needed. Sorry, but I won't be at the party much old ball and chain is making me go to a different party with a bunch of of filthy southerners. Sorry, enjoy the wonderful Big East while I get confederate flag bumpers stickers stuck to my car.

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