"They told me, ‘Don’t go there. You’re not going to win there.’ Not only will we win here, not only do I believe we’re going to win here, but we’re going to win big."
Ed Cooley’s introductory press conference when he arrived at Providence College in 2011 set the tone for a new era of Friars Basketball. It also set expectations of success for a program that had been mired at the bottom of the massive 16-team Big East mega-conference of the day.
Cooley is a natural public speaker and there was a palpable energy in his audience that afternoon. It was, after all, a homecoming for the kid from Central High School, raised by a community effort as 1 of 9 children in South Providence. Cooley had parlayed his success as an assistant at Boston College and head coach at Fairfield University to become the first African American head coach of the Friars.
He talked about home, how much the region means to him, and his desire to field a team that would make the community proud. Most importantly, he talked about winning.
The promise carried over to the recruiting trail. Cooley had long been an ace in the sleeve of Al Skinner at Boston College and did wonders bringing talent to Fairfield from a national level. Now he had the weight of a power conference behind his pitch and the Friars saw results. They have landed six Top-100 recruits in his first 3 years and secured the commitments of big local stars, Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn. The Providence name was suddenly being tossed around with a caliber of players that they had previously been unable to attract. It seemed that kids were picking up on the enthusiasm that Cooley was bringing to the program.
Success followed on the court in a slow crescendo that culminated in the 2014 Big East Tournament title and a very game effort against North Carolina in March. However, a major storyline of the Cooley era to this point has been the inability of some of his star recruits to take the court for the Black and White. Ledo was sidelined by NCAA eligibility issues and never played a game for the Friars before declaring for the 2013 NBA Draft. Dunn has been hampered by injuries including a recurring shoulder problem that prompted second-guessing that he may have returned to action too soon. Brandon Austin was another top recruit that never played after he was involved in a sexual assault investigation last fall that led to year-long suspensions from the team and his eventual transfer. Friar fans had seen off-court trouble follow the previous regime and were hoping that Cooley could deliver on his promise of a team that would make the community proud. Bryce Cotton and remaining ’13-‘14 Friars became a shining example of that vision.
"If you believe it you’ll see it. If you see it you’ll do it. If you want to be a part of it go buy a season ticket."
Excitement for Friars Basketball is increasing in Rhode Island and the expectations that Cooley has set with his words and his results are high. There is a renewed sense of optimism among the Friar Faithful that the slimmed down Big East Conference will give PC a better chance to consistently compete. It was easy to get lost in the shuffle with the Louisville's, Syracuse's and UConn's of the world. A 10-team conference with small, like-minded non-football schools seems to harken back to the early days of the original Big East and offers the Friars a more level playing field. Cooley has been a breath of fresh air for a program that now has its sights set on competing year after year for the Big East crown and becoming a mainstay in March.
If you listened to Cooley on the day of his introduction, the new culture of Providence Friars Basketball wouldn’t be all that hard to believe.