PROVIDENCE – They could have paraded out to center court at Alumni Hall Sunday night in the same Big East Championship t-shirts that were distributed to them the previous night at Madison Square Garden.
Instead, everyone associated with the Providence College men’s basketball program wore grey short-sleeve t-shirts that on the front features a poignant and simple battle cry – HEART & SOUL.
“This explains what the championship shows and how much of a bond we share and how far we’ve come,” remarked sophomore Tyler Harris while looking down at the bold black lettering. “That’s why we’re going to stick with wearing these shirts.”
Added senior Ted Bancroft, “We’re just trying to brand Providence and felt it was more important to focus on the NCAA Tournament. We won the Big East Championship, but that’s in the past.
“Without heart and soul, you can’t win games.”
The idea of the Friars believing and swearing by heart and soul first surfaced when the storm clouds that hovered over them were at their peak. Losing Kris Dunn to a season-ending injury, coupled with the suspensions doled out to freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, proved a perfect storm of negativity that eroded the promise and high hopes that were in place prior to Ed Cooley’s world getting turned upside down.
“The slogan was always there, but it really hit us more when we lost those guys,” Harris pointed out. “We had some ups and downs, but that’s why we had to come back to it.”
According to Bancroft, heart and soul morphed into a card-carrying focal point after PC fell at Georgetown on Feb. 10. The defeat to the Hoyas was the Friars’ third in a row. The next day at practice, Cooley handed out t-shirts that lent even more credence to what he was preaching.
“Coach had a box and told us we would be wearing these in practice,” recalled Harris. “We didn’t even wear our practice jerseys that day and we’ve been wearing them since.”
The head coach made sure to give proper credit to the design’s originators – staff members Mike Jackson and Kevin Kurbec.
“We wanted something that epitomized our team… where we were at that particular time and everything we went through,” Cooley remarked. “Everybody plays with heart, but when you put your soul into every ounce of your focus and being into winning, it tells an unbelievable story and we’re living it.”
Echoed Bancroft, “Playing with basically five guys, sometimes six… if you don’t have it all, you’ve got to play harder than the next guy because he’s going to have a sub in 10 minutes and you’re going to have to outwork both guys.”
The public unveiling of “HEART & SOUL” took place Feb. 15 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center against DePaul. On that Saturday afternoon, the Friars took the floor not in traditional warm-up shirts, but rather sporting a piece of clothing that screamed distinction.
Whether you lean more towards the coincidence side of the ledger as opposed to the superstitious side, you can’t argue with Providence’s results since upping the ante with heart and soul. The Friars have lost just twice in nine games since the aforementioned DePaul contest. Last Saturday night, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Cooley & Co. parlayed this driving force of a motto into a Big East championship and an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“Coach Cooley took it upon himself and brought it to the team that maybe we would go above and beyond, and it worked,” said Bancroft.
There are two versions of the “HEART & SOUL” shirts. The grey one with black lettering that was on full display during Selection Sunday is the home version. The black version adorned in silver letters is for away contests like the one that awaits PC later this week in San Antonio.
Sporting the “road” model at a neutral site is due to the No. 11 seed next to PC’s name, while North Carolina is the Eastern Regional’s sixth seed.
A number of “HEART & SOUL” shirts were made available on friars.com last Thursday morning prior to PC tangoing with St. John’s. The batch sold out in no time at all. Such quick triggers – or mouse clicks in this case – is yet another example of how this catchy saying has gone from a locker room secret to a bigger platform.
“Coach came in and said, ‘You’re not just playing for fun. You’re playing with your heart and soul and leaving it all out on the floor,’ ” said junior LaDontae Henton. “We bought into it and it made sense for us.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03