Friar Basketball

Jeff Battle on Ed Cooley and His PC Experience

Jeff Battle

You’d understand if Jeff Battle felt conflicted during the NBA’s conference finals. Battle coached Golden State forward David West and Cleveland assistant coach James Posey while he was an assistant coach at Xavier. Both already have championship rings (Posey as a player with Boston and Miami, West with Golden State) and are looking to add to their collections.

A week ago, it looked as though a third Battle pupil might add his own. Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets led the Western final, 3-2, before Paul went down with a hamstring injury at the end of Game 5 and did not return for the rest of the series.

Battle, now in his third year as an assistant at Providence, coached Paul at Wake Forest after Battle joined long-time mentor Skip Prosser in transitioning from Xavier in 2001. Wake was twice ranked number one in the country when Battle was Prosser’s assitant, including when Paul starred at point guard from 2003-05.

When Paul went down, Houston’s title hopes went with him.

“I was hurting for him,” Battle said of Paul in a recent interview with Friarbasketball.com. “He’s such a competitor. He’s probably the best leader that I’ve been around, and just for him to get that close — I really felt bad for him because I know what he’s been through and what he’s trying to accomplish in his career.”

Battle certainly has an eye for talent. In his 13 years at Wake Forest he saw the aforementioned number one rankings, an ACC title, six NCAA tournament appearances, and a program that averaged nearly 20 wins per season.

But Jeff Battle’s eye for talent goes beyond the players. He saw something in Ed Cooley at the earliest stages of Cooley’s coaching career.

“There was just something about him. I saw him at an event and we just kind of hit it off. I shared some words of wisdom,” Battle recalled when asked of first meeting Cooley.

“He was new to the business and I shared some things that worked for me and helped me in my career as an assistant coach. I told him if you keep doing the things you’re doing with the way you go about things, you’re going to end up being a head coach one day. He just looked at me and smiled and said ‘Really? You really think so?’”

That was the beginning of a 20-year friendship. The two men grew close, as did their families, and they often spoke of one day working together on the same staff.

When Providence hired Cooley in 2011 he hoped to hire Battle away from Wake Forest, but the timing wasn’t right. Battle had lost his wife three years prior and he did not want to uproot his family as his son entered his senior year of high school.

After assistant coach Bob Simon left the PC staff for Alabama in 2015, Battle was ready to work alongside his friend at long last. “When he told me he had an opportunity on his staff I was ecstatic,” said Battle. “I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to work with him. At that time of my life with what I was dealing with, it was something I needed. I needed a change and fortunately I was able to make that happen.”

Providence has since reached the NCAA tournament in all three seasons with Battle on staff, and the future looks bright as the Friars have strung together three terrific recruiting classes in a row.

While the 2018-19 roster will consist of three former top 50 recruits from New England, the Friars are loaded with talent from Virginia and the Carolinas. The addition of Battle, and later assistant coach Ivan Thomas, has strengthened PC’s reach into the Mid-Atlantic and South.

Providence’s 2018 class is outstanding — rated second in the Big East by most major publications and widely considered a top 20-25 group nationally. The proximity and national regard of local recruits AJ Reeves and David Duke have garnered the class a tremendous amount of respect. Battle helped find another pair of targets the staff is excited about in forwards Kris Monroe (Raleigh, NC) and Jimmy Nichols (Conway, SC).

Battle touched on both prospects: “They are both very highly skilled players. We were very intrigued by their versatility. You’ve got to find guys that fit the way your head coach coaches. I knew he would like them just because of their skill set and versatility.

“Kris Monroe is a 6’7 guy who can play multiple positions. He’s skilled. He can pass, he can shoot, he can catch, he has a good frame on him — a college-ready frame — and he can shoot the 3. He can just do a lot of different things… You can post him up. He’s just a very versatile type player.

“Jimmy Nichols is a long stretch 4 who can shoot the 3 and put it on the floor. He’s got to get stronger and get used to the physicality and pace of the game, but he brings so much versatility to the table. We feel like we’ve instilled some really skilled players.”

Battle’s tenure at Wake Forest and Xavier offered experience at institutions similar to Providence.

The PC job is a unique one — a small, private school battling in a world dominated by state schools with enormous budgets. The transition for a coach coming from a big state school to Providence could be a difficult one, but Battle’s background at similar colleges has helped. “Providence is a lot like Wake in terms of size of the school. They are both very good academic institutions. The difference is, obviously, Wake has football and PC doesn’t.

“The transition has been very easy because the schools are very similar in terms of their size, structure and the academic integrity that all the schools had. So, that was all a positive with me coming to PC.”

Cooley told him about the passion of Providence’s fanbase, but he admits that if anything has come as a surprise in his first three years it has been the devotion of the Friar faithful.

It’s a fanbase that has been buoyed by the presence of Cooley, the most charismatic man to walk PC’s sidelines since a young Rick Pitino.

Battle thinks Cooley’s personality can overshadow his coaching ability to those not looking closely enough: “The thing that I don’t think gets talked about enough is how good of a coach he is. He’s a heck of a coach.”

“I’ve learned so much from him in the three years that I’ve been here in terms of working with the players and making adjustments. His teams get better during the season, and I think that’s a tribute to him and how he coaches. I just think he’s a terrific basketball mind. I think sometimes that gets hidden behind the fact that he’s such a good person.”

What does Battle tell recruits prior to them meeting Cooley? “The first thing I tell them is he’s going to be honest and upfront with you. He’s not going to sugarcoat things. He’s going to tell you exactly what he feels, what he thinks about you, how he can help develop you not only as a basketball player, but as a man, and he’s going to shoot you straight. He’s going to be transparent in his delivery.

“The best comments we get back from kids and parents is that Coach Cooley is as real as it gets… there’s no fake with him, and a lot of people respect that. I think that’s a great quality that he has. He’s able to relate to young men and families. He has a great story in his life and what he’s been through, and I think families and parents trust that he’s going to do right by their son.”

 

4 Comments

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    June 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Great Site gives great insight on all PC basketball past, present, and future for fans like myself

  3. Anonymous

    June 5, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Great article. It would be great to see something like this for all of the assistants on Cooley’s staff. We hear so much about Cooley (for good reason), but it would be great to get an insight into some of the other people that has help make this team so successful in the last 6-7 years.

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