Friar Basketball

Looking Back on 2011-12: Soaking in Positive Pub in October

Vincent Council takes a look back at the highs and lows of the 2011-12 season in a six-part, month-by-month breakdown of the the past year.  

Providence fans were on a high in October.  Sure, the prospects for the 2011-12 season looked bleak (and only got worse as the season drew closer), but after a pair of embarrassing seasons on and off the court, proceeded by an NCAA Tournament drought pushing ten years, Friar fans had gotten used to seeing their program making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So, who could blame them for puffing their chests out a bit in October?  Following the commitments of Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, ESPNCBS Sports and various other outlets were not only talking about Providence basketball, but featuring it.  That trend continued into October when Sports Illustrated made the Friars’ recruiting class front page news, and followed that up with an article on how the new head coach Ed Cooley was doing things differently on the recruiting trail, “Cooley’s message clearly is being heard. While he and his players cannot specifically mention recruits who have not yet signed with the program, the Friars rattled the landscape this summer by nabbing verbal commitments from Class of 2012 standouts Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. In an instant, the program that finished 14th last season in the Big East despite having scoring machine Marshon Brooks at their disposal reestablished its national credibility.”

With commitments from Dunn, Ledo and small forward Josh Fortune already in tow, Cooley was aiming high, targeting star big men from the prep and high school ranks, like Nerlens Noel, Jakarr Sampson, and Chris Obekpa, while also showing interest in junior college power forwards like former Fairfield commit Majok Majok and the versatile Orlando Sanchez.

With a break or two, a top 10 recruiting class could find its way into the top five, maybe three, nationally.

It was an unusual era of good feelings for a downtrodden fanbase, one that wouldn’t be ruined by the slim prospects facing the team in the upcoming season.

Slim they were.

With the loss of Marshon Brooks, who admirably filled in at power forward for long stretches, while carrying the offense as a senior, Providence was facing two huge questions in October: who was going to score on this team, and how can Cooley manufacture a 4/5 rotation out of a group of inconsistent and inexperienced bunch of returnees?

While the prospects of Providence College seemed to be on the verge of changing, so too was the face of the Big East.  Conference mainstays Syracuse and Pittsburgh dealt the conference a near deathblow by quietly and quickly bolting to the ACC, sending Big East football schools scrambling for cover – and leaving the basketball-only programs wondering what the fallout would be for them.

Conference uncertainty and a shaky roster still weren’t enough to dampen the spirit of Providence followers who had longed for any sort of positive pub – the type they were getting in spades in the late summer and early fall.

Only the most optimistic fans expected the 2011-12 Friars to compete in the Big East in mid-October.  Only the delusional had that expectation after witnessing PC’s first exhibition game versus Assumption (a team that a month later lost to Pace, Adelphi, and then Franklin Pierce by 30).

An already shallow depth chart took two big hits when the exhibition opener rolled around.  Freshman point guard

Kiwi Gardner was deemed academically ineligible by the NCAA’s Clearinghouse and redshirt sophomore Kadeem Batts, expected to carry the load in a porous frontcourt, was suspended for “disciplinary reasons.”  When Batts would return, or if Gardner could win an appeal, were both unknown.

What was known was that the Friars could afford to lose neither – and it showed on opening night in Alumni.

The Friars won, but not before Assumption put a scare into them.  And not until Cooley benched his regulars 14 seconds into the second half after a defensive lapse.

Those looking for bright spots had to squint.

Bryce Cotton flashed an improved jump shot (3-6 from three, rimming out two misses) and freshman LaDontae Henton was sound with 14 points, while Gerard Coleman struggled and Bilal Dixon saw the court only after Lee Goldsbrough, Brice Kofane, and Chris Carter did.

October closed with more question marks surrounding both the roster and the state of the Big East than it opened with, but a fanbase that had waited years just to find reason for hope seemed content to soak in the Ed Cooley publicity tour – waiting to see which recruit would be next, what publication might cover them again, and how this group might mesh together under a new regime.

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