PROVIDENCE â€“ During the winter semester break, the assumption is that LaDontae Henton and the rest of the Providence College basketball players are going to have a lot of downtime. After all, exams are done and classes donâ€™t resume on the Smith Hill campus until Jan. 21.
Yet as Ed Cooley gladly points out, the Friars will not be on autopilot.
Once the pens were put down and the last exam booklet was placed on the professorâ€™s desk, thatâ€™s when Cooleyâ€™s between semesterâ€™s interlude ratchets up into high gear. For roughly a four-week stretch, hoops and everything that accompanies it stands as the only priority. Day and night or for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Cooley is well aware that he controls the shots as it relates to his players and having their undivided attention for as long as he desires.
Such is the primary benefit to not having academic responsibilities weighing on oneâ€™s mind.
â€śItâ€™s a coachâ€™s dream,â€ť Cooley stated with a broad smile. â€śWeâ€™ve got a month and the teams that take advantage of basketball-only situations are the ones that have the biggest growth come February and early March.â€ť
Added Henton, â€śNow itâ€™s more stress free. We donâ€™t have to worry about exams or things like that. Now we can focus on our weaknesses. Itâ€™s all basketball and thatâ€™s what we came here for â€“ to play basketball.â€ť
Cooley is free to conduct practice for as long as he deems fit. He also knows thereâ€™s an off-court realm thatâ€™s just as important to tap. The day after surviving a close call against Yale, Providenceâ€™s agenda as mapped out by the head honcho consisted of film, teaching â€śand having kids listen. It wasnâ€™t so much physical. Sometimes you need a mental practice.â€ť
The beauty of conducting such basketball-centric sessions at this time of year is that thereâ€™s no need to keep an eye on the clock. Thereâ€™s no classes or study hall to attend, so if the Providence coaching staff wishes to go over what happened in the last game or the defensive or offensive philosophy of a future opponent, they have complete and total carte blanche.
â€śWeâ€™ve had longer basketball days,â€ť noted Henton. â€śWeâ€™ve practiced and come back later for a walkthrough and watched film. We have more time to prepare. Plus, youâ€™re thinking more about basketball more than anything else.â€ť
While no one will confuse PCâ€™s first two opponents following the exam break as bona fide NCAA Tournament contenders, itâ€™s worth noting that Cooleyâ€™s crew was able to hang 76 points and 94 points on Yale and Maine, respectively. In the six games that came directly before the 12-day idle stretch, the Friars scored 70 or more points just twice.
Itâ€™s clear that oiling his teamâ€™s offensive spokes was a point of emphasis for Cooley. With unlimited hours and minutes now at his disposal, there is no need to shortchange substance.
â€śCoach Cooley takes the break very seriously. We watch a lot of film and do extra workouts so we can get better as a team,â€ť pointed out PC senior walk-on Ted Bancroft. â€śWe usually practice in the morning and come back in the evening and watch film about something different.â€ť
Trading in academic pressure for a life completely devoted to roundball pressure also represents a prime chance to really assess the current state of the team and what can be done to enhance or augment the situation moving forward.
â€śRecently, our team hasnâ€™t been in sync and some of the games have been too close to call,â€ť said Providence senior Lee Goldsbrough. â€śYou can see in our team that we have so much talent that could prove useful once we start jelling together.â€ť
In the same breath, Goldsbrough said the opportunity to do just that is at hand. Starting with Saturdayâ€™s road date at UMass, the Friars will play a total of six games before the second semester officially commences. Rest assured that the time leading up to the third Tuesday in January will be spent productively and constructively.
Call it Basketball 101, the winter break version.
â€śWeâ€™ve got so many hours in the day to improve and hopefully become a lot better,â€ť Goldsbrough feels.
â€śIn October and November, we were focused on school, too,â€ť Henton said. â€śNow weâ€™re focused on straight-on ball.â€ť
The fates of Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin were decided Monday, and it was not good news for the PC freshmen. Neither will be allowed to play this season due to an unspecified violation of the collegeâ€™s Code of Conduct.
According to the statement issued by the school, Austin and Bullock will be allowed to practice with the Friars. The fact that both players were allowed to have regular contact with the team following their Nov. 6 suspension suggests that the transgression was not drastic enough to go through the legal system.
Judging, however, by the punishment meted out Monday, Providence officials felt that something serious enough took place on school grounds to merit a season-long suspension. The release came from PCâ€™s Office of Public Affairs, Community & Government Relations.
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