On Saturday the Friars will play their final tuneup before the season in an exhbition game against Rhode Island College at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Sitting on the opposing bench will be a familiar face around Friartown. Head coach Bob Walsh was a PC assistant under Tim Welsh from 1998-2005 before taking the head coaching job at Division III RIC.
Coach Walsh was kind enough to answer some questions over email about his program, Ed Cooley, and the upcoming game this weekend.
Friarblog: First off Coach, you spent 7 years as an assistant to Tim Welsh at Providence College. What were some of your best memories and experiences there?
Bob Walsh: The entire experience was fantastic. I grew up on the Big East, so coaching in some of the arenas I grew up watching was a great thrill. Winning in the Carrier Dome our first year was awesome. When we beat St. John’s in the Garden in 2004 to go to 20-5 and get up to 12th in the country, that was a great feeling. The Texas game at home was electric. Beating URI that first year for our first win was great. Getting a chance to coach the team against GW when Coach Welsh was ejected really gave me great confidence in seeing how I could connect with the kids and get them to react. Coach Mullaney sitting in my office to talk hoops during our first spring/summer there was a thrill. The 2 selection Sundays were awesome – you grow up watching that stuff on TV, and now you’re in it. Walking out of the SuperDome after our practice, before we played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time was terrific.
There were so many great memories, I could go on for a long time.
Friarblog: Any former Friars you still keep in touch with?
Bob Walsh: I stay in touch with a lot of them. I’m still very close with Donnie McGrath, John Linehan, Ryan Gomes, Herb Hill. They always stop by, get a workout in, or call when they are in the area. Kareem Hayletts was my assistant for 4 years, so he and I are very close. Tuukka Kotti and Chris Anrin stay in touch, as do Marcus Douthit and Sheiku Kabba. I see Corey Wright a lot around town, and Jamel Thomas when his in town.
Friarblog: When you left PC to take the job at RIC, the Friars had several poor seasons to close out Tim Welsh’s tenure at the school. Lots within Friartown point to the great scouting and recruiting you brought to the team. What do you think were some reasons those Friar teams faltered?
Bob Walsh: One thing you have to remember is another guy left the same time I did, and he wore #3. He was a lot more important than I was. I get a lot of compliments from PC fans about my time at the school and it feels good, it’s flattering. Why did some of those teams struggle? It’s very hard to say. As close as I was with the staff and Coach Welsh, I wasn’t there to know what was going on. From a basketball perspective – and this is all from the outside looking in – those teams didn’t seem to defend as well as some of our better teams. Our 2 NCAA Tournament teams were both pretty good defensively – the first one had Linehan with Shabbazz in the back line to clean up mistakes. The second team in 2004 played a lot of zone, was long and athletic, and had Marcus Douthit in the middle as a rim protector. We beat a lot of teams 62-56 that year. It just seemed like a lot of the guys they had after that were very offensive-minded — Sharaud, Weyimini, Geoff, Herb, Randall. And they never seemed to find another guy that was a great rim protector. For whatever reason, they just never seemed to click defensively. Like I said, it’s very hard to tell, that’s a perspective from the outside.
Friarblog: You and Coach Cooley go way back. In 2004 you met Cooley at a Mobil station on I-95 late at night to exchange game tapes to help each other prepare for the NCAA Tournament. What’s your relationship like with Cooley nowadays, and what differences do you see with program under him?
Bob Walsh: That picture is great. It was in the New York Times and I have a framed copy of it on the wall in my office right now at RIC. It looks like we were making a drug deal.
Cooley and I are great friends. He lived in Providence when he was working at BC, and he used to drive by Alumni Hall to get to 95 to head to Boston. So he’d stop in to the office to say hi every now and then, and we got to know each other really well. We’d see each other on the road, talk before games, help each other with scouting and tapes, stuff like that. He’s one of my closest friends in the business. We talk a lot, we visit each other’s practices, share strategy and ideas. He’s one of the nicest, most generous and most genuine people I’ve ever met. He’s always asking if there is anything he can do for me or my program. The thing about Ed is that the persona and charisma that you see is actually who he is — it’s not a facade he’s putting on because he’s the head coach at Providence and it will help his program. It’s genuine.
The biggest difference in the program is the culture. There is a culture of accountability under Cooley that the kids will thrive under, and they actually enjoy. That’s a great foundation to have, and they’ll be a consistent winner for a long time.
Friarblog: What was your relationship like with the previous coaching staff?
Bob Walsh: I got to know the previous coaching staff pretty well and we were friends, but I wouldn’t say I developed a close relationship with any of them. I helped out with their Team Camp the first year, because I had always gone back and helped Coach Welsh with that. I got to know Coach Davis and he was good to me — he’d let me come by practice, he’d hire some of our guys when they needed camp workers, that kind of stuff. I think they wanted to make a clear change from the previous regime, which I completely understand. We were friends on a professional basis, and when I see those guys — Rodell, Chris Davis, Keno — out at the Final Four or somewhere on the road, we always say hello and chat for a bit. I’m pretty close with Pat Skerry, and we stay in touch.
Friarblog: What’s the state of the Rhode Island College Basketball program right now?
Bob Walsh: We are one of only 5 programs in the country that have gone to 6 straight NCAA Tournaments. We are the only program in New England to do it, which is the toughest region in the country. We’ve played in 6 straight conference championship games and won 4 of them, and we’ve won 4 regular season championships as well. We’ve established ourselves as a championship program on a national level. We’ve set the bar very high, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’ve got GREAT kids, talented and bought in to the right culture.
As far as this year’s team, we lost 3 starters and 2 of them were multiple first-team all-league players. We’ve been able to regenerate every year after losing some very talented senior classes, and we are hoping to do so again this year. We are more inexperienced than I’d like to be at this point, as we only have 2 returning players that have played significant minutes. And we are very thin up front right now due to injuries and illness.
Friarblog: I’m a recruit. How do you sell your school and your program?
Bob Walsh: Come and watch us practice. See how our guys compete every day, the toughness they show, the confidence they play with. I’ll put what we do every day up against anyone in the country, at any level, to be quite honest. Then come during the off-season and spend a day with our guys, play in pick-up games with them. That’s a great way to really get to know them.
We don’t try and “sell” the school or the program. We put guys in a position to see what it is like to be a student-athlete at RIC and learn what our program is all about. We want them to learn as much as possible about the school and the program and make the best decision for themselves.
Friarblog: What are you hoping your players accomplish in the game on Saturday?
Bob Walsh: We prepare our guys to win. Our guys know when we put on the uniform, no matter who we play, the goal is to win. That is what we’ll be trying to accomplish. One of the great things about a game like this — and we’ve been lucky enough to play a D1 exhibition for the last 6 years and win 2 of them — is that it forces you to prepare at a high level from day one in practice. Our focus, effort, and intensity has to be at a high level every day because our guys are thinking about this game.
We should also learn a lot about our guys and our team. A game like this really speeds up the learning process. We did a great job guarding URI in the half-court the last 2 years, and that showed us that we could be really good defensively. You can take a lot away from a game like this.
I also hope our kids have a blast. We have a lot of fun with the way we prepare and the way we play. It will be great fun for our guys to play against a Big East school in their arena, downtown on a Saturday night on television. I hope it’s a night they’ll always remember.
Friarblog: Who should Friar fans look out for on your team this weekend?
Bob Walsh: The foundation of our program is how hard we compete. Our kids play very hard and play with a lot of toughness. We are pretty undersized right now so we’ll have to be very scrappy and tough. Our kids play together, share the ball. We’ll also play a lot of guys. We demand that our guys compete at a high level, so they are going to need some breaks. So you’ll probably see a lot of guys in and out.
Ed. note: Check out highlights from RIC winning the Little East Conference title in 2011.
Friarblog: Which Friar are you most concerned about matching up against?
Bob Walsh: There isn’t one guy that we are particularly concerned with. We have a lot of confidence in our team defense. I actually think we have some decent individual match-ups. We have some quickness and some athleticism. Our biggest problem is size. If we aren’t physical around the paint when the ball goes up on the glass, we’ll have a problem. So it’s matching up with the physicality of their big guys that is a big concern.
Friarblog: You’ve accomplished a lot in your time at RIC, and your name has frequently popped up when D-1 jobs are open. Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Bob Walsh: Hopefully coaching at a school that keeps basketball and athletics in the proper perspective, and cares more about the people than the wins and losses. That’s one of the things I loved about PC, and the same thing goes for RIC. We’ve had a lot of success with our program and the attention that brings is very flattering. I’m very confident that our culture and our program translates very well to any school at any level. Hopefully I’ll be coaching for a long time. If not I’ll be the most popular caddy at Newport Country Club.