PROVIDENCE — There’s no need for Lee Goldsbrough to conceal his true emotions. For the first time in his Providence College tenure, basketball is fun.
Go ahead, Mr. Goldsbrough, affirm how your Friar fortunes have dramatically changed for the better. To emerge off the bench after patiently waiting your turn for seemingly forever and become a player who head coach Ed Cooley is resolute in promoting qualifies as a sharp turn of events. The four-game winning streak PC carries into its final sojourn to Syracuse’s Carrier Dome on Wednesday night may as well be crystallized as the long-awaited coming-out party that Goldsbrough has yearned for since first setting foot on campus back in 2010.
Finally, it’s Goldsbrough’s time to shine, and the junior hailing from Newcastle, England isn’t letting this chance slip through the cracks on the hardwood. Sitting in the Alumni Hall stands earlier in the week, the well-built and intuitive 6-foot-9 forward touched upon how timing in life is everything, i.e. how the nice little niche he’s been able to carve out dovetails with the most optimistic stretch of Big East play the Providence program has witnessed in several years.
“It’s just been fantastic. The past few games where I’ve been able to play more and actually contribute, you feel more a part of the team,” remarked Goldsbrough with a twinkle in his eye. “Especially being able to get the wins has made everything so much more enjoyable.”
Added Cooley, “I think Lee’s aura is growing by the day.”
Such a declaration certainly has merit and can be traced to the opportunity that landed in Goldsbrough’s lap earlier this month. The voluntary leave of absence taken by sophomore forward Sidiki Johnson created a void in the frontcourt that needed mending fast. Up until the Feb. 3 game at Villanova, the Friars had played nine conference games with Goldsbrough racking up three DNPs.
His options short, Cooley simply informed Goldsbrough that his role would expand. To a degree, his place on this year’s Providence squad mimics the several reboots and remakes that have transpired. When Johnson became eligible a week before Christmas, Goldsbrough found himself in a familiar position of inactivity while watching the game from the sidelines with his warmups fastened tight. Sporadic playing time came to define his first two Friar seasons, which saw him total 260 minutes.
“It was definitely a tough couple of years, not really knowing what position I was in,” reflected Goldsbrough. “I was always on the bench, so it was frustrating.”
After starting eight of the first nine games of this season, Goldsbrough had to wonder if the steady stream of minutes he received early on – he was averaging just under 21 minutes per contest prior to PC breaking for exams – finally meant he was discharged from the uncertainty and had an established role within Cooley’s rotation. With Johnson fresh on the scene, minutes would prove scarce once again.
“It was about being patient and saying in the back of my mind, ‘It’s going to happen for me,’” Goldsbrough said. “The main thing is that you’ve got to trust your coach to do the right thing. I know it was a little frustrating. Sometimes you get down, but at the end of the day, it’s all for the Friars. You’ve just got to sit there and cheer your teammates, and when your time comes, you’ve just got to pull all your effort into it.”
In a 12-game stretch that commenced Dec. 18 and ran up until PC’s Super Bowl Sunday triumph at Villanova, Goldsbrough logged a combined 40 minutes. Just when the well-spoken 21-year-old appeared to suffer a relapse within Friar circles, redemption arrived.
Asked what Cooley’s message was to him following Johnson’s decision to step aside, Goldsbrough said, “(Cooley) came up to me and said thanks for being patient, but now you’re going to get your turn. He told me to go out there and go as hard as I can and do the best I can.”
“Wally Pipp,” smiled Cooley, comparing Goldsbrough’s rebirth to the New York Yankee who lost his spot to some famous ballplayer named Lou Gehrig. “Opportunity knocked and Lee’s running through the door and taking advantage of it.”
Cooley’s expectations of Goldsbrough are akin to what’s asked of a player branded as a hard-hat, lunch-pail type. Not straying from the comfort zone that’s been prescribed has allowed the player to flourish within the team context. Goldsbrough’s list of responsibilities include defensive mandates such as fighting for rebounds, being alert on ball screens, and sacrificing his body whenever an out-of-control player approaches the area close to the rim.
“Coach Cooley is into hustle plays, it’s something he preaches all the time,” Goldsbrough said. “I’m just a role player really. Just doing my job, it’s so much more satisfying, especially with the results we’ve been getting.”
“He’s not out there trying to do something he can’t do,” Cooley remarked. “This is an example of coaches identifying roles, and hopefully, those kids buy into them.”
An observant Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd has taken a fond interest in Goldsbrough. During last Saturday’s 71-54 thrashing of nationally ranked Notre Dame, chants of “Lee!” vibrated off the building’s walls every time Goldsbrough performed an act that was deemed worthy of a salute from the fans.
“Definitely the fans are a big help, especially when you get on a roll. (Their encouragement) motivates us to push even further and further,” Goldsbrough said. “Sometimes I hear them, but you’re really focused on the game as well.”
Goldsbrough had no trouble hearing the adulation that was showered upon him after netting a straightaway 3-pointer as the first-half buzzer sounded against the Irish. Not knowing how much time remained until Vincent Council implored him to shoot, Goldsbrough let fly a high-arching shot that proved pure poetry and had the Friars thinking about finishing off their opponent upon returning to the floor for the second half.
Goldsbough admits that Saturday’s timely make only fuels his desire to cross what is the last hurdle on his roundball agenda. Every time he receives a pass, the ball is usually in someone else’s hands in mere seconds. He admits that the day will come when such passivity will cease.
“I would love to do that,” said Goldsbrough on whether he sees himself becoming more of an offensive contributor. “I think as my confidence goes up with more playing time, when I get the ball, I’ll be able to look and see if I have any chances.”
At long last, Goldsbrough – who credits following the lifting regimen given to him by Providence strength and conditioning coach Ken White prior to returning “across the pond” last summer, along with the countless pickup games he participated in with the professional basketball team in his hometown, the Newcastle Eagles – is able to shake the deer-in-the-headlights look and emerge as a forceful presence for the Friars. Take away the South Florida game, where Cooley rode his starting group in a come-from-behind performance, and he’s averaged 20 minutes of floor time over a three-game span.
It just goes to show that in today’s flashy basketball world, there’s still a prominent place for substance.
“I stuck it out and worked as hard as I can and I think the results are starting to pay off,” summed up Goldsbrough about what the past few weeks have been like.
Stated junior big man Kadeem Batts, “He’s our glue guy.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03