Gerard Coleman is headed to Gonzaga and projects to be a solid fit once he’s eligible for the 2013-14 season. For all of the talk about Coleman’s role at Providence decreasing once Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn come aboard, he’s heading to a school with a well-established backcourt of their own. Friar fans would be beyond thrilled to get the type of production that the Zags got out of a pair of freshman guards this past season – guards who will be entering their third season together the first year Coleman is eligible in Spokane.
Kevin Pangos was the team’s leading scorer and assist man as a freshman, a season that saw him connect on 79 three pointers at over 40%. He was the West Coast Conference’s freshman of the year and made the all league team as well.
A top 75 prospect in the class of 2011, his backcourt and classmate Gary Bell Jr. wasn’t far behind him, nailing over 50 threes at a whopping 48% in his freshman season at Gonzaga. Also a member of the WCC’s all freshman team, Bell Jr was the Zags’ fourth leading scorer and had 18 points, five rebounds and four assists in their second round NCAA Tournament loss to an eventual Final Four team in Ohio State.
There were some in Providence that questioned if Coleman wasn’t up for the challenge of competing for minutes with the highly-touted class coming in, and others who thought he’d go down a level to be the focal point of an offense, but in Gonzaga he’s headed for a program that manhandled West Virginia in the first round of the NCAAs, beat Notre Dame by 20 in November, and defeated Xavier on the road.
It’s a program that has made the NCAA Tournament 14 straight years (eight since the last time Providence was there) and has a backcourt that looks firmly in place for the next three seasons. Is this a program a kid runs to if his focus is on scoring and minutes? True, he could slide into the small forward slot alongside Pangos and Bell Jr. in two years, the slasher to their long range acumen, but as he learned at Providence, recruiting and building a roster is fluid and how things look on paper today most likely won’t be the case in 18 months.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That doesn’t make a player a head-case or one who is afraid of competition. Coleman saw a lot of change at Providence since committing in the spring of 2009, from the departure of Pat Skerry, the hire and subsequent dismissal of his former AAU coach Chris Driscoll (and all that tenure meant for Coleman), to the switch from Keno Davis to Ed Cooley. Through it all he kept a positive public face, but finally decided to transfer from a program that had gone through significant transition in the three years in which he initially verballed.
If the first half of last season belonged to the Friars on the recruiting trail, Steve Lavin and Co have been the story in the Big East since February. His most recent commitment, Our Savior New American School power forward Chris Obekpa is the third Providence target to choose the Johnnies in the past four months after Brewster Academy springboard Jakarr Samspon and junior college power forward Orlando Sanchez pledged to the Storm during the season.
While he may not have the star power of last year’s class, for the second straight season Lavin has managed to bring in a huge class that could have a big impact early. Sampson will be the headliner, a 6’8 freak of an athlete who needs polish on the offensive end, but will defend, rebound and finish at the rim immediately, while Sanchez and Obekpa give them an athletic front-court.
Darrick Wood spent a productive year at Bridgton Academy after previously starring at NIA Prep in New Jersey. Wood has a Dwight Brewington build, but can score in a variety of ways despite his slender frame. Obekpa’s teammate, 6’3 Felix Balamou was a sleeper who is reportedly another high-wire athlete, while Sanchez’s Monroe College running mate Marco Bourgault gives Lavin the shooter he’s been desperately seeking.
Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch rounds of the group, a top 50 player in the class of 2011 who will give Lavin a needed ball handler once he’s eligible in December.
It’s not the top three class nationally of a season ago, but after a quiet fall signing period St. John’s has rebounded in a big way.
Providence could draw a top 10 team at the Puerto Rico tipoff in mid-November, should they face off with North Carolina State. The return of CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown (both potential first rounders in 2013) alone would make this a viable club in 2012-13, but the 2012 recruiting class of Rodney Purvis, TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis could put this team over the top.
Many scouts have Purvis tapped as the most talented scoring guard in the class, while the big-bodied Warren lived up to his McDonald’s All American billing every time this writer saw him at Brewster a season ago – scoring beyond the arc and finishing difficult shots around the rim with ease.
Lewis may be the key to the team, however, as the Wolfpack will have a lot of mouths to feed and the spunky point guard with an outstanding feel for the game will be charged with keeping them all happy. Lewis “doesn’t pass the eye test” according Steve Smith, his coach at Oak Hill. More accurately, he fails it miserably, but the McDonald’s All American has a chance to turn into college basketball’s Steve Nash next season – and America’s sweetheart if this team can pull a run together come March.
For them to pull a run together, Lewis will most likely have to pull this talented team together with his headiness and play-making ability. A year at powerhouse Oak Hill was a nice trial run.
Lewis versus Council and Dunn would be fun to watch come November.