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PROVIDENCE â€” To get a better feel of the Providence College players he was inheriting, Ed Cooley made it a point to watch every Friar game from last season â€śfour or five times.â€ť
What were the impressions Cooley gathered as he studied individual tendencies and Providenceâ€™s style of play under ex-head coach Keno Davis? Letâ€™s just say the new PC coach realized he has his work cut out for him.
â€śTruthfully I didnâ€™t like what I saw. We have a long way to go, a long, long way to go,â€ť said Cooley Friday prior to the Friars holding their first full practice of the 2011-12 season. â€śThe first thing that came to me was that I didnâ€™t think we played as a group and you can take everything else from there. If you donâ€™t play as a group or if you donâ€™t trust one another, youâ€™re not going to win.â€ť
Because he was hired in March, Cooley had virtually no time to work out his players last spring because of NCAA rules. He was restricted from doing any coaching again when many of the players were on campus for summer classes.
To Cooley, Friday felt like Christmas morning.
â€śSince I was hired March 23 I feel like Iâ€™ve done everything except spend time with our players,â€ť said Cooley. â€śThere were necessary things to do like recruit, which is first and foremost, and get out in the community. I feel Iâ€™ve done enough of each. I havenâ€™t done enough of what I came here to do, and thatâ€™s to coach the game and help these kids get better on the floor.â€ť
If the old axiom that basketball players are made in the summertime is correct, then it was clear, judging by Fridayâ€™s lively and spirited practice session, that Cooleyâ€™s message came across loud and clear. As an example, the Friar players were a conversing bunch during full-court three-man weave drills, lending support and encouragement as teammates whizzed past Cooley, who was standing at midcourt.
That pulling-for-the-next-guy mentality became even more apparent when Cooley used a tennis ball to direct the Friars. Whether the cue was to move side-to-side or leap towards the Alumni Hall ceiling, players would look around to make sure everyone was keeping up with what Cooley was signaling.
That wasnâ€™t the only noticeable sign that the Friars under Cooley are moving in a new direction. Several Friar players were noticeably leaner, no doubt the result of grueling workouts such as the one Gerard Coleman described.
â€śThe first day we got back â€“ Sept. 6 â€“ we ran on the turf (field that overlooks the Concannon Fitness Center),â€ť said the sophomore guard. â€śThat was a killer but he got us in shape. Weâ€™re all in shape right now.â€ť
Then thereâ€™s the players getting used to how Cooley conducts business on-the-court. As the portion of the practice in which the media was allowed to view unfolded, Cooley would blow his whistle to address the finer points of what he expects. Whether it was a freshman or a veteran like Vincent Council, the coach stressed the importance of practicing at full speed with doses of criticism and/or sarcasm mixed in.
â€śNobody wants to be on his bad side. Weâ€™re all trying not to be perfect but go hard,â€ť Coleman said. â€śThereâ€™s no substitute for hard work. One thing about Coach Cooley is that he doesnâ€™t want anyone to be scared or timid out there. You have to fail in order to succeed, but youâ€™ve got to play your game.â€ť
â€śWe have to believe in him (Cooley),â€ť said Council, a junior. â€śAll the changes that have happened, heâ€™s making them in order to be a better team.â€ť
Cooley stressed the importance of the team quickly getting on the same page, given the regular season is a little more than a month away (PC opens up Nov. 12 at The Dunk vs. Farleigh Dickenson). One of those chemistry-building exercises took part prior to the Late Night Madness festivities as the Friars took in last nightâ€™s menâ€™s hockey game at Schneider Arena.
â€śI think itâ€™s a work in progress,â€ť Cooley said what he hopes to accomplish over the next several weeks. â€śI donâ€™t know how these guys are going to act under pressure to the way I coach, so for the first couple of weeks, you have to step back and realize that what may work today may not work tomorrow.â€ť
Added Coleman: â€śThis is a real crucial time for us. Weâ€™ve got a scrimmage in two weeks, so I think this time is going to be very important.â€ť
The Big East preseason coachesâ€™ poll will be released next Wednesday, and judging by the college basketball preview magazines already on newsstands, the Friars figure to be picked to finish towards the bottom of the 16-team conference.
â€śI donâ€™t think you run from it,â€ť Cooley said. â€śThis is the reality of what people think of you and I think you use it as motivation. Thatâ€™s somebodyâ€™s opinion so now we have to do something about it.â€ť