PROVIDENCE — As much as Ed Cooley probably wishes he could sit back and enjoy the magic carpet ride his Providence Friars have ridden this month, he knows the importance of pressing forward. Reflections will come in due time.
The placing of the sneakers, shorts and basketballs in the closet may serve as the season’s final act, yet it also serves as the first steps taken toward laying the groundwork for next year. Along that train of thought, PC’s season-ending 79-77 heartbreaking loss to North Carolina was still being digested as Cooley spent his Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena, site of where future Friar and Fairfield Prep’s Paschal Chukwu played for the Connecticut LL state title.
The 7-foot-2 Chukwu is one of three new players Providence will welcome to campus. While plenty can happen between now and next November, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see Cooley start two of the incoming freshmen with the smart money on combo forward Ben Bentil and swingman Jalen Lindsay. Both are athletic and should enable Cooley to switch gears defensively and play more man-to-man as opposed to the zone that’s been more of a necessity due to depth issues.
Who Chukwu, Bentil and Lindsay end up meshing with bears watching. A good place to start is junior LaDontae Henton, who figures to take the leadership baton from Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts and make good use of it.
A tough, no-nonsense sort, Henton will hold his 2014-15 teammates accountable based on one simple reason alone: he knows what is needed to scale the mountain. Henton can also look forward to an even bigger role offensively, such a spike in shots perhaps enabling him to end his collegiate career with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“LaDontae was the first kid that we recruited to Providence College when we came and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Cooley during the Friars’ run to the Big East Championship.
The other two proven commodities in the Friars’ fold are Josh Fortune and Tyler Harris. Like Cotton, Batts and Henton, the aforementioned pair of returnees started all 35 of PC’s games this season. That may not prove to be the case next season.
Fortune was a tad under the weather Friday night in San Antonio, which may explain why he shot 1-of-5 from the field and missed all three of his three-point tries in 28 minutes. A catch-and-shoot performer, Fortune would be wise this summer to study up on how Cotton went from being strictly a long-range threat earlier in his Providence career to someone who can score at any spot on the floor.
Fortune tried to get by UNC’s Leslie McDonald on a couple of occasions, but to no avail. Understanding the importance of beating your guy off the bounce can only help the sophomore in his quest to take the next step.
In Harris, the Friars have a talented scorer who at times seemed lost on the defensive end. Cooley probably had to bite his lip a lot at the thought of repeatedly turning to Harris – one noticeable exception was the Feb. 4 home loss to St. John’s when the sophomore logged just 20 minutes – but what other choice did the coach have based on the six-man rotation Providence survived and eventually thrived with?
In short, scoring alone won’t be able to keep Harris on the floor moving forward.
PC fans should not get wedded to the idea of Cooley playing two seven-footers at the same time. Chukwu figures to need a season to get acclimated to the Big East wars, meaning Carson Desrosiers won’t have to worry about looking over his shoulder. Desrosiers should slide into the starting lineup based on his size and experience alone. With the bigger responsibility comes hopefully a little more scoring touch around the basket – the junior scored in double figures just once this season.
By all accounts, Junior Lomomba is viewed as a Marquette-type guard. His physical style was on display during practice this season while the sophomore sat out following a transfer from Cleveland State. Lomomba’s hard-nosed mindset could end up cutting into the minutes of Fortune and Harris.
Now comes the true wild-card portion of next year’s Friars.
Cooley said last month that he planned to sit down with Brice Kofane once the season was done. Kofane does have a season of eligibility remaining, but you may recall the redshirt junior was honored during the “Senior Night” festivities along with impending graduates Cotton, Batts, Lee Goldsbrough and Ted Bancroft. It would seem pretty tough to honor someone one year only to bring him back into the fold the following year.
Kris Dunn appears in good spirits nearly three months removed from undergoing surgery. The question that remains to be answered is whether the Friars will have the sophomore’s services at the start of the season or closer to the second-semester portion of the schedule, which seems more realistic. Dunn required five months of recovery time when he injured his shoulder the first time in 2012.
Regarding Rodney Bullock, Providence College administrators have their fingers crossed that the recent resurfacing of what Cooley dubbed “old news” in San Antonio doesn’t result in the freshman landing in even deeper hot water. Bullock has yet to be formally charged in an on-campus incident that took place last November, meaning that at this very moment, he should be viewed as a piece of the Friars’ future.
If everything shakes out accordingly, PC will have Henton, Fortune, Harris, Desrosiers, Lomomba, Bullock, Chukwu, Bentil and Lindsey in the fold at the onset of next season with Dunn entering the picture soon after. If those prove to be all the pieces at Cooley’s disposal – don’t rule out the possibility of additional recruits, specifically at point guard, for next year – it could translate into the Friars once again making noise.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03