PROVIDENCE – There are times that Ed Cooley must feel like he’s being pulled in a thousand directions.
On one hand, Cooley is trying to build a program befitting of his workmanlike image. In order to accomplish that, the first-year PC head coach needs players that compliment this ideal. Based on the buzz surrounding one of the nation’s most talked about recruiting classes, Cooley has allowed Friar fans to dream big about what the future may hold.
Such visions were only heightened this past weekend with area appearances by Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn, two still-in-high-school prospects, who figure to serve as the front-and-center lynchpins in Cooley’s master plan of making Providence more than just a footnote amidst college basketball’s landscape.
While it’s easy to get caught up with what potentially lies ahead, there’s one important detail that sometimes seems to get lost in the wash – the 2011-12 season is still going on for Cooley and the Friars with more chapters still to be written. Sunday’s 87-84 overtime loss to West Virginia jettisoned PC to the bottom of the Big East standings, Providence’s not-so-flattering 2-9 mark serving as a stern reminder of just how much of an eye-opener this season has been for Cooley.
“It’s been a real big learning process for me,” was Cooley’s response when asked about the challenge of striking the right balance between coaching this year’s Friars while pounding the recruiting pavement at the first available opportunity.
Getting into specifics of juggling this group of Friars, who save for freshman LaDontae Henton, were brought to PC by the previous coaching staff, Cooley stated, “Players have habits. Some are awful. Some are good while others are great. At the end of the day, I think some of the habits have gotten the best of us.”
Without getting into specifics, Cooley could have easily been referring to Kadeem Batts sitting out the entire first semester, or not playing Vincent Council due to what the coach called “an accountability issue” in the Jan. 14 game against Syracuse. Despite the bumps in the road that have crept up along the way, Cooley has seen the Friars take significant steps forward, citing Providence’s performance in October’s exhibition game against Assumption College as a jumping off point.
“After that game, I thought we could win one game on the year. I don’t kid you not,” said Cooley, wearing a dead serious look on his face. “So for us to be standing here a couple of months later and I see us getting better and see individual guys improving, I’m proud of our progress.
“I see our team gelling at the right time,” Cooley delved further. “People might not see that in our win column, but when you play in this league and you’re somewhat shorthanded in ways, our growth has been phenomenal.”
In the same breath, Cooley stressed that the tough times the Friars have endured along the Big East trail have forced him to recalibrate his expectations. “I’ve had to be patient with the process of rebuilding. I’m such a competitor; I want it and I want it now as far as positive results in wins. Change (as far as the culture) is what I have to be positive about.”
With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the question of whether the Friars can scratch out a few wins is one that at best remains open ended. Asked if he feels deep down that Providence can take a step forward by season’s end, Cooley replied, “I hope so. We’re working toward it.”
Leaving no stone unturned
Cooley and his staff made sure to do their homework when researching new Friar addition Sidiki Johnson, who transferred to the school last week after parting ways with Arizona in early December. With someone as well traveled as Johnson was during his high school years, enrolling at four schools in three years in three different states, the PC coaches certainly weren’t lacking in places to soliciate opinions and/or gather feedback from.
“Our assistant coaches watched a lot of film of throughout the years and talked to a lot of his coaches,” Cooley said. “With all the work we did, we thought that he’s definitely someone we want in our program.”
Cooley expects Johnson to benefit greatly from the downtime that’s in store for the Bronx, N.Y. native until next December, when he becomes eligible. “He’ll learn to be a student, learn to be a teammate, learn what Providence College is all about and appreciate the opportunity.”
The addition of the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Johnson “is a little bit of weight off our shoulders” as it relates to addressing Providence’s pressing frontcourt needs with Cooley adding “we’re still looking for help.”
Monroe’s Sanchez taking his time
Providence continues to remain very much in the running for the services of Monroe (N.Y.) College sophomore Orlando Sanchez, a 6-9-multifasceted talent who’s also being courted by several additional Big East schools. Reached over the weekend, Mustangs head coach Jeff Brustad stated that the Friars “have done an excellent job in terms of being visible and interacting with him when they come to games. Orlando definitely knows who they are and I would say (PC) would have to be in his top five. PC has the need for some frontcourt help so it may be a good fit.”
Regarded in several circles as the nation’s top JUCO big man, Sanchez came to Monroe in 2010 through a recommendation Brustad received from a basketball contact in the Dominican Republic. His first season stateside saw him pull down nearly 12 rebounds and block 4.2 shots, numbers that Brustad noted opened the door to a recruiting rumble that hasn’t cooled off this season.
While it’s easy to look at those numbers and envision Sanchez as someone who can anchor the interior, Brustad notes that there’s more to his game. “He’s a stretch four (power forward) who’s a high level athlete and can run the floor very, very well. He can shoot and is extremely mobile. He’s a well rounded player but can rebound and block shots very well.”
The Monroe coach said that Sanchez could probably make a decision now, but given his lack of familiarity with the U.S., Brustad believes that it behooves his player to hold off until after the season. Cincinnati, West Virginia, St. John’s and Mississippi State have also expressed strong interest.
“It was in his best interest to not give out his number and not deal with any official visits like that,” Brustad said. “We’ll save that for the end of March and beginning of April.”
Brustad added that Providence has also shown interest in another one of his players in 6-8 freshman Maurice Ndour via Senegal. “Everyone who’s come to see Orlando also likes Maurice.”