PROVIDENCE — Earlier this week, Bob Walsh took in a Providence College practice at Alumni Hall.
What did the Rhode Island College head coach glean in advance of Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. exhibition tilt between the Friars and the Anchormen at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center?
“They’re much deeper as far as talent goes, and they have a lot of offensive weapons,” said Walsh when reached Friday. “The guys that the Friars have added – Brandon Austin, Carson Desrosiers, Tyler Harris – they’re all long.
“You talk about guys who have proven they can score at the highest level in (Bryce) Cotton, (LaDontae) Henton and (Kadeem) Batts, then you throw in someone like Austin who is a natural scorer and Kris Dunn, who is a much better playmaker than he showed last year,” Walsh delved further. “They can hurt you all over the place.”
As daunting as the task of taking a Division III superpower – RIC has appeared in seven straight NCAA Tournaments – into a building to face a Big East squad may appear, Walsh made it quite clear that the underdog Anchormen are not going to roll over and serve as mere cannon fodder for the Friars.
“We’re trying to win it. That’s the way we approach every game we play. Try and get better today so we can win our next game,” Walsh expressed. “I’m proud of the mentality that our guys have developed, which is that we’re going to put the uniforms on and prepare to win the game.”
Without breaking stride, Walsh talked about the long-term benefits that can be reaped when stepping up to the bar to face a high-level opponent. It also matters very little that Saturday’s game comes with an “exhibition” disclaimer.
“The great thing about playing a game like this is that it forces you to prepare at a high level early in the season. You’re thinking, ‘What can we do to play against a Big East team?’” Walsh said. “Our guys are excited about the challenge.”
This marks the second straight year that PC and RIC have engaged in a preseason tune-up. Last November, the Anchormen took a 25-24 lead into halftime before the Friars lit up the scoreboard for 52 second-half points en route to a comfortable 76-52 final.
As usual, Walsh’s team features an injection of area talent. Pawtucket native Nyheem Sanders is a senior and figures to have a greater workload to shoulder in his second year with the RIC program. Listed as a 6-foot-1 guard, Sanders led the Anchormen in scoring last year with an 11.4 points-per-game average.
“I’ve talked to Nyheem a bunch and told him that you never want to feel like you’re over the hump, around the corner or that you’ve made it. You need to understand that it’s a daily process,” Walsh stated. “He’s doing really well as far as taking on a leadership role where as last year at this time, he had never even played for us. He has the kind of personality where kids respond to him and has been more vocal as far as taking control of this team, which I think Nyheem is more comfortable doing so.”
Sophomore Mike Neal is another one of Walsh’s disciples who has displayed a strong desire to set the tone with his actions. A 6-6 center, Neal graduated from Shea High in 2012 and is coming off a strong first season at RIC, one that saw him start 23 games and named to the Little East Conference’s All-Rookie Team.
“I’ve had a couple of coaches at practice, Division I assistants and high school coaches, who have said that they want to put Mike in their car and take him home. They loved the way he practices and how hard he competes and how vocal he is,” said Walsh.
A member of St. Raphael’s 2011 state championship outfit, Jazz Robinson recently returned to practice after straining a knee ligament early in the preseason. Robinson appeared in 12 games as a freshman for Rhode Island College.
“He’s helped us. We have 18 guys on our roster, and 11 of them are new to the program,” Walsh pointed out. “Jazz gives you another guy who knows what he’s supposed to be doing. With all the new guys, he’s talking them through our defense and where they should be. He’s an athletic kid who’s also smart and tough. When he gets in the flow a little bit, there’s a chance he can help us.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03