The Providence Friars have become a constant fixture in the NCAA Tournament. Ed Cooley has taken a program that hadn’t been to the Big Dance since 2004 to a school-record four straight NCAA Tournaments. He also has a roster that is poised for a fifth consecutive appearance in 2017-18, though college basketball betting odds offered by sportsbooks don’t appear too highly on the Friars’ chances of actually winning the whole damn thing. That’s where recruiting comes in.
Earlier this month the Friars got a commitment from South Carolina forward Jimmy Nichols, who committed to the Friars on a local television station. Nichols joins North Carolina native Kris Monroe and Massachusetts guard AJ Reeves. Reeves is currently the crown jewel of the class and the Brimmer & May senior was the first 2018 player to commit to Cooley and Providence. Cooley has called this 2018 recruiting class “the most important since I’ve been at Providence.” The focus is now on Providence native David Duke and Baltimore shooter Noah Locke. Locke recently officially visited Providence and finishes his fifth and final official when he heads to Florida the final weekend in September. Duke has set official visits to Florida this upcoming weekend, followed by Virginia Tech the next weekend and then Villanova the first weekend in October. While no visit was set with Providence, the Friars remain in good shape to keep the former Classical HS and current Cushing Academy guard home.
Looking beyond the last two open scholarships in 2018 and taking a more macro approach to this current recruiting class, it’s clear that Cooley and staff have placed so much emphasis on keeping the ball rolling with talent so that this current NCAA Tournament streak either doesn’t end or a new one can begin quickly should they falter.
Since Providence has four seniors that will be graduating this season, the pitch has largely been about selling prospects on the potential for early playing time. The playing time pitch has obviously worked, but I would contend that Providence’s raised profile via the NCAA Tournament apperances and having Kris Dunn drafted 5th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft are also helping out Cooley on the recruiting trail.
Cooley has often talked about the importance of culture and building a culture. “Culture Matters” has been on the t-shirts that the players have worn the last couple years. Culture is often though of as an off-court proposition. But Cooley has always said winning on the court is part of that recipe for establishing a culture. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is a common practice among Providence fans who have been beaten and battered by prior Friar teams and their fits and starts. Cooley has largely done away with that mentality by winning and winning big, as he said would be the case during his introductory press conference. The key to keeping that momentum going is recruiting.
On a recent podcast interview, Cooley said “if you’re not recruiting, you’re not breathing and if you’re not breathing you’re not living.” For the Friars to get to the next level — defined by not just making the NCAA Tournament, but making noise in the NCAA Tournament — they will need to keep the spigot of talented recruits wide open. Cooley’s staff has shown they can develop players once they are at Providence, but getting players a little further along on the development scale or with more sheer talent to mold will be what allows Providence to make a run at a Final Four.
Despite returning everyone from a team that finished the 2016-17 regular season strongly to surprise all the pundits by finishing 4th in the Big East standings last season the 2017-18 Friars aren’t considered “top tier” of the Big East. Why? Answers to that query range from “they got lucky to face certain teams while missing players due to injury” to “the Friars don’t have a go-to player”.
Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock would likely disagree with both sentiments, but the reality is that they came to Providence as relatively unheralded recruits — though Bullock made some appearances on Top 100 lists as a sophomore. Cartwright was ranked 299th in the Class of 2014 by 247Sports Composite National Ranking and Bullock was 188th coming out of Kecoughtan HS in 2013. It’s a credit to those two that they are top players in the Big East, but for Providence to truly keep winning and ultimately win big it will have to be with Top 50-100 players making the developmental leaps that guys like Cartwright and Bullock have in their time in Friartown.
Guys like Monroe and Nichols appear to be in the mold of the underrated Providence commit. Reeves, and for that matter 2017 Top 40 point guard Makai Ashton-Langford and Top 80 big man Nate Watson, represent that next level. Providence needs to stockpile more top end talent like Reeves and Duke and Locke and MAL and Watson while continuing to develop players like Dajour Dickens and Monroe and Nichols. That’s the recipe for Providence to take the next step on the national stage and winning is the not-so-secret ingredient that has gotten them to this point.
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