Friar Basketball

How Ed Cooley Reshaped his Frontcourt

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There’s a reason why Ed Cooley jumped into his pool after Nate Watson committed to Providence on Cooley’s birthday last September. 

Yes, Watson is talented — so much so that he received an offer from Kansas in April of 2016 and North Carolina dropped by his school to see him a few weeks later. 

He was one of, if not the, top priority of Providence’s recruiting efforts at the time, and his commitment capped a furious seven-month run in which the future of the Friar frontcourt was secured after a period of instability.

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For all Cooley’s success in his tenure at Providence, the one thing that has eluded him has been a trip to the second week of the NCAA Tournament.

The Friars are in the midst of a run of four straight seasons with an NCAA Tournament appearance — something that seemed unfathomable in the years leading up to Cooley’s arrival.

But there have been opportunities for more, something that must gnaw at the ultra-competitive coach who vowed to one day play for a national championship at Providence.

There was the 2014 NCAA Tournament for starters.

Only a select few Friars have ever been better on the big stage than Bryce Cotton was against North Carolina that March. In his last game as a Friar, Cotton dazzled with 36 points, but PC lost by a bucket largely because the Tarheels crushed them on the offensive glass (19 offensive boards in total). Carolina advanced to the Sweet 16 two days later by defeating an Iowa State team playing without injured star Georges Niang.

North Carolina’s size was too much for Providence when the two teams met again in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016. Cooley spent much of the 2015-16 season protecting Ben Bentil from foul trouble, a breakout sophomore who served as the only viable big man on the roster following the surprising transfer of 7’2 Paschal Chukwu in the offseason. 

The Friars led early in the second half, and a two possession game turned into a runaway when Bentil fouled out with over seven minutes to play. Carolina shot 61% from the field in the second half, and made 15-16 from the free throw line over the final 20 minutes by hammering away at Providence inside.

The wounds of this past March are still fresh. Providence was playing at its peak in an NCAA Tournament rematch with USC (the Friars knocked of SC at the buzzer in ’16), running out to a 17-point lead early in the second half, and leading by double figures with 11 minutes remaining, before the Trojans went big — very big.

USC played three players 6’11 or taller, in a frontcourt lineup USC coach Andy Enfield hadn’t played together all season. 

Providence had no answers inside and fell by four.

That takes us back to Cooley’s pool.

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Providence could have been gearing up for the senior seasons of Bentil and Chukwu this October. Bentil’s rapid rise into an NBA prospect and Chukwu’s departure changed the face of PC’s interior the past two seasons. 

Watson’s commitment capped a wild seven months in which Cooley rebuilt the frontcourt into what we’ll see this season.

It started with Dajour Dickens. Now a freshman at Providence, Dickens committed to PC during February of his junior year. The seven footer out of Virginia brings the type of length the Friars haven’t had since Carson Desrosiers and Chukwu were on the team in 2015. 

Scout.com national recruiting analyst Brian Snow wrote at the time of his commitment, “While he isn’t quite ready physically, there is no denying the type of upside Dickens has. Quite honestly, there are just a very small number of prospects in the country that have his combination of height, length, athleticism, and ability to run the floor.”  

Emmitt Holt’s commitment didn’t come with the fanfare of some of Cooley’s other recruits, but he’s a big reason why the 2016-17 season wasn’t a rebuilding one. 

Holt produced from the jump at Providence after spending his freshman year at Indiana and then transferring to Indian Hills Community College for a season. 

Holt scored 22 points in his first game in black and white (a win over a Vermont team that danced in March). He not only stabilized Providence’s shallow frontcourt in the wake of Bentil’s departure, Holt became one of the best inside-out scorers in the Big East. 

With a well-developed back-to-the-basket game, the ability to face-up and take opposing big men off of one or two dribbles, and range beyond the 3-point arc, Holt just might be the Friars’ best scorer in 2017-18. He closed last season with 21 points and 11 rebounds against that big USC frontcourt, and averaged nearly 13 points per game while shooting 52% from the field and 34% from 3.

Holt committed to PC in April 2016, and a month later Kalif Young followed.

The 6’9, 255 pound left hander from Canada brings not only length, but physicality, to the Friar frontcourt. Currently a sophomore, Young has considerable upside. 

He was certainly raw offensively as a freshman, struggling at the free throw line and in finishing short hook shots near the rim. 

Improvement in those areas can come with practice and experience. What makes Young an intriguing prospect are his innate abilities.

For his size, Young runs the floor extremely well, as he consistently beat his man down the floor last year. He has above average hands that could turn him into a terrific rebounder when combined with his size and agility. Lastly, he showed flashes of being a terrific passer. Prospects with his size and athleticism are rare in Friartown. 

Watson was the cherry, and the final piece to the rapid rebuild of the Friar frontcourt.

Now a freshman at PC, he was the fourth big man to commit to Providence in a seven-month span — a recruiting run that will make the 2017-18 Friars look completely different.

Friar fans would be more than happy if Watson followed the development of Bentil as a freshman and Alpha Diallo last season. Both flashed in the season’s first three months, but began to turn it on in late January. 

Watson comes with the most national fanfare of this group of big men. He was viewed as one of the fastest rising big men in the country during the summer before his senior year of high school. Kansas and North Carolina were both among his final list of seven, and PC eventually won out over Maryland and North Carolina State. 

He’s 6’10, 260 pounds, athletic, and was widely considered a top 75 player in the class of 2017. 

Holt and All Big East forward Rodney Bullock can score inside and out, Dickens brings the length of Desrosiers and Chukwu, while Watson and Young are a pair of physically punishing youngsters that won’t be dwarfed by any front line. 

On a team with considerable depth, Young, Watson, and Dickens can be brought along slowly, but for the first time in three seasons Cooley will look down his bench and see options behind his starting four and five men. 

The Friars figure to be more physical than they’ve been in three years, when they had the toughness of LaDontae Henton and Bentil combined with the length of Desrosiers and Chukwu inside. Ironically, that team fell to a smaller Dayton group, but in three of their last four NCAA Tournament appearances they’ve lost the interior battle to bigger, more athletic teams.

Cooley has more weapons at his disposal to avoid a similar fate this season, thanks to a seven month recruiting run in which he and his staff turned frontcourt question marks into a potential strength. 

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

Email: kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

4 Comments

  1. Derec Lamenxola

    October 2, 2017 at 1:26 am

    Providence College Mens Basketball Get Redey
    Time TO Get Redey And When IS The Providence College Mens Basketball Tickes Coming And Lets Get Redey And Ennething New About Ed#Cooley And Ed Cooley IS Geting Redey
    Ed Cooley Derec Lamendola We Are Geting Redey And i Wont Makai Ashton Lanflorid Family Come TO Providence College Mens Basketball Games This Year

  2. Jim Jackson

    October 2, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    This is going to be a great season!

  3. Pingback: Emmitt Holt Highlights - Friar Basketball

  4. Peter J. Malia

    October 7, 2017 at 4:10 am

    Looking for a repeat of the ’73 team to the Final Four! A great 45th anniversary gift.

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