I hope all of you had a Happy Thanksgiving, and as we move into the New Year in a few short weeks, how can we not have a lot to be thankful about when it comes to the Friars? A piece written by Mr. Friarblog himself really hit home for me, so I felt like I should have my own Thanksgiving themed version of the crunch to touch on some additional things Dave mentioned, and some original thought of my own, I hope. It will follow my set-up from last week, almost a little too closely at times, but its how I feel in regards to Cooley and his impact on the program and the players.
I know what I am thankful for! Ed “Freakin” Cooley!!!!! He stepped up this week and hit another home run for Friar fans, and has been doing it consistently since accepting the offer from the school in March of 2011.
Let us jump right in and starting Crunching my reasons to be thankful for Ed Cooley!
Scout ranks him as the 39th best recruit in the class 2013, ESPN ranks him 71st, and Rivals ranks him as 74th, but it is too hard to not be thankful for Brandon Austin. At 6’6, Brandon Austin has the athleticism and ability to give you significant minutes at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions, and there are not many players who you can feel comfortable doing that with.
Now, there is definitely speculation as to why Brandon Austin would be brought on and seems to have been promised a starting position by Coach Ed Cooley. It’s the question that will linger throughout Friartown for the next half year. Will Ricky Ledo be here next year? As I discussed two weeks ago, it seems as though they are going to push to get him eligibility for this season. If he gets it, he will play this year. If he doesn’t, he could leave and chase the money, and whether he plays or not, he won’t make it past May.
Worst case scenario, Ricardo Ledo walks and decides to go pro in Europe or here with the NBA. Isn’t it better to have the Brandon Austin contingency plan in place now? Brandon Austin is no Ricky Ledo, but Ricky is such a special talent no one could ever replace him on a roster, but having a kid like Austin is better than nothing. And maybe Ricky stays, and Ed Cooley finds a way to make it all work. You would have to consider PC to be one of the deepest, most talented teams in the country next season. So maybe it isn’t exactly a win/win if he leaves, but it could always be worse, right?
Also in the news this week on reasons to be thankful for Ed Cooley is the emergency of Bryce “Ice” Cotton as an emerging superstar in the Big East. Granted, he’s short, he’s only 6’0. Fine, but you can’t deny the numbers he continues to put up. On Friday night, with defenders bumping him at the line like linebackers, and getting away with holds and grabs all over the court until that last 8 minutes, no problem for Bryce. He only put up a cool, calm, and collected 21 points on 6/13 shooting, and how can you ignore that 30 points on 11/19 shooting against UNC-Asheville? Remember, Ice was considered a JUCO player before signing on to play under Keno Davis. His shot was flat as a freshman in the Keno Davis system. Insert Ed Cooley, who worked his magic to get Andre LaFleur in the mix. Did you know Ice is shooting 41.9% from 3 this year in five games? And do you know what he shot last year from distance? 37.9%. Despite being in a very foreign position, you can see the development of Bryce Cotton as not only a good person, but as an aggressive player. Game after game last year, Ed Cooley had to plead with Bryce to step up and take the semi-open shot because he had the ability to do it. He did not have to defer, but take his shot within the flow of the offense, and now we can all see the results!
And what about LaDontae Henton? Have I been hard on the kid? Perhaps. But it is only because we have to expect the best from him as a leader, and we have to be happy for Cooley and Simon to isolate him as a talent when he left his commitment from Dayton . Watching him grab those rebounds against UNC-Asheville and Fairfield , he brought them in with such fire and aggression, the slap of the ball against his palms brought me back to some of my favorite basketball noises as a child. The past few games he has looked better, in the fact that he is not forcing the ball as much. He is making better passes, taking better shots. In his past two games, he is shooting 55% from the floor, 40% from 3, and averaging 9 rebounds. I think people get too caught up in points per game, but in reality, it is all in the efficiency. If someone plays within the flow of the offense and the team is scoring, no one has to be “their shots.” You can see Cooley working these guys really hard to play their individual game to the best of their ability, and even with only seven players, he is not afraid to show some accountability. Isn’t that a beautiful thing to see? Mr. Davis let the guys do whatever they wanted, and look at how that turned out? LaDontae Henton will be fine, and he will be a consistent, solid player over the next four years.
How about some noise from the suits? Lost in all of this recruiting noise continues to be the fact that there are five former Top 150 recruits sitting on the bench. Granted, maybe Kris Dunn isn’t a suit, but it is still painful to see him sitting on the bench in warmups, unable to get out on the court and contribute for the Friars. Vincent Council is always there, and we have to be thankful for his quick recovery for his hamstring strain. Back on point though, a lot of people talked about their displeasure for Ed Cooley and maybe he couldn’t recruit “if they weren’t in his back yard.” Well he went to New York , he has gone to Philadelphia and to me, landing a Top 75 big man with only two years of eligibility can be more beneficial than getting some iffy prospect that might show some flash as a junior or senior. Ed Cooley answered the call and brought in transfers who could help this team immediately when they are able to become eligible, and how can we not be thankful for that?
Can we also be thankful that Ed Cooley believed in Kadeem Batts? Batts looked to be straight out of the Bilal Dixon School of Pouting, but he has turned into something else this year. He is not afraid to get physical, to scream, to get into the game. It’s almost like watching Ed Cooley out on the court. His 16.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds have turned him into such a force that he is constantly facing double teams. What better complement to a player than to see that? Granted, you don’t want to see it, but you have to give credit to both Kadeem and Coach Cooley for working hard on his game, to get it to the point where people do fear him. His 58.5% true shooting percentage ranks him 28th in the conference through this early portion of the schedule. Let’s hope he continues to work hard on his little baby hook, a real challenge to defend if shot properly.
Let’s not forget about Fortune, Goldsbrough, Kofane, and Bancroft? Before the season, they were the forgotten children. Josh Fortune was hardly ever mentioned in combination with Ledo and Dunn, Goldsbrough almost transferred out but he hung on by a thread, Kofane spent part of the summer in Cameroon and some hammered him for it, and Bancroft, no one even knew his name. But Coach Cooley believed in them when no one else didn’t, and now look at them? At times, Josh Fortune has one of the prettiest strokes I have ever seen. He doesn’t force too many shots, at least now that he has gotten into the flow of the offense. He took 8 shots against UNC-Asheville and 7 shots against Fairfield , connecting on 46.7% of those. After that 1/10 debacle against NJIT, Coach Cooley and his staff have really helped Fortune become a viable part of the offense without needing to stand on the wing.
And Lee? He has scored 21 points this season. In his prior two seasons combined, he had scored 28 points. Lee is 75% of the way to his combined point totals of his freshman and sophomore seasons, and that is 6 games in. You can tell that Cooley has gone through a similar process with Goldsbrough that he did with Cotton, to take the shot when given, and to show some fight and tenacity when out on the court.
Mr. Kofane has seen a similar transformation. Not exactly a wiz-kid on offense, he has hit more jumpers this year, and is not afraid to catch the ball, and he is shooting 77.8% from the floor this season. He is not going to light you up, but if he can hit the layups and dunks when given, you still need that. You can see noticeable improvements in many aspects of his game, from the shot to the fouls. Last year he averaged 2.9 fouls in 15 minutes of action. This season he is averaging 3 fouls in 21.7 minutes per game. Hopefully he will continue to improve in those aspects as PC heads towards Big East play, and Ed Cooley can keep preaching toughness and position when it comes to Brice.
“White Lightning” Ted Bancroft is another great story. A kid who came to PC to be a student, Ed Cooley taught him to buy into his system, and feel comfortable enough to play him big minutes in key games when needed.
When you look out over the landscape and uncertainty of college basketball as it pertains to Providence College , it is still gratifying as a fan to know that we have a leader as capable and competent as Ed Cooley to have the program moving in the right direction and to be able to get the job done the right way. He never makes excuses, but he expects the best from every player every time they step out on the court, whether Vincent Council or Ted Bancroft, which is probably my favorite attribute about him. If a player has a bad game, he tells it how it is. He doesn’t make excuses like “He is playing out of position,” or “They were too good for us.” If a player has a role, even if it’s new, he wants it done the right way.
As Providence continues their climb towards relevancy in the Big East, no matter who is in the conference, they have to be afraid of Ed Cooley. Let’s just hope that Coach finally catches some breaks from the NCAA and gets some pleasant surprises in the not so distant future. That is what I think we have to be thankful for today in Friartown!