Ed Cooley does not believe in spackling.
He does not believe in base coats, but does love seeing his players in overcoats before games. Coach Cooley wants his bigs to wear down the paint that has killed the Friars over the past few seasons. He wants coat after coat of solid paint play from his bigs.
A lot has been said thus far of the no nonsense attitude and persona that Cooley has instilled at Providence. He has said time and time again that he needs each player to buy into his system. One player that hasn’t seemed to find the funds necessary to buy into the Cooley way has been Bilal Dixon.
Bilal is only averaging 13.5 minutes per game in his third season for the Friars, he averaged 19.9 last season and 24.6 the year before that. Dixon only played 18 minutes combined in the Friars first two conference games, St. John’s and Georgetown, and did not get off the pine against top ranked Syracuse.
Entering their fourth game of the early Big East season, the Friars were about to face Seton Hall and arguably one of the premier bigs in the league in Herb Pope. Whether it was something he showed in practice between games or something he asked Cooley to let him prove, Bilal played 21 key minutes for the Friars as they battled tooth and nail with the Hall. Dixon was 4-4 from the field with 6 blocks and 4 boards. He showed that tenacity and fire he has shown in his first few years wearing that Providence uniform.
Before the season, I got the chance to talk with Bilal about the upcoming season and his role on the Friars under Ed Cooley. He seemed as excited as ever to be able to play for a defensive minded head coach that had worked wonders with big men at Boston College and Fairfield. He got a room of students, mostly freshman and sophomores, to buy into Friar Basketball with his message and use of some strong words.
Last season I sported a #55 jersey in honor of Ray Hall. This season I went along with the “big” jersey as I started to wear a #42 Friar uniform for Bilal. As I stood and watched Bilal seats away from the assistant coaches during non-conference play, I saw someone who looked to steal Coach Cooley’s white towel and toss it onto the court for a foul attitude, instead of foul play.
For those that have met Ed Cooley in person, you know the type of respect he commands from his players and those affiliated with Providence Basketball. Against Seton Hall, Bilal showed him the respect he deserved with solid play down low and more than anyone could have asked for on the offensive end.
With (15) Louisville coming to the Dunk after some poor shooting nights, Ed Cooley had to know Rick Pitino would try and bang the boards with Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, he needed Bilal to be “Big ‘Lal” as he had shown against Seton Hall.
Dixon did not disappoint his head coach as he played 29 minutes en route to a Friar rout. He had only 5 points and 5 boards but the number of altered shots he caused for a plethora of Cardinal’s. I have never seen a Friar opponent look so rattled around the rim like Louisville looked for the majority of the time Bilal was on the floor. His sturdy frame and ability to stay down on a number of shot fakes allowed Bilal to cause a few headaches that ultimately turned into to a brutal migraine for Pitino and the Louisville staff.
A big reason for the recent play of Dixon is the emergence of Kadeem Batts. After sitting out for the first semester, Kadeem is starting to come into his own for Cooley and the Friars. Batts had a career night against Louisville going 9-13 from the floor in 36 minutes good for 27 points and 10 rebounds. Kadeem is getting a lot of his offense from 15 feet away as opposed to Bilal who anchors the paint. Batts and Dixon had a few hockey assists each last night, as their confidence level was a Tebow-esque mile high.
With Coleman’s availability in question for the Friars next game at the Carrier Dome, Dixon and Batts must play bigger than ever against one of the top front lines in the country. If each can give Cooley 25-30 solid minutes against Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas, it will speak volumes of the job Cooley and the staff has done with their big men.
If the Friars want to have more nights like last this season in the Big East, they must skip spackling and get straight to coating that area with solid paint play from their bigs, most importantly Bilal Dixon and Kadeem Batts.