PROVIDENCE — Brice Kofane is a soft-spoken young man who last Sunday was given the chance to turn up the volume and ingratiate himself as a nice complimentary piece for Ed Cooley’s Friars.
With reserve big man Carson Desrosiers under the weather and quarantined in the visiting locker room at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, someone amongst Providence’s razor-thin reserve corps was going to have to step into the breach. The catch was that this warm and able body couldn’t go through the motions and act like a decoy. He had to register a pulse and produce.
Coming away with two points, one rebound, two blocks and one personal foul in 11 minutes may not seem like yeoman’s work. Those 11 minutes against the Bulldogs, however, represent a season high for Kofane. Opportunity knocked for the redshirt junior and he delivered in a fashion that could result in Cooley once again turning to him Friday night at Seton Hall.
“It felt great because I’ve been working hard and staying positive,” Kofane stated earlier this week. “I want my teammates to trust me when I’m on the court.”
“Just his overall energy ... he had an active body,” praised Cooley when asked to critique the full scope of Kofane’s efforts in Providence’s 87-81 victory. “He’s fresh and that’s a senior moment he had when his number was called. He delivered.”
Kofane has been something of a forgotten member for the Friars this season. Prior to Sunday’s breakthrough, the 6-foot-8 native of Cameroon was dubiously remembered for his basket-interference faux pas in the season opener against Boston College. Swiping at the ball while it danced around the cylinder, the sequence enabled the Eagles to tie the game at 70-all with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
Providence did regroup in overtime, posting an 82-78 win. Based purely on how Kofane’s fourth season in the program has turned out, it appears that he’s spent the last three-plus months trying to regain the trust and confidence of Cooley and the coaching staff.
Kofane did not see the floor in the game that followed PC surviving against Boston College. The DNP in the Nov. 13 contest against Brown marked the first of what to date has been a dozen times when he hasn’t budged off the bench. When Kofane has been given a chance, it’s been in a limited capacity – including Sunday’s action, he’s averaging 4.3 minutes per outing.
On the surface, it would seem minutes and opportunities would be readily available for Kofane, who averaged 15 minutes during his redshirt freshman year and 11.5 minutes as a sophomore. One cannot bring up the Friars without mentioning how limited they are personnel-wise and how much Cooley leans on his starting group along with a couple of reserves.
Through everything, Kofane has managed to keep a positive attitude and not sulk.
“I’ve just been focusing on getting strong workouts and not stress out about not playing all the time. It’s mostly in coach’s hands,” he said. “That’s life and you can’t be worried about it. I just have to make sure that I stay ready and play hard.”
Understanding the importance of displaying good practice habits, Kofane frequently squares off with the seven-foot Desrosiers in drills. The constant bumping and grinding has helped Desrosiers emerge as a defensive enforcer – he ranks second in the Big East in blocks (69).
“Being however tall he is, I just can’t make a post move,” said Desrosiers, who returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out the previous two days. “I’ve got to expect him to use his athletic ability to block shots so I’ve got to throw it up a little bit higher than I normally do.”
Added Cooley, “He’s been real good in practice the last month and it’s paid off for him.”
As PC’s sixth man in the Butler game, Kofane wasted little time in making his presence known. Checking in with the contest barely seven minutes old, he was quick on his feet during a pick-and-roll sequence and came away with a thunderous rejection that seemed to catch the Bulldogs’ Khyle Marshall by surprise.
There were several other watershed moments. On a kick-out pass to the perimeter, Kofane jumped out and was ready to switch on Butler guard Elijah Brown, but the pass sailed out of bounds. With less than nine minutes left in the first half, he tracked down an errant 3-point bid in the corner and quickly got the ball into the hands of Bryce Cotton.
The hustle play did not go unnoticed.
“He probably doesn’t,” Cooley quickly responded when questioned whether Kofane would have made such a play as recently as a month ago. “He’s playing with a sense of urgency.”
“That’s what you expect from someone who’s worked so hard,” Desrosiers added. “He produced and helped us get a much-needed road win.”
Kofane said he and the rest of his teammates found out that Desrosiers would miss Sunday’s game shortly before the 6 p.m. tip. He smiled when it was suggested that what he accomplished Sunday could very well serve as a jumping-off point.
“Hopefully coach will keep trusting me. That’s the only thing I want,” Kofane expressed.
Next Tuesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Kofane will join Cotton, Kadeem Batts, Lee Goldsbrough and Ted Bancroft in a pregame ceremony that pays tribute to the departing seniors. On track to graduate in May, Kofane does have one more year of eligibility remaining.
“That’s still up in the air right now,” said Cooley about whether Kofane returns for 2014-15. “We’ve got to talk at the end of the season.”
RIM RATTLERS: The Friars’ late-season push to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade takes them to New Jersey to face a Seton Hall team that’s on a two-game losing streak. The most recent defeat came Tuesday night at DePaul. The Pirates defeated the Friars in double overtime on New Year’s Eve. Taking a page from what he stated prior to facing Villanova a second time, Cooley stated that PC is in a much better state heading into Friday’s rematch against the Pirates. “We still had the Kris Dunn thing and the Brandon (Austin) and Rodney (Bullock) thing. We were still developing on how we wanted to play. Roles weren’t truly identified at that point. I just think we’re a different basketball team.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03