PC sophomore Josh Fortune (4). PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
SAN ANTONIO â In a perfect world, Ivan Thomas would have watched two of his former players take the court for Providence College Friday night.
Instead, when Thomas tuned in to see the Friars square off against North Carolina, he saw just one of his ex-Kecoughtan (Va.) High School pupils in action.
As usual, Josh Fortune was in PCâs starting lineup while fellow Kecoughtan alumnus Rodney Bullock continued to serve his season-long suspension. Unlike Thursday when the Friars held a light workout at the AT&T Center, Providence elected to bring Bullock to the arena. Dressed in a sharp blue suit, the freshman forward sat on the bench Friday.
Why the Friars are playing things close to the vest regarding Bullock stems from the pre-NCAA Tournament news that the Providence police are looking into a claim of sexual assault made by a PC female student. The matter was believed to be resolved when the college ruled back in December that neither Bullock nor fellow first-year player Brandon Austin would be allowed to play in games this season.
Reached Friday afternoon, the head coach of Kecoughtan boysâ basketball said he holds Bullock in the highest regard. Such a compliment stems from Thomas knowing Bullock since the PC player was a 13-year-old.
âHeâs a great, humble kid and thatâs what I can tell you,â stated Thomas. âIt speaks volumes on how hard heâs worked to get to where he is.â
Thomas admitted that he did not cross paths with Bullock when the latter returned to his Hampton, Va. home during the Christmas break. That said, the coach wasnât surprised to learn that Bullock elected to return to Providence rather than follow the route of Austin, who left and transferred to the University of Oregon.
âRodney grew up an area that was known for basketball and played in one of the toughest conferences in the country. He ended being the third all-time leading scorer in this conference,â noted Thomas about the Peninsula District, a league that besides producing two future Friars also served as a training ground for current freshmen Anthony Barber (N.C. State) and Troy Williams (Indiana).
âHeâs just a kid whoâs a late bloomer,â added Thomas about Bullock. âHe will get through this and he will bloom.â
Thomas didnât discount the presence of Fortune in help- ing to keep Bullock in the Friarsâ fold. Fortune graduated from Kecoughtan in 2012 with Bullock following suit a year later.
âI think it had some. He saw the levels that Josh had in terms of being able to play right away as a freshman. Thatâs what (PC head coach Ed) Cooley gives these guys â the ability to play in the Big East Conference right away,â Thomas said. âRodney saw that and he just likes to play. I think he also saw that Cooley is a playerâs coach who lets his players play.
âThe time he spent establishing a relationship with Josh, he would see Rodney play,â Thomas added. âWhen (Cooley) came to recruit them, he basically meant what he says. Heâs going to tell you that youâre going to play. Josh didnât just play â he played a lot. That intrigued Rodney and that proved to be the determining factor.â
Switching gears, Thomas couldnât be any more proud of Fortune, who on Friday night started his 53rd contest at the collegiate level. Itâs safe to say the Friars wouldnât be in the NCAA Tournament had Fortune not splashed in a career-best 24 points against St. Johnâs in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a performance that came on a day when Bryce Cotton missed nine of 10 shots.
âHeâs playing well and I think coach Cooley has done a great job developing him. The opportunity and the abili- ty has to match and I just heâs starting to come into his own,â said Thomas. âJosh has a propensity to get hot because of his ability to shoot the ball. I just think heâs learned from being around other good players such as Cotton.
âJosh is still pretty young. Heâs not even 20, so he was a young (high school) graduate,â Thomas delved further. âI think his best basketball is still in front of him. Iâm very proud of him.â
Another non-active Friar player on this trip is Kris Dunn. The sophomore is doing âa lot of rehabâ on his injured shoulder and âhopefully I can get healthy for next year.â
Dunn wore a practice jer- sey during Thursdayâs open practice at the San Antonio Spursâ venue. At this juncture of the rehab process â he underwent surgery shortly after Christmas â Dunn is limited to the basics such as dribbling the ball.
âNothing crazy,â said the product of Connecticutâs New London High.
Asked what has stood out to him during Providenceâs march to March Madness, Dunn said, âJust sticking together. All the adversity and everything we went through, weâve managed to come back and win games. Itâs just a great experience for me to see all the hard that my teammates put in pay off.â
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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