SAN ANTONIO – 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 PC’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 boys’ 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.
“He’s a great, humble kid and that’s what I can tell you,” stated Thomas. “It speaks volumes on how hard he’s worked to get to where he is.”
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 wasn’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.
“Rodney 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,” 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).
“He’s just a kid who’s a late bloomer,” added Thomas about Bullock. “He will get through this and he will bloom.”
Thomas didn’t discount the presence of Fortune in help- ing to keep Bullock in the Friars’ fold. Fortune graduated from Kecoughtan in 2012 with Bullock following suit a year later.
“I think it had some. He saw the levels that Josh had in terms of being able to play right away as a freshman. That’s what (PC head coach Ed) Cooley gives these guys – the ability to play in the Big East Conference right away,” Thomas said. “Rodney saw that and he just likes to play. I think he also saw that Cooley is a player’s coach who lets his players play.
“The time he spent establishing a relationship with Josh, he would see Rodney play,” Thomas added. “When (Cooley) came to recruit them, he basically meant what he says. He’s going to tell you that you’re going to play. Josh didn’t just play – he played a lot. That intrigued Rodney and that proved to be the determining factor.”
Switching gears, Thomas couldn’t be any more proud of Fortune, who on Friday night started his 53rd contest at the collegiate level. It’s safe to say the Friars wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament had Fortune not splashed in a career-best 24 points against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a performance that came on a day when Bryce Cotton missed nine of 10 shots.
“He’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 he’s starting to come into his own,” said Thomas. “Josh has a propensity to get hot because of his ability to shoot the ball. I just think he’s learned from being around other good players such as Cotton.
“Josh is still pretty young. He’s not even 20, so he was a young (high school) graduate,” Thomas delved further. “I think his best basketball is still in front of him. I’m very proud of him.”
Another non-active Friar player on this trip is Kris Dunn. The sophomore is doing “a lot of rehab” on his injured shoulder and “hopefully I can get healthy for next year.”
Dunn wore a practice jer- sey during Thursday’s open practice at the San Antonio Spurs’ venue. At this juncture of the rehab process – he underwent surgery shortly after Christmas – Dunn is limited to the basics such as dribbling the ball.
“Nothing crazy,” said the product of Connecticut’s New London High.
Asked what has stood out to him during Providence’s march to March Madness, Dunn said, “Just sticking together. All the adversity and everything we went through, we’ve managed to come back and win games. It’s just a great experience for me to see all the hard that my teammates put in pay off.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03