Friar Basketball

Looking Back on the Career of Vincent Council

For a moment it looked as though Vincent Council may not have a senior season at all.  A preseason 1st Team All Big East selection by the league’s coaches, Council went down in a heap just three minutes into the season and the fear that day was a torn hamstring.

Council broke two assists records while at PC

Council broke two assists records

While he returned almost two months after the injury, it wasn’t until Providence’s second round NIT victory over Robert Morris that Ed Cooley said he finally felt like he had a healthy Council back.

Council’s senior year couldn’t have been what he’d hoped for heading in. His scoring averaged dipped nearly five points per game, as did his shooting percentages from the field, free throw line and three point range, but after struggling to find his footing in his first month back, Council was the table-setter in a 5-1 February that saw the Friars seemingly turn the corner on not only the 2012-13 season, but as a program.

Unfortunately for Council, he won’t be here for any NCAA Tournament runs, yet he still closed his Providence career as the school’s all-time leader in assists (725) and finished 15th at PC in scoring (1499 points). He once again led the Big East in assists this season, as well as in assist to turnover ratio.

* * *

Council may never have found his way to Providence if he’d not been one course shy of meeting the NCAA Clearinghouse’s eligibility requirements out of famed Lincoln High School in New York in the spring of 2008. Playing alongside superstar recruit Lance Stephensen, Council very well could have ended up at Hofstra or Central Florida had he not enrolled at prep powerhouse Patterson in North Carolina that fall.

It was there that he played with talent like future one-and-done power forward Hassan Whiteside.  It was with them that I got my first look at Council in February 2009.  It was just after he’d committed to the Friars.

The thought at the time was that fellow classmate Johnnie Lacy was the most highly-regarded of the two future lead guards. Still a relative unknown, Council generated huge buzz at the National Prep School Invitational, leading #1 Patterson to a 4-0 mark in the showcase with wins over Brewster, New Hampton Prep, Progressive Christian and Bridgton. It was clear to anyone who in attendance that weekend that Council was the superior player to Lacy, who struggled for much of the weekend playing for Notre Dame Prep (alongside James Southerland, Sean Kilpatrick and Ron Giplaye).

By the time the season was out Council was a 10 point, 10 assist, 53% three point range shooter and ESPN ranked him the 11th best point guard in the country. He was nearly impossible to stop off of the bounce at that level and shot the corner three with consistency.

* * *

Council was the last addition to Keno Davis’ first recruiting class. It was a seven man group that was salvaged only by Council and the recent emergence of Kadeem Batts.  A pair of Junior College transfers didn’t see a second season, two others (including Lacy) are now serving jail sentences after brutally assaulting a fellow classmate on campus, while the fifth was dismissed from the team after his sophomore year.

In many ways, it was a class that signified perhaps the lowest point in program history, yet Council found a way to give the Friars four years of solid to excellent play in the midst of all of the chaos.

It didn’t take long before he was seen as the jewel of the group.  The 2009-10 Friars of Council’s first season weren’t devoid of talent. Marshon Brooks went in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2011 (but was inconsistent as a junior), Jamine Peterson averaged a double double that year and Sharaud Curry ranks among PC’s leaders in scoring and three point shooting, but after a 3-3 start in the Big East the team unraveled – so much so that they didn’t win another game after an 81-66 victory over #19 UConn on January 19.

Council separated himself from his class early

Council was Keno’s best 1st year recruit

Council broke out in the second half of that win and was unstoppable in pick and roll situations in the game’s final 10 minutes. While Peterson (23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals) and Bilal Dixon (11 points, 12 rebounds) made headlines with their double doubles, it was Council who got them easy looks late, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals against junior Kemba Walker.  After that game I wrote that it was time to hand the reigns over to the freshman point guard.

This game followed a 24 point effort at Marquette and 17, 6 and 5 in a horrible overtime loss to South Florida.

In a season that was slipping away, Council was a bright spot, notching 16 points and 9 assists at #4 Syracuse and 21 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in a road loss to Villanova.

Finishing the year with 10.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Council was named to the Big East’s All Rookie team.

Things looked to be trending upwards for Providence that spring, as Council was set to lead a young core of highly-regarded newcomers the following season.

Yet, more change was coming.

* * *

While Council’s numbers spiked in his second year at Providence, the core around him dwindled.  Four of his recruiting classmates were gone from the program, Curry graduated, and Peterson, the leading scorer, had been dismissed from the school.

Those highly-regarded newcomers?  Gerard Coleman, a top 60 recruit out of Boston, was still on the way, but USA Today All American guard Joseph Young jumped ship after a very public battle with Davis, while Naadir Tharpe  (who was set to come the year after Coleman and Young – Council’s junior season) reneged on the verbal commitment he gave his junior year after assistant coach Pat Skerry left for a similar role in Pittsburgh.

The keys had been handed to Council, but he was taking over a sinking ship that no one player could save.

Brooks did his best to do so, leading the Big East in scoring and smashing the league’s single game scoring record with 52 points against Notre Dame, but things had spun too far out of control for Davis and a change seemed inevitable by season’s end, as the Friars finished 4-14 in the Big East for the second consecutive year.

Year 3 wasn't much better for VC

PC struggled through VC’s first three years

Council’s numbers jumped, as he averaged nearly 14 points, six assists four rebounds as a sophomore, but his shooting percentage dipped below 40%.

He put up double digit assists against in-state foes Brown (19 points, 16 assists – tying a PC record) and Rhode Island (17 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds) and played perhaps the best game of his sophomore season in a near-upset of #5 Pittsburgh, when he had 13 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and six steals.

If the Pitt game wasn’t his best, the 16 point, 8 rebound, 8 assist, 4 steal night in a win over #7 Villanova must have been. After losing their first six Big East games the Friars were on life support, but the victory over Villanova was their second straight against a ranked opponent (they defeated #15 Louisville days prior). That was the end of the fun in 2011 though, as the Friars won just two games after January 26 – uninspiring victories over bottom rung Big East opponents Rutgers and South Florida.

Council closed that year strong, with 21 points on 6-9 from deep to go along with seven assists versus Marquette in the Big East Tournament. The game was an embarrassment for the Friars, however, as they were steamrolled 87-66.

It was more than apparent that day that Davis’ tenure was at an end.

* * *

Council’s third year brought a new coach in Cooley, but similar results in the standings.  With Brooks off to the NBA, Council was the clear leader of this team – a team with a number of question marks heading in.

For the third straight year PC won just four conference games, despite a terrific season by their junior point guard, who was a 15.9 point, 7.5 assist per game player. There were just too many holes to fill around him.

While Bryce Cotton began to emerge as a reliable shooter, LaDontae Henton enjoyed a huge freshman season and Coleman gave the Friars 13 points and five rebounds, the front court lacked consistency and there was no bench depth for the third year in a row.

Council once again torched Brown (21 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds – which will become significant soon) and had four 20 point games in the out of conference portion of the schedule.

On January 10, Council played his best game as a Friar. Going head to head with star point guard Peyton Siva, Council and his teammates defeated Louisville for the second year in a row at home – this time it got ugly for Rick Pitino’s bunch.

Providence trounced the Cards that night (a team that would play in the Final Four three months later) behind matching 27 point nights from Cotton and Batts, but it was Council who made it possible, dishing out 14 assists to go along with his 15 points and eight rebounds.

He once again just missed a triple double two weeks later in Pittsburgh (26 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) and followed that game up with back to back double doubles versus South Florida and Rutgers.

His senior year would be cut short due to injury

His senior year would be cut short due to injury

The next time out Council went toe to toe with West Virginia’s Truck Bryant. Council finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, but as was the case throughout much of his first three seasons, PC just couldn’t get over the hump, as he missed last second shots in both regulation and overtime in a crippling loss.

PC closed February on a two game winning streak, thanks in large part to Council handing off 22 assists over the two contests. He had 11 more assists the next time out in a loss at Notre Dame before falling flat in the Big East Tournament with a 2-13 shooting night in a beating at the hands of Seton Hall.

He was named 3rd Team All Big East at the conclusion of the season.

* * *

In just looking at the numbers, it is clear Council wasn’t the same player as a senior. With the scoring down nearly six points per game and his shooting percentages dipping, he seemed to get his legs back in February, but didn’t have the breakthrough finale that seemed inevitable when he was running the show as a freshman.

He came back for Providence’s game at Brown – a team that Council had absolutely torched the previous two seasons, scoring 41 points to go along with 27 assists. He just wasn’t ready to go full tilt yet, and with Cotton sitting this one out Brown took advantage, ripping off a late run in pulling an upset that sent the Friars downwards.

The Friars lost six of their next eight games before hosting Connecticut. Council was benched for the first 10 minutes of that game, but led the Friars back from down double figures into overtime by coming up with 15 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in his most assertive play of the year.  Still, he fouled out in that overtime session and the Friars lost, dropping them to 2-7 in the Big East.

After three straight 4-14 seasons in the Big East, it looked as though Council was destined to finish his Friar career with great individual numbers, but little team success.

While he didn’t shoot well throughout the month, Council started to round into form in February – and wins started coming. Providence finished February 5-1 with Council dishing out nearly eight assists per game.

Perhaps his best regular season game came in an upset of Notre Dame in which he scored seven points with 11 assists and 11 rebounds.

Unfortunately, Council ended his career winless in Madison Square Garden. Providence was once again no match in their first Big East game, losing by 17 to Cincinnati, and then fell a game short of returning to New York by falling to Baylor in the NIT quarterfinal.

Council ended his career with one of his better efforts, a 21 point, seven rebound night in which he shot 8-12 against a long and athletic Baylor club.

As had been the case throughout much of his career, Council’s team was a bit too top heavy versus Baylor, as Council, Cotton and Batts scored all but four of PC’s 68 points.

* * *

We’ll be left to wonder what Council could have done given a full arsenal of weapons around him. He certainly played with some of the most productive Friars of the past 10-12 years (Cotton was a 1st Team All BE performer, Batts Honorable Mention in 2013), but he never played on a team with the depth that would have capitalized on his passing ability like Patterson did in his prep season.

It’s a sad irony for Council that the Friars could well have that type of depth the year after he graduates. Next year’s team looks deeper than any Providence has had dating back to at least 2001 (when they made the NCAA Tournament getting steady contributions from 10 players) – it’s potentially the type of team Council could have thrived on in picking apart defenses with four scoring options on the court at the same time.

Council’s four years saw much transition. It feels like far more than three years ago that a grouping of Council/Coleman/Young/Tharpe/Peterson was going to be the core of the rebuilding project going forward.

While being a very good to, at times, great player without winning at Providence seemingly automatically puts certain players in a lower echelon than those who won in March, Council accomplished more than nearly anyone expected at the time of his commitment when some questioned why the Friars added another point guard with Lacy in hand.

Through four years on instability, injury and rebuilding, Council walks away from Providence the Big East’s all-time leader in assists and one of the best point guards in PC’s fine history.

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