Friar Basketball

Reflections from a long-time Friar fan


Just about all Friar fans are aware of PC’s very deep and rich basketball history.  Names like Lenny Wilkens, John Thompson, Ernie Digregorio, and Jimmy Walker are very famliar to Friar fans, young and old. However, there are some stories behind the history that newer fans in particular may not know.

Here are a few tidbits and stories behind some of the history of PC basketball. These are just my reflections as I remember them so please feel free to post any comments to add to what I have written.

John Thompson – Most Friar fans know that the former Hall of Fame Georgetown coach played his college ball at Providence College, but many may not know the reason why he went to PC in the first place.

Back when Thompson was a 6’10 center in high school from Washington, DC the NBA still had a territorial draft where a team basically had first dibs on a college player if that player went to school within a certain radius of the NBA team. PC was within the Celtics radius and Red Auerbach, who was also from Washington, DC, steered Thompson to PC so the Celtics would have first dibs on him when he graduated.  When Thompson graduated he indeed go to the Celtics in the third round and served as Bill Russell’s backup on the Celtics for two years. 


Jim Hadnot –Believe it or not, Jim Hadnot was also a 6’10 center who went to PC in large part as a result of the Boston Celtics.  The reason, however, was very different. Hadnot was from Oakland, CA and from the same neighborhood as Celtic great Bill Russell.

When Hadnot’s father died Russell became like a surrogate father to Jim. When it was time for Hadnot to select a college Russell convinced him to go to PC and provided him with financial support. Jim actually lived with Russell on weekends during his PC career, except for one semester when Russell made Jim stay on campus because his grades were slipping. After Hadnot graduated he had a cup of coffee in the ABA and then became a long time NBA scout.

Thompson and Hadnot played on the same team during the 61-62 season and were probably the original “Twin Towers” in college basketball with John playing the power forward and Hadnot the center position.


The Big East and the ECAC – Everyone knows that the architect of the Big East Conference was PC’s very own Dave Gavitt. Gavitt’s idea was to have a conference which included teams that captured most of the major television markets on the East Coast. The results coming from this idea changed the landscape of college basketball. Some of you may not remember what gave Gavitt the impetus to think of something like the Big East Conference in the first place. The answer lies with the East Coast Athletic Conference.

Back in the 1970s most Eastern colleges were independent and not members of a conference. These Eastern schools were tied together by a loose association known as the ECAC.

Each March the NCAA Tournament committee selected a certain number of independent colleges for the NCAA tournament based on their record and strength of schedule. I personally loved the fact that PC was an independent as it meant that every single game on the schedule was just as important as the next.

In the late 70s the NCAA decided that enough was enough and divided the ECAC schools into three regions for post season playoffs to determine an NCAA Tournament team for each region. One of these regions was New England, which included PC.

Suddenly, Providence found its fate tied directly to New England schools, such as Boston University and Northeastern. However, at this time PC was head and shoulders over any program in New England and probably the top program in the East. To all of a sudden regionalize the program by tying it to other New England schools was taking five steps backward.

Gavitt felt that if PC was going to be “forced” into being in a conference it should be on its terms and be in the best conference possible. Gavitt got together with the athletic directors of the other original Big East schools (hand picked based on basketball tradition, geography, and television marketability) and formed the Big East Conference.


The Providence Colonels? – It almost happened. Providence almost had a professional basketball team in the ABA. Here are some reflections on what I remember about it.

The year was 1972. The Providence Civic Center just opened. PC decided to take the plunge and scheduled all of their home games for the Providence Civic Center. It was a huge gamble that paid off big time.

The 1972-73 Providence College Friars may have been the best team in PC’s history. They went the entire year without losing a home game. There were sellouts for almost every single game. It was the place to be. I was a junior in high school but I still had a season ticket. Sec 118 Row A Seat 10. I believe I paid a grand total of $42 for season tickets that year.

Pro basketball took notice. This was a new phenomenon in basketball – having a college team playing at the city arena to sellout crowds. The Celtics definitely took notice.

At the time they did not have a great deal with the Boston Garden and were always looking to play some home games in other arenas.  These were tough times for the NBA before the resurgence under Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Ernie D was the third pick in the NBA draft that year by the Buffalo Braves and the Celtics immediately scheduled a Buffalo game to be played at the Providence Civic Center.

Well, they got the sellout they wanted but it wound up being a Buffalo Braves home game with 11,000+ crazy Friar Fanatics cheering on Ernie D and the Buffalo Braves. Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned. The Celtics actually scheduled at least six games one season after the Civic Center opened, but found out the Providence was a PC college basketball town and not a Celtics NBA town.

The Celtics were not the only professional basketball organization that was taking notice in Providence at this time, as a couple of ABA franchises looked into the possibility of moving their franchises into Providence. I believe the Kentucky Colonels bid was the most serious getting to the point of discussing specific details and how they were going to be able to get Ernie and Marvin on their roster. These bids fell through, however, as by this point in their existence the ABA was very merger conscious and the Celtics let it be known that there would be no way they would tolerate an ABA franchise in Providence. Oh well. It would have been great to go see Artis Gilmore play twice a week at the Civic Center.


The Freshman Teams –The 1972-73 season not only marked the beginning of a new era for PC basketball, it also marked the end of an era as the 72-73 season was the first year of freshman eligibility for college basketball.

Freshman teams were great. You actually had two teams to cheer for at your school. The competition was also very good. For example, Nehru King, Ernie D, and Fran Costello were on the same freshman team. They would travel and play games in other parts of the state. I remember watching Ernie’s team take on the URI freshman team at East Greenwich high school. It was an absolutely great game, and I knew afterwards that PC basketball was on its way back with these three guys playing for the varsity next season.

The freshman team also used to hold tournaments at Alumni Hall which were great. There would be PC, another freshman team, maybe RIJC, and a top high school team making up a four team tournament. I saw a Marvin Barnes-Alan Baker led freshman team win one of these championships against one of John Thompson’s St. Anthony’s teams.

This all changed with freshman eligibility. There was one last hurrah, however. That first year in the Civic Center most college coaches really did not know the best way to use their freshman players. Many still had them play on the freshman team and then also dress for the varsity game, which is what Dave Gavitt did.

During that season I made it a point to get to the Civic Center at 6:00 for home games so I could watch Ron Norwood, Dave Modest, Rich Dunphy, and Mark McAndrew play for the freshman team in a preliminary game before the varsity played.

After the inaugural season at the Providence Civic Center PC still had freshman or JV teams for a few more years, but by then all of the recruited players just played for the varsity with an exception here and there.

After a few more seasons PC’s JV team just faded away. I really miss those days of having two PC basketball teams to cheer for.

The other interesting part of having a separate freshman team was the effect it had on the Mal Brown game. Today we think of the Mal Brown scrimmage as a first glimpse of the Friars as the team scrimmages against each other for a couple of 10 minute periods. Before freshman eligibility the Mal Brown game was an actual exhibition game between the freshman team (plus transfers and others who had to sit out) against the varsity. I remember having a lot of fun watching the Marvin Barnes-led freshman team (plus Kevin Stacom who was sitting out his transfer year) going up against Ernie D’s Friars. There were some serious bragging rights at stake in some of those Mal Brown games.

The 1972 Olympic Basketball Team – Why did I bring this up? There were no Friars on the 1972 Olympic team. Well, if there were the result probably would have been a lot different.

Back in 1972 the Olympic selection process was very political. They still had an unwritten rule where there had to be a player on the team from the military. In addition, the head coach of the team, Henry Iba, was very set in his ways and only wanted a certain type of player who would play in a methodical, highly structured type of game.

When the names of those invited to the Olympic trials were announced Ernie D was not selected. This was a huge travesty. Other players, including Bill Walton, decided not to participate. Well, at least PC had Marvin Barnes going to the trials to compete against the other 50 or 60 players selected for the trials.

After a week of games at the trials the leading rebounder at the trials was Marvin Barnes, yet he was also left off the team. Everyone knows the rest of the story how the US had the gold medal stolen from them on a serious of awful decisions during the final minute of the gold medal game against the Soviet Union.

Fast forward to the next summer and the Soviet Olympic basketball team is playing a series of games against college all-star teams. One of those games was played in Madison Square Garden where Ernie and Marvin stole the show in a win over the USSR. If only they could have been on that Olympic team things could have been so much different.




Well, there you have it. A few tidbits from PC’s past that I hope you found interesting. For those of you who would like to learn more about PC’s history I would highly recommend Richard Coren’s Providence College Basketball: The Friar Legacy.


Email Craig at


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