PROVIDENCE — 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 “four or five times.”
What were the impressions Cooley gathered as he studied individual tendencies and Providence’s style of play under ex-head coach Keno Davis? Let’s just say the new PC coach realized he has his work cut out for him.
“Truthfully I didn’t like what I saw. We have a long way to go, a long, long way to go,” said Cooley Friday prior to the Friars holding their first full practice of the 2011-12 season. “The first thing that came to me was that I didn’t think we played as a group and you can take everything else from there. If you don’t play as a group or if you don’t trust one another, you’re not going to win.”
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.
“Since I was hired March 23 I feel like I’ve done everything except spend time with our players,” said Cooley. “There were necessary things to do like recruit, which is first and foremost, and get out in the community. I feel I’ve done enough of each. I haven’t done enough of what I came here to do, and that’s to coach the game and help these kids get better on the floor.”
If the old axiom that basketball players are made in the summertime is correct, then it was clear, judging by Friday’s lively and spirited practice session, that Cooley’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 wasn’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.
“The first day we got back – Sept. 6 – we ran on the turf (field that overlooks the Concannon Fitness Center),” said the sophomore guard. “That was a killer but he got us in shape. We’re all in shape right now.”
Then there’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.
“Nobody wants to be on his bad side. We’re all trying not to be perfect but go hard,” Coleman said. “There’s no substitute for hard work. One thing about Coach Cooley is that he doesn’t want anyone to be scared or timid out there. You have to fail in order to succeed, but you’ve got to play your game.”
“We have to believe in him (Cooley),” said Council, a junior. “All the changes that have happened, he’s making them in order to be a better team.”
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 night’s men’s hockey game at Schneider Arena.
“I think it’s a work in progress,” Cooley said what he hopes to accomplish over the next several weeks. “I don’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.”
Added Coleman: “This is a real crucial time for us. We’ve got a scrimmage in two weeks, so I think this time is going to be very important.”
The Big East preseason coaches’ 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.
“I don’t think you run from it,” Cooley said. “This is the reality of what people think of you and I think you use it as motivation. That’s somebody’s opinion so now we have to do something about it.”