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Friars insist Austin/Bullock saga won’t be a distraction, set sights on duel vs. North Carolina

March 19, 2014

Tyler Harris (right) and his Providence College teammates will take on North Carolina in Friday night's NCAA Tournament opener in San Antonio. FILE PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

SAN ANTONIO — Just when everything appeared set regarding the saga involving Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, the one-time hot topic has been thrust back into the spotlight.

The timing of the news that the Providence police are looking into a complaint of sexual assault against one freshman that left the Providence College basketball program (Austin) and another who is still a Friar (Bullock) seems a tad curious. PC is here preparing for its first NCAA Tournament contest in a decade.

Instead of focusing solely on the challenges North Carolina presents on the hardwood, head coach Ed Cooley and athletic director Bob Driscoll fielded questions Wednesday afternoon about something that Cooley dubbed “old news.”

“It’s been a long period of time, so the fact that it’s come back up now is a bit of a surprise,” said Driscoll shortly after PC’s traveling party pulled up to its hotel. “The college did the due diligence based on their own evaluation of it and I think we’re comfortable where we’re at.”

It will be interesting to see what develops when Cooley and his players deal with the national media throng prior to practicing at the AT&T Center Thursday afternoon. To a man, neither Cooley nor Driscoll are feeling the heat in reference to this new revelation allegedly involving Austin and Bullock.

“We have faced adversity all year and this is just another bump. It’s old news and we’re going to move on from there,” said Cooley. “I don’t think it’s going to bother our guys at all.”

“It’s a distraction to Ed because he has to answer questions, but I think for the student-athletes, they’ve already dealt with these issues through the entire year,” Driscoll expressed. “They’ve worked hard to get to this particular point and deserve to be here. They are going to focus on being as competitive as they can be and they’ve been that way.”

Bullock was on the Wednesday morning flight to Texas. He and Austin were officially suspended from game competition two days beforeChristmas. The first course of disciplinary action took place on Nov. 5 when PC officials suspended the two first-year players, for at the time, was deemed, “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.”

Cooley allowed Austin and Bullock to return to their respective homes prior to Providence’s Dec. 21 home game against Maine. At the time, the belief was that both would return to campus on Christmas night. Bullock came back, while Austin remained in Philadelphia.

On Jan. 4, while the Friars were in Philadelphia preparing for a game the following day against Villanova, Austin announced he was leaving. He has since enrolled at Oregon. The Ducks are preparing for their own NCAA Tournament opener, set for Thursday against BYU.

Driscoll said that nary a passing thought was given to leaving Bullock back at Providence.

“Nothing has changed. Rodney has done everything that he’s been required to do based on the sanctions that were put on him,” the AD responded. “He’s been a good student, good in the classroom and good in practice.”

***

The Friars planned to hit the ground running following a five-plus hour flight to the home of The Alamo. After checking in, the busy schedule included gathering for a team meeting, then busing over to the San Antonio Spurs’ practice facility before taking part in a walk-through at the hotel.

Asked if the gameplan to curb the Tar Heels had been finalized, Cooley answered, “Not at all. We’re a little bit more familiar, but it won’t be done until Thursday night.”

While there appears plenty of places to scope out in San Antonio, the players are viewing this experience as just another road trip to an opponent’s city.

“As far as I know, nobody is really worried about going sightseeing,” said senior Bryce Cotton. “(Texas) is a wonderful state, but at the end of the day, we know what we’re going out there for.”

A year ago, Providence’s season ended in Waco, Texas in the National Invitational Tournament quarterfinals against Baylor. Granted, the stakes are significantly higher this time around, though is there a part of Cotton that is chomping at the bit to redeem past hoop shortcomings?

“It’s cool that we’re back there, but we just want to keep pressing this ride as long as we can,” he said.p
***

There are quite a few members in PC’s travel party who have brushed up against the March Madness crush.
As an assistant to Al Skinner at Boston College, Cooley advanced five times to the NCAAs. Cooley’s top assistant, Andre LaFleur, went to the tournament in all four of his playing years at Northeastern before later serving as an assistant under Jim Calhoun when UConn captured two national championships (2004 and 2011).

Brian Blaney is another Friar assistant coach who’s been dancing. An assistant at George Washington in the late ’90s, he went to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years. Fellow staff member and Smithfield native Kevin Kurbec was a graduate assistant coach at PC the last time the Friars were NCAA participants in 2004.

Prior to coming to Providence, Mike Jackson, the coordinator of basketball relations, was an assistant on six teams that were NCAA qualifiers – two at Detroit, two at Michigan, one at Dayton, and one at Purdue.

There is a current Friar player who has set foot on the big stage. Prior to transferring to PC, Tyler Harris experienced a “Sweet 16” ride during his freshman year at N.C. State. The lanky sophomore totaled seven minutes and three rebounds in the Wolfpack’s season-ending defeat to Kansas.

Of course, no conversation of current Friar connections to the sport’s most glamorous spectacle is complete without mentioning God Shammgod. The current undergrad assistant coach was on the last PC squad to win a game in the NCAA Tournament (1997 in the “Elite Eight” round against Tennessee-Chattanooga).

“I haven’t been there as a head coach, but I’ll draw back from my experiences as an assistant,” Cooley stated. “I thought the stage we just left was pretty big [while capturing the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden,] so we’ll draw on that experience and just stay with who we are and what has gotten us to this point.

“‘Sham’ will have some good insight for us, but at the same time, I’ve been in these games,” Cooley added. “Sham can give insight from a player’s perspective and I can give it from a coaching perspective.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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