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 PCâ€™s 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.
â€śHeâ€™s a great, humble kid and thatâ€™s what I can tell you,â€ť stated Thomas. â€śIt speaks volumes on how hard heâ€™s worked to get to where he is.â€ť
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 wasnâ€™t 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.
â€śRodney 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€ť 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).
â€śHeâ€™s just a kid whoâ€™s a late bloomer,â€ť added Thomas about Bullock. â€śHe will get through this and he will bloom.â€ť
Thomas didnâ€™t 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.
â€śI think it had some. He saw the levels that Josh had in terms of being able to play right away as a freshman. Thatâ€™s what (PC head coach Ed) Cooley gives these guys â€“ the ability to play in the Big East Conference right away,â€ť Thomas said. â€śRodney saw that and he just likes to play. I think he also saw that Cooley is a playerâ€™s coach who lets his players play.
â€śThe time he spent establishing a relationship with Josh, he would see Rodney play,â€ť Thomas added. â€śWhen (Cooley) came to recruit them, he basically meant what he says. Heâ€™s going to tell you that youâ€™re going to play. Josh didnâ€™t just play â€“ he played a lot. That intrigued Rodney and that proved to be the determining factor.â€ť
Switching gears, Thomas couldnâ€™t be any more proud of Fortune, who on Friday night started his 53rd contest at the collegiate level. Itâ€™s safe to say the Friars wouldnâ€™t be in the NCAA Tournament had Fortune not splashed in a career-best 24 points against St. Johnâ€™s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a performance that came on a day when Bryce Cotton missed nine of 10 shots.
â€śHeâ€™s 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 heâ€™s starting to come into his own,â€ť said Thomas. â€śJosh has a propensity to get hot because of his ability to shoot the ball. I just think heâ€™s learned from being around other good players such as Cotton.
â€śJosh is still pretty young. Heâ€™s not even 20, so he was a young (high school) graduate,â€ť Thomas delved further. â€śI think his best basketball is still in front of him. Iâ€™m very proud of him.â€ť
Another non-active Friar player on this trip is Kris Dunn. The sophomore is doing â€śa lot of rehabâ€ť on his injured shoulder and â€śhopefully I can get healthy for next year.â€ť
Dunn wore a practice jer- sey during Thursdayâ€™s 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.
â€śNothing crazy,â€ť said the product of Connecticutâ€™s New London High.
Asked what has stood out to him during Providenceâ€™s march to March Madness, Dunn said, â€śJust sticking together. All the adversity and everything we went through, weâ€™ve managed to come back and win games. Itâ€™s just a great experience for me to see all the hard that my teammates put in pay off.â€ť
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