Friar Basketball

A Message for Big Blue Nation

ed cooley john calipari

The hype surrounding Providence College’s date with Kentucky has been building ever since the New York Post confirmed the matchup in their March 16th issue, for Providence fans anyway. With the contest just around the corner, it seemed that the excitement level couldn’t reach any higher. On Friday afternoon that changed. Ed Cooley not only added to the hype, but woke up a Kentucky fan base, presumably lulled by a game against a “middle of the road” Big East school.

“I’ll take ‘Who is Ed Cooley for $100’, Alex,” one fan wrote on a Kentucky based message board. Another contributed, “Providence are a bunch of chumps. They are a badddd team. Eastern Michigan would beat them by 15. They will finish near the bottom of the AAC or whatever they call it now.” One poster even dared to say, “I think it looks like someone played a wedge shot off his (Ed Cooley’s) head.”

What sparked all of this banter you may ask? Following Providence’s win over Fairfield, on Friday, Ed Cooley was asked about playing Kentucky. His response, “Everybody is asking me about Kentucky. It’s a game. Congratulations, they’re good. They have all these great players. You know what? We have some great players, too. I do not want anybody to look at my team as if we are some step-child hoping to get lucky. We’re going to go down there and were going to be confident, passionate and we’re going to play with a lot of pride. I don’t give a damn about Kentucky.”

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Cooley’s remarks apparently opened the eyes of at least a few of Kentucky’s dedicated following but he made sure to point out that while he wasn’t criticizing his next opponent, he wasn’t intimidated by them either.

Sure everyone has the right to their own opinion but clearly, some members of Big Blue Nation haven’t taken notice to what Cooley has accomplished in his three short years as head coach of Providence College. To the Wildcat fans insinuating that Ed Cooley is a “nobody” and that PC is nothing but a bunch of “chumps”, let me fill you in…

The Providence College that was once led by coaches like Tim Welsh and Keno Davis is no longer the same program under Ed Cooley. In three seasons, Cooley has managed to bring in two nationally ranked recruiting classes. Classes that featured two All-American’s, Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo, as well as several other high profile players from outside New England. Recruiting top-tier players to the smallest high major school, in the smallest state in the union, doesn’t quite compare to recruiting players to the mecca of college basketball, the University of Kentucky.

In Cooley’s first year as head coach, his recruiting class was ranked 6th in the country by ESPN and 8th by Rivals. His second class was not nationally ranked but he secured 6’6 forward, Brandon Austin, who was ranked as the 56th best prospect in the country by ESPN and 45th by Rivals. His most recent class, one that includes Paschal Chukwu, Jalen Lindsey and Ben Bentil is currently ranked 23rd by ESPN and 22nd by Rivals.

The revitalization of Providence College’s basketball program is entirely due to the efforts of both Ed Cooley and his staff. The noise that he has made in the world of college basketball doesn’t stop with recruiting successes either. He has completely overhauled the Providence of old with the Providence of new.

Last season, Providence was projected to finish dead last in the then fifteen team Big East. By year’s end the Friars went on to win nine of their final thirteen games. Winning games against Villanova, twice, as well as knocking off #21 ranked Notre Dame and #17 ranked Cincinnati paved the way for PC’s first post season appearance in four years. While it was not the NCAA Tournament, Providence was able to take care of a Robert Morris team that upset Kentucky in the first round of last season’s NIT.

Under Cooley’s watch, he has helped grow players like Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts into legitimate Division I players. Cotton, a 6’1 guard out of Tucson, Arizona, averaged just 4 points a game during his freshman year and each year since, has made great strides in improving his game. During his breakout junior season, Cotton racked up 630 points (19.7 PPG), earning him First Team All-Big East accolades. Only seven other high major players tallied more points than Cotton a season ago. Additionally, Kadeem Batts, a 6’9 forward from Boston, Massachusetts, broke out to average 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his junior campaign, making him the 2012-13 Big East Most Improved Player. Prior to last season, Batts averaged a mere 6.7 points and 5.0 rebounds a contest.

With those two as leaders, on top of a rebound hungry LaDontae Henton, seven foot center Carson Desrosiers and a crafty wingman, Tyler Harris, this Providence team is no slouch.

The Friars (7-1) enter Sunday’s game with Kentucky (6-1) fresh off a home win against Cooley’s former school, Fairfield University. A four point loss to Maryland, in the Paradise Jam, represents Providence’s only loss on the season. Sunday night gives PC the opportunity to take down their first top 5 ranked opponent since defeating #1 Pittsburgh in 2009.

Cooley’s comments, bold no doubt, but that is exactly the attitude this program has lacked for a long time. It may take a win over Kentucky for the whole country to take notice but for anyone who hasn’t paid attention, Ed Cooley’s words do not fall on deaf ears. This year’s Providence College Friars will play hard and give John Calipari and his third ranked Wildcats as good as run as any team in the country.

For those interested in reading what others have said about Cooley and the Providence College program, here are some notables:

Andy Katz, ESPN:

“Ed Cooley has an infectious personality, a driving spirit to work hard and win, and is one of the warmest people you’ll meet. You can scour the country and find plenty of hometown success stories of coaches coming back to their alma maters or places where they grew up. But there will be few that can match the authenticity of Cooley and Providence.”

Jon Rothstein, CBS:

“Ed Cooley has invigorated an entire city with his enthusiasm and his infectious personality has paid immediate dividends. There is a palpable buzz throughout the Northeast surrounding the Providence program and it started the day Cooley had his inaugural press conference. A Providence native, the boisterous head coach is constantly juggling recruiting calls, speaking engagements, and anything else it will take to make his hometown school one of the elite programs in the BIG EAST. It’s all part of a daily grind that Cooley wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Jay Wright, Villanova:

“I think he’s done a great job. I think they are going to be one of the surprise teams in our league, I really do. I think Bryce Cotton is one of the best guards in the country. And up front they’ve got veterans, that are battle tested, I think there are a lot of teams in our league that can do this but I really think Providence is going to be one of those teams that shocks people across the country.”

Steve Lavin, St. John’s:

“I told Ed, I could double as his agent because I have so much respect for the work that he has done at Providence and even prior to Providence. When he was an assistant at BC, and I was at UCLA, I would always see him in a gym. I knew that we were in for a dog fight, when he was working for Al Skinner. Whether it was Jared Dudley or Craig Smith or other kids that he pulled away from the West coast. It spoke to his tenacity, his charisma, and his ability to a connect with young people. To inspire and motivate his troops. He’s engaged the Providence fan base. There’s a buzz around the basketball program and it’s a great thing for our league, when you have coaches, like Ed Cooley, who come in and shake things up, who are aggressive and make things happen.”

Oliver Purnell, DePaul:

“The change in culture, that Ed Cooley has brought to Providence College is very apparent.”

Bill Raftery, Fox Sports 1:

“This is a team that I think will surprise a lot of people this year.”

Email Craig Belhumeur – craig.belhumeur@friarbasketball.com
Craig Belhumeur on Twitter – @Craig_Belhumeur

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