Bryce Cotton had cemented a legacy at Providence College that will remain forever. His competitiveness and his will to win made the Dunkin Donuts Center rowdier and more exciting than it has been in over a decade. Cotton has had an unbelievable college career and he has overcome a lot of challenges along the way.
Bryce started at point guard at Palo Verde High School in Tuscon, Arizona, where he did exceptionally well, averaging 24 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Although he had a lot of success at the high school level, Cotton didn't receive a D-1 scholarship by the end of his senior year, which one would imagine that he was insulted by not being recruited by The University of Arizona, considering the campus is located a few miles away from his home). It was not until a Providence assistant saw a tape of a dunk contest featuring high school All-American Jahii Carson that Cotton was noticed.
Although Bryce has a lot of skills, one of his most important assets is his athleticism. He was 6-feet tall (probably in shoes) and was able to pull off dunks that were simply jaw dropping. He was planning on attending Tuscon Community College, but Providence offered him a full scholarship to play basketball in a conference that at the time was considered the best conference in the country. I think it was a clear and easy decision for Bryce to make, and no one could have imagined the impact he would have on the program.
His freshman year was an indication of what Bryce could be able to accomplish. He averaged over 16 minutes for Providence, but it must have been a difficult transition from playing in a local high school game in Tucson, to playing against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome with players who had been heavily recruited since they were 14.
Providence fans were tired of being at the bottom of the Big East standings, and it was time for the program to have a change. The Friars brought in Ed Cooley, the former head coach of the Fairfield Stags and an assistant at Boston College. The change in the program was immediate and Bryce had an infinitely better season with Ed as the head coach. He went from averaging four points a game to fourteen, and started every game the Friars had that season.
Bryce also seemed very confident from the perimeter and was able to shoot 38.0 percent from the 3-point line. Ed Cooley was able to sign two high school All Americans in Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn and the Friars were positioned to have a very successful 2012-13 season. About two months before the start of the season, the NCAA suspended Ricardo indefinitely because he was ruled academically ineligible. This was a big blow to the Friars and someone needed to step up. Bryce would become the face of the program and would help Providence return to the college spotlight. It was apparent from the beginning of the season that Bryce's ball handling skills had improved dramatically. He was able to drive and get to the hole against anyone and any team in the Big East.
Bryce looked like a poor man's Allen Iverson and he would make incredible floaters and layups that made scouts wonder if he could make it in the NBA -- not bad for someone who was barely able to play Division 1 basketball.
Bryce was able to lead the Friars to victory against several Top 25 teams including Notre Dame and Cincinnati. Bryce also hit a buzzer beater to win a game against Villanova at their home court. Providence made it all the way to the quarterfinals of the NIT where they lost to a very talented Baylor Bears team.
The Big East was going to change drastically the fallowing season and Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pitt were going to the ACC. Connecticut, Louisville, and South Florida where going to play in the new American Athletic Conference and the change was going to allow Providence to compete competitively with the best in the conference.
With four returning starters and the addition of transfers Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, the Friars where in good position to have a fantastic 2013-14 season. Bryce worked all summer with former NBA player and Providence assistant coach God Shammgod and was looking to have an unbelievable season. The season started with the Friars playing against Boston College at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The "Dunk," as Providence fans call it, was rowdier and louder than anyone anticipated, which led to a fantastic game with Bryce single handily wining the game for Providence in the second half.
That type of win against BC would become a common theme throughout the entire season for the Friars. Kris Dunn re-injured his shoulder at a tournament in St. Thomas and Bryce would have to take over as the starting point guard. He went the rest of the season doing everything offensively for the Friars. He scored 23 points against Kentucky and was able to take over the last five minutes of every game he played. He led the nation in minutes played and the Big East in assists with 6.0 per game. He was the second leading scorer behind Doug McDermott in the conference with 22 points per game.
With an opportunity to go to the NCCA tournament for the first time since 2004, the Friars needed to at least beat St. Johns in the Big East Tournament. St. John's had a talented team and a record identical to Friars and this would make or break Bryce's legacy he would leave at Providence. Bryce did not have his best game but his teammates stepped up and the Friars came out with a victory that got them extremely close to the NCAA Tournament.
Bryce led the team past Seton Hall and the Friars would play against Creighton for the Big East Championship. Creighton had just destroyed Providence in last week of the regular season on Doug McDermott's senior night in Omaha, Nebraska. The championship game would be the deciding factor if the Friars would make it to the NCAA Tournament. With one win, Bryce could seal his career at Providence with their first Big East Tournament Championship since 1994. Bryce had a fantastic game with 23 points and led the Friars to the Promised Land.
He had been named the tournament MVP and Bryce looked like he had won a national championship. Now he could relax and wait to see who Providence would play in the NCAA tournament. The Friars traveled to San Antonio to play North Carolina in the first round and Bryce responded with the best game of his college career. Bryce was making plays that no else could make and had a career high in points with NBA scouts in attendance against one of the best basketball programs in the country. Bryce finished with 36 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds.
The head coach of North Carolina, Roy William, said, "Bryce Cotton played one of the best games I've ever seen anybody play against us. My whole thought defensively was what could we do to stop him? He was truly dominating the game."
Sadly, the Friars lost 79-77 and Bryce's career was over. Although they lost, Bryce had the best game of his season against a fantastic team and that one game would certainly help him sign with an NBA team. Bryce finished his four years at Providence with one of the best careers in the program's history and brought Providence back to the national spotlight.
When the NBA draft came along, I was reading the scouting reports on Bryce and any Friar fan could tell they did not watch a lot of his games. One of things scouts said was that Bryce was a score first point guard, but didn't he lead the big east in assists? Scouts also questioned his athleticism, but didn't that dunk contest video get him a scholarship to Providence in the first place?
Bryce didn't get drafted but he's now on the San Antonio Spurs roster. He is in a great position to learn from a great point guard in Tony Parker and the Spurs made another great pick up in getting the most underrated college player in the country.