PROVIDENCE — One of the two suspended freshmen is back on Providence College’s campus. Forward Rodney “Rajay” Bullock was a full-fledged participant at Friday’s practice and will be part of the traveling party when the Friars head to Amherst to tango with nationally-ranked UMass on Saturday night.
The other suspended frosh, guard Brandon Austin, remains at his Philadelphia home. Both first-year Friars were granted permission to return home prior to the Dec. 21 game against Maine with Cooley stating then that their report date back to school would coincide with the rest of players, which was Christmas night.
Fast forward to Friday with Cooley mentioning that he’s been in contact with Austin, who like Bullock learned this past Monday that the pair’s semester-long suspensions from game competition would become a season’s worth of basketball inactivity. The sentence stems from an undisclosed on-campus incident that was deemed a serious enough breech of student conduct to warrant a hefty suspension.
“I’ve given him a couple of days to be home with his parents and his people and give him an opportunity to debrief,” Cooley said when asked about Austin’s whereabouts. “Hopefully he’s back in the next day or two.”
Lonnie Lowry, who coached Austin on the AAU circuit in conjunction with Team Philly, mentioned that he has touched base with his former player since Austin returned to the City of Brotherly Love for the holidays.
“He’s good,” said Lowry about Austin when reached on the phone Friday. “He’s figuring everything out and just taking a little time with his family, that’s all. He’s a pretty good kid.”
Asked if he has a sense that Austin’s next move will be a return to Providence, Lowry said, “I’m hoping so. He’s focused on getting past this and getting back on the court. The kid just wants to play basketball.”
While Bullock will be allowed to join his Friar teammates in the Mullins Center locker room, the season-long practice of him not sitting on the bench during games stays in effect. Cooley expects the trend to remain in place the rest of the campaign.
There will be no Terrell Vinson for Providence to contend with Saturday – you may recall that Vinson sank the Friars with a buzzer-beating shot that enabled the Minutemen to snatch a 77-75 victory at last year’s Puerto Rico Tip Off. Friar fans may also remember that Cooley only had six scholarship players available plus walk-on Ted Bancroft against Massachusetts.
While this year’s UMass squad returned plenty of key pieces from last year, there’s a different aura surrounding head coach Derek Kellogg’s crew, and not just because the Minutemen stormed out of the gates to the tune of 10 straight wins before losing for the first time.
“I like them more this year than I did last year. They have more chemistry in having a couple of fifth-year seniors and an interior presence,” Cooley noted. “They’re definitely more team based.”
If the Friars are looking to gauge where they stand with Big East play right around the corner, they could do no worse than facing the Minutemen, presently ranked 23rd in the latest AP Top 25 poll, 22nd in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and second in the RPI rankings. Senior point guard Chaz Williams is one of five UMass players to average double figures in points in addition to handing out the third-most assists in Division I (7.5 per game).
“More under control and knows what he wants to do more,” said Cooley when asked what has stood out when watching Williams on film this year. “We’ve got our hands full with him.”
Cady Lalanne is another UMass player who figures to test Providence, particularly down low. A 6-foot-10 junior, Lalanne is averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds and just a hair under three blocks. As a team, the Minutemen are scoring 81 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting.
“Tempo is everything. When you play UMass, you want to take advantage when they gamble and play bad defense,” said Cooley. “You don’t need quick shots to create tempo for them.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03