The 2011 National Prep Championship was absolutely loaded. It was also taking place during a turning point for Providence’s program. As Notre Dame Prep’s Ricardo Ledo scored 31 points to defeat Nerlens Noel, Wayne Selden, Goodluck Okonoboh, Georges Niang and Tilton, and Kiwi Gardner led Westwind Prep, stars like Andre Drummond, Dez Wells, Olivier Hanlan, PJ Hairston, Eli Carter, Naadir Tharpe, Jakarr Sampson, and Khem Birch all vied for the Prep crown.
That night Keno Davis would coach his last game at Providence, an 87-66 beating at the hands of Marquette. It was clear at that point that Davis’ days in Providence were coming to a close, and there was considerable buzz around the potential of Ed Cooley (who was in the building) coming home to lead the Friars.
I watched a handful of games that day with a former Division I player and European professional and his son, both of whom were very familiar with Cooley – a coach I was frantically trying to learn more about at the time. Little did I realize then that I was talking to a future Friar.
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Casey Woodring has a long history with Ed Cooley. The 6’2 shooter out of Connecticut first met Cooley when attending his basketball camp when he was in the fifth grade. Cooley was the head coach at Fairfield at the time and Woodring was a few years away from kicking off a high school career that started at Notre Dame Catholic in Fairfield, continued with a pair of successful seasons at Choate (including a NEPSAC A title and finals appearance) and finished this past spring with a prep year at Cushing Academy in which he teamed with Friar targets Kaleb Joseph and Jalen Adams to win the NEPSAC Class AA title.
“I’ve known Coach Cooley for a while. I would workout and play at Fairfield when he was there and we kept in touch when he was in Providence. He has seen me a bunch, knows my game and what I bring to the table. We have a mutual respect for each other,” Woodring said earlier this week.
Cooley began to pitch the idea of walking on at Providence last summer, letting Woodring know that if he didn’t receive a Division I scholarship offer that he’d welcome him to Smith Hill, and when Cooley would visit Cushing to recruit Joseph and Adams (which was frequently according to Casey) he continued to pitch the idea to Woodring.
Woodring is a shooter, a skill that caught the interest of coaches at schools like Cornell (where he had an unofficial visit as a junior prior to the departure of assistant coach Jay Larranaga who had been recruiting him) and Princeton (like with Cornell, when the Princeton staff moved on to Fairfield the interest there slowed). His goal at Providence is to “compete every day and try to help the team win in any way I can” while hoping to see time on the court at some point.
“Playing at Cushing helped me grow on and off the court. Playing against that level of competition, I’m coming to Providence with a level of experience not too many other freshman have,” he shared.
His experience includes run-ins with a variety of highly sought after recruits in New England in recent years, including a matchup with New London guard Kris Dunn (although the two didn’t formally meet until Woodring visited campus this spring).
After discussing the state of the Providence program with the Woodrings two years ago, I was interested in learning about how the perception of the program has shifted in the eyes of recruits since Cooley took over. Woodring has not only played with the highly-regarded Joseph and Adams, but also for AAU powerhouse CBC which features the likes of Pascal Chukwu and Jared Wilson-Frame.
“Coach Cooley and his staff do a good job of staying with the guys they’ve been recruiting. I saw them at Cushing a lot. With CBC they were recruiting Pascal (Chukwu – the high-upside 2014 center from Fairfield Prep) pretty hard. They’re very visible,” Woodring explained.
Cushing played in a number of tournaments in Rhode Island over the past year, giving Friar fans plenty of exposure to their team, but Chukwu hasn’t been seen by as many in Friartown, so I asked for a quick scouting report of the seven footer, “I started playing with him last year before the AAU season. He’s a great player who is only getting better. He was all defense when he first started playing with us – he’s great at blocking shots and getting rebounds – and he’s starting to develop a hook shot. He’s a big reason why we finished 9th in the country last summer.”
Like Chukwu, Woodring was on campus last summer for PC’s first elite camp, but suffered a concussion, cutting his day short. He’ll return to Providence later this month under far different circumstances – and he’ll be playing for a coach he’s known throughout his entire basketball career.