Rick Pitino, sage that he is, shared this little anecdote at last month’s Big East media day – one that illustrates the waves new Providence College head coach Ed Cooley is making on the recruiting trail.
“He’s already attracting … he beat us out on a player recruiting-wise,” said Pitino point blank, his eyes lighting up as if they were filled with fire. “I would have said, when it got to Providence and us [Louisville], he would have had no shot in getting this player, but Ed got him. So he’s already made an impact.”
The player who caught Pitino’s fancy but alas slipped through his clutches is Kris Dunn. Officially, the much-touted point guard is a Friar. So too are fellow backcourt threats Ricky Ledo and Josh Fortune. Together they form the most talented recruiting haul that a Providence College coaching staff has assembled in quite a number of years, perhaps ever.
Forget for a second where the pundits are ranking this particular PC class. Thursday’s on-campus announcement by Cooley, publicizing that he had received signed letters of intent from all of the key commitments of the aforementioned Class of 2012, was all the evidence required in affirming that he and his assistant coaches had pulled off a major coup.
“(Cooley) has high level, Big East talent coming into the program,” wrote ESPN.com senior basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep in an email.
The conference room inside the Concannon Fitness Center was jam-packed with those wishing to hear Cooley for time first time talk about Ledo, Dunn and Fortune publicly. Certainly it’s a major step forward from how recruiting classes were announced in past years (standard press release rounded out with a blanket statement from the head coach).
To Cooley, the theme behind Thursday’s get-together was about spreading the word regarding the steak and sizzle that has come to define his first recruiting class at Providence.
“I think it’s important to share this with everyone and not just ourselves,” Cooley said following the pomp and circumstance. “An alumnus just texted me from Florida after watching online. That’s pretty good because if we’re in Florida, we can spread our brand, which is what it’s about.”
For years it’s been the same tired refrain: PC lacks the talent necessary to win games against the upper echelon of the Big East. You can debate that forever but the truth is that at tip-off time, Providence has been at a major disadvantage in far too many games. Just ask Tim Welsh and Keno Davis, the two coaches who preceded Cooley. Part of the reason why both received their walking papers is because they simply didn’t win enough games, which is reflective of their recruiting efforts.
“I’d rather have a Jim or Joe than be a great X or O,” said Cooley, touching upon a recruiting slogan.
Why then was Cooley able to produce more No. 1 hits a la The Beatles in a much shorter period than Welsh and Davis did in their combined tenures? For starters, Cooley wasn’t about to let the train wreck of a program he was inheriting impede him. Hit the ground running and stay on top of the targeted players became the motto. This is where having good assistants comes in handy, hence why Cooley made sure to have Andre LaFleur, Bob Simon and Brian Blaney seated directly to his left Thursday.
Ultimately though, the onus falls on Cooley to secure guys like Ledo, Dunn and Fortune. To strike a cord with a recruit these days means more than showing up at AAU games and the coach coming over to have supper with the family. In Cooley’s case, his ability to connect with each player on such a deep, personal level allowed the head coach to push beyond the boundaries in terms of luring blue chippers to Providence.
With Ledo, Cooley’s pitch to the big-time scorer was straight to the point – hometown kid hooping it up for his hometown team. “Ricky wanted to be a Friar. He’s from Providence and he wanted to stay in town,” is what Cooley told the crowd. “Hopefully he can score a lot of baskets for us.”
In the same breath, Cooley added that he will help Ledo “make sure he gets to class on time,” a remark that yielded a hearty laugh from the room.
Dunn, a New London native, is a point guard that Cooley had his sights set on dating back to his time coaching at Fairfield. Dunn’s future coach dubbed him, “the best point guard in the country. We need a general and now we have one.” Also, “he’s the type of guy I would want my daughter to marry.”
Fortune, the so-called “sleeper” of the trio, was offered a scholarship by the previous PC coaching staff, but Cooley was able to take what was already in place up a notch. Fortune’s high school coach, Ivan Thomas, has a connection with the Searight family, the same Providence-based family that played a significant role in raising Cooley.
Cooley spoke about how Providence College is not a difficult sell, a belief that strikes down the very thought that coaching the Friars is one of the toughest jobs in the Big East. The more you listen, the more you believe he’s right and that the stigmas that for so long dragged this program down are nothing more than mere copouts.
“Playing for the best college in the country, the arena, the league, the chance to play right away and turn the program around, this is what we sold,” Cooley said
“The hardest thing to do is create recruiting momentum at a place that is trying to compete at the highest level but hasn’t been there in a while,” wrote Telep. “Cooley is a grinder and he wouldn’t take no for an answer with this class.”
Perhaps Pitino can save his coaching contemporaries the trouble and spread the word that Providence no longer plans to be a bit player on the recruiting trail. Cooley was able to make a bold statement by securing the type of players that are usually foreign to PC during the signing period.
Just another example of how Ed Cooley is changing the culture at Providence.