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New England region fertile for Friars to recruit

March 24, 2011

Bilal Dixon, a sophomore for the Friars, applauds with other teammates as new head coach Ed Cooley is introduced at Alumni Hall.

PROVIDENCE — As he wrapped up his first press conference as Providence College’s new basketball coach, Ed Cooley was asked about his first order of business.

“Recruit, recruit, recruit,” was Cooley’s quick-to-the-point response.

You can’t win in college basketball if you don’t have the players; that’s why recruiting is of the utmost importance. Being able to unearth talent and develop it has proven to save coaches from getting fired and place programs in a position of strength. Kids want to attend schools that are “on the map,” ones that are always on TV and have Dick Vitale howling to the moon about them. Once the wins start piling up, it simplifies a coach’s life in relation to attracting high-end talent.

At Providence recruiting takes on a different twist. Prior coaches often bemoaned that this region was not a hot bed for talent, but that couldn’t be more incorrect. New England is covered with talented high and prep schools, from St. Andrew’s in Barrington to New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy and everything in between. There are enough options so close that why on earth would a college coach want to get on a plane and check out some prospect in Texas or Michigan?

There’s simply no need for that, not when there exists plenty of blue chippers right under a school like Providence’s nose.

“There’s plenty of Big East talent nearby that you don’t have to go into the alleged hot beds of basketball,” said St. Andrew’s head coach Mike Hart, who over the years has regularly sent many of his players to Division I schools. “There are tons of kids in New England.”

Al Simoes, an assistant coach at Brewster Academy and graduate of Pawtucket West (now Shea High), concurs with Hart.

“College budgets are what they are, but if you go to one of those New England prep school tournaments, there are many great players right there,” said Simoes. “I realize that you have to compete with other schools around the country, but last year alone we had 16 kids actively playing Division I college basketball, and 11 of them were in the NCAA Tournament. You can understand why recruiters spend the time they do with us.”

The only two Friars from the 2010-11 squad who jumped from a N.E. school were freshmen Gerard Coleman (New Hampshire’s Tilton Academy) and Ron Giplaye (Notre Dame Prep, where Ricky Ledo is currently hooping it up). Fellow frosh Kadeem Batts is a native of Boston, yet he ended up attending high school in Georgia.

Friar fans have cringed in recent years after watching natives Rakim Sanders, Joe Mazzulla, Mike Marra and Alex Murphy flee the state and take their skill sets elsewhere. The list also includes Woonsocket’s Tyrone Nared, currently with Oregon. To further illustrate this point is to see someone like St. Andrew’s Michael Carter-Williams sign with Syracuse or Nadir Tharpe, a point guard at Brewster that Simos mentioned PC was hot for, depart for Kansas.

All of the above are good enough players to suit up for Providence. All of them played high school ball within vicinity of the campus. None of them ended up coming for varying reasons. The last players Brewster and St. Andrew’s respectively steered Providence’s way was Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale. That was over six years ago.

In the past three years the National Prep Championship was captured by three different New England schools: Tilton (2009), Brewster (2010) and St. Thomas More (2011). The only Friar to emerge from those net-cutting teams was Coleman. That speaks volumes of how Keno Davis went about selecting players, which was look everywhere else except in PC’s backyard.

The good news is that Cooley is a native New Englander who has a history of dealing with the likes of St. Andrew’s and Brewster Academy. Chances are if there’s a standout player based in the northeast, Cooley will be right there making sure he knows about Providence College.

“There’s recruiting and there’s evaluating. We evaluate a kid and if we feel that he can help our program, then we’re going to recruit him,” said Cooley. “I might not be the best coach in the world, but I know how to recruit.”

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