PROVIDENCE – In his wildest dreams, Ed Cooley could probably not have imagined that he would have to deal with several criseis regarding player personnel on the eve of a new season for the Providence College Friars.
Instead of looking ahead to Friday’s showdown against Boston College, Cooley spent part of his Thursday answering questions regarding the Friars. When there’s this many issues regarding the health and availability of three Providence hoopsters in particular – sophomore Kris Dunn, along with freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock – any and or chatter about what kind of threat the Eagles pose automatically gets placed on the backburner.
“Either way, your whole program changes when you have suspensions and injuries,” Cooley stated while watching the Friars hoist up shots prior to Thursday’s practice session.
By now, the circumstances surrounding Dunn, Austin and Bullock have been well publicized. Dunn’s issue is a right shoulder injury that he suffered during the first half of last Saturday’s exhibition game against Rhode Island College. Austin and Bullock are in the same predicament after Cooley announced Wednesday that both players were suspended indefinitely for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.”
Dunn was seen Thursday afternoon following PC athletic trainer Bryn VanPatten just before practice inside Alumni Hall was shortly about to commence. Cooley didn’t exactly exude confidence regarding the health of his sophomore playmaker, but the head coach wasn’t prepared to rule Dunn out for the Friars’ season opener.
“Not good. He’s getting some rehab right now, so we’re going to see if he can practice today,” said Cooley shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday.
Cooley politely declined to talk about the findings from the MRI that Dunn underwent earlier in the week, citing issues of confidentiality.
“The thing is that we’re going to see how he does in practice,” said PC’s third-year head coach. “(Thursday) is a real big day for him.”
Asked if it’s better to declare Dunn out the night before the BC game or wait until gameday with the hope that his shoulder could take a turn for the better, Cooley responded, “Anytime you’re dealing with a player like that, it’s a game time decision. He’s too good of a player.”
As Cooley finished that sentence, he said that he had to go and observe Dunn, who was about to set foot on the floor. Named to the watch list for the 2014 Bob Cousy Award, Dunn missed the first nine games of his freshman season at PC after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in July 2012. It’s the same shoulder that is once again providing the player and the program with uneasiness.
“You just feel for the young man because it’s an unfortunate situation. You know he puts so much into the game, especially after last year,” said Craig Parker, who coached Dunn at New London High. “Hopefully this will still be a big year for Kris up at Providence.”
In Austin and Bullock, the two members of Providence’s freshman class were in practice gear Thursday, hoisting up shots just like the rest of their teammates.
“They are allowed to practice,” said Cooley.
Regarding whether Austin and Bullock will be allowed to sit on the bench Friday, Cooley said that such a decision will hinge based on a post-practice conversation.
“That’s still questionable and something not to air right now until my conversation with them after practice,” stated Cooley.
It was less than a week ago when the Friars featured no depth issues whatsoever. Now with Dunn severely questionable for Friday night and Austin and Bullock likely to also serve as spectators, Cooley and his assistant coaches find themselves in a position where they must get creative with the available bodies they have at their disposal.
“It’s going to be put to the test, for sure,” said Cooley when asked about the depth issues that couldn’t have surfaced at a more inopportune time. “If we have Dunn, it’ll be okay. If we don’t have him, and not having Brandon, it really puts us at a disadvantage, but we’ll keep working at what we need to do.”
Playing with a shorthanded deck as far as backcourt pieces go isn’t uncharted territory for Cooley and the Friars. Last year saw Vincent Council go down with a hamstring injury in the opening minutes of the first game. There were times when the pain in Bryce Cotton’s knees proved too much, while Dunn didn’t make his Providence debut until a week before Christmas.
Just like the early stages of last season, Josh Fortune and Ted Bancroft are expected to find their services in high demand. For now, the two guards will team up with a returning Big East First-Team performer in Cotton, who Cooley says “is ready to go” despite recent concerns about his surgically repaired knee.
“Josh will play a lot and Ted will play,” said Cooley.
Cooley’s disposition seemed to brighten when the focus shifted to his frontcourt, which save for Bullock, isn’t compounded by uncertainty. From a quartet of veterans who are familiar in terms of what to expect in Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, Lee Goldsbrough and Brice Kofane to a pair of promising newcomers in Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, PC figures to boast one of the best collection of big men in the entire Big East.
“Having depth up there as far as foul trouble really helps,” said Cooley. “We recruited backcourt depth, but now we have frontcourt depth.”
Even at a time when the walls appear to be rapidly closing, Cooley knows that pushing the panic button still remains a last resort.
“We’ve just got to see what happens,” he said. “You’ve got to hang in there.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03