PROVIDENCE – Could Emmitt Holt be an on-floor participant when the Providence Friars head over to Italy for a trip in August that spans 10 days and includes four exhibition games?
“That’s our hope … to see if we can get him healthy enough for Italy to see what we’ve got,” head coach Ed Cooley said during a media session at Alumni Hall on Friday morning.
For a player who missed the entire 2017-18 season following an abdominal injury that required surgery, it sounds like Holt is making progress to the point where the door has at least been opened for a return to the lineup as a fifth-year senior next season. The forward is a full-go as far as weight training. Basketball-wise, there’s still some limitations “but he’s probably been in 90 percent” of the drill packages the Friars have done since the start of summer school late last month.
When Cooley has been able to work with the entire Friar lineup, Holt has been the green light to hoist up shots. PC has made it a priority to keep Holt out of contact settings, though Cooley noted he’s been in some “just to see what level of pain he can take.”
That said, Holt still has plenty of miles left to go on the comeback trail before Cooley can arrive at an all-important determination. For now, the focus is to get Holt’s conditioning and basketball skill set to the point where stepping onto a court in Italy becomes realistic.
“He’s still not fully recovered, but his energy is getting better. He’s picking up a little bit more weight, but he still has a way to go before we’ll know if he can contribute to next year’s team,” Cooley said.
If such a scenario does pan out, the payoff could prove huge for a Friar squad that right now is breaking in four freshmen. As a junior in 2016-17, Holt emerged as an inside/outside scoring threat and emotional sparkplug. Even when he returned to the program in January, the energy he provided from the bench wasn’t hard to miss.
“We’re going to need Emmitt. He was so tough for us and hard to guard,” Cooley said, “but I don’t know where it’s going to go. I’m concerned. It’s all a work in progress.”
From former-opponents-turned-New-England-pros to recruiting, Cooley was asked his thoughts on several topics as part of his early-summer update:
• Before facing Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament this past March, the Friars purposely taped signs that in bold capital letters read “Block Out!” around Alumni Hall. On Thursday night, the Boston Celtics drafted someone who was responsible for such demonstrative signage. When the Friars faced the Aggies, Robert Williams collected 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“I think Robert does a great job in guarding the rim. He’s an elite athlete. Offensively, I think he has a way to go, but within the culture that the Celtics have, he’s a great addition,” Cooley said. “To get that level of player with the 27th pick, the Celtics should be really happy. Two-year defensive player of the year [in the SEC] … I’m very excited for the Celtics. I was happy to see Danny [Ainge, Celtics president] pick him because of his athleticism. The way coach [Brad] Stevens coaches on defense, he’s going to help in a big way.”
• Chemistry-wise, the Friars are taking full advantage of spending two summer sessions together prior to heading to Italy from August 14-24.
“It’s not rigorous, but they have a chance to work on their skill development and their body, but more importantly getting to know each other,” Cooley said. “They’re taking a couple of classes which helps to relieve the load during the season. That’s a big benefit for us. It’s really hard getting back at three or four o’clock in the morning and prepare for an eight o’clock class. It’s pretty competitive and taxing.”
The program’s Class of 2018 – David Duke, A.J. Reeves, Jimmy Nichols, and Kris Monroe – have joined returnees Isaiah Jackson, Alpha Diallo, Kalif Young, and Nate Watson in the weight room, understanding the steps they take now will pay dividends down the line.
“I’m super excited about our young talent. They all bring versatility and are extremely long and athletic,” Cooley said. “They call all dribble, pass, and shoot. There are not a lot of liabilities from a skill standpoint. We’ll see when we get into the overall philosophy of playing.”
The NCAA allows teams that are taking overseas trips to stage 10 practices before getting on a plane. Those practices don’t have to be held in the days leading up to leaving for Italy, which for the Friars will see Cooley’s assistants handle the in-game coaching while he sits in the stands and observes. It’s a practice that Cooley followed when the Friars last visited Italy in 2014.
• There’s been documentation via social media of recent on-campus appearances by former Friars’ Kris Dunn, LaDontae Henton, and Ben Bentil. Cooley said the trio has met with the current group, a good move considering there’s not much of an age gap.
“They’ve talked to them about things they probably would have done differently and things to be aware of. They really talk about preparation … getting in the gym and getting to their spots offensively,” Cooley said. “It also goes to the type of relationship that you build with guys like Kris, LaDontae, and Ben. It’s real. You’ve got to make some tough decisions when they’re here because they’re still young and growing, but I think they know they were treated fairly and given an opportunity. I love it when they come back.”
• With July right around the corner and three recruiting evaluation periods on the docket, Cooley was asked if the priority lies more in the Class of 2020 as opposed to 2019, considering the Friars are scheduled to lose just two players from next year’s team in Jackson and Holt. Looking ahead, the Friars will have at least four scholarships to dangle before the 2020 group.
“You can’t get to ‘20 without ’19 and you don’t know what your roster is going to look like moving forward. You recruit some of the things you can add to your program,” Cooley said. “We are on 2020 as well as 2021. I’m excited about the kids we are recruiting. Now it’s a matter of whether we can get them. It’s not about recruiting. It’s about evaluating. How does that evaluation turn into a Friar?”
• Holt is a natural leader, but who else will Cooley be able to count on when it comes to players serving as a bridge between the coaches and the team? This summer figures to provide some answers.
“I think leaders are born, then there are some you have to develop,” Cooley said. “You have to see who can do what under certain circumstances. If they fail, how do they respond as a leader? It’s all in the developmental stage.”
• The Friars have been a point-guard driven program under Cooley. With so many young players in the fold, Cooley hopes to be able to play in a similar fashion that was the driving force behind five straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I think we have some good point guards in Makai (Ashton-Langford), Maliek (White) and David (Duke). They’ll do a lot of ball-handling, but I’m excited about the defensive ability of this team,” Cooley said. “We’re long, athletic, and physical. We don’t have too many scrawny dudes. They’ve got some meat on their bones. I like that style of play.”
• Upon concluding his media obligation, Cooley was scheduled to take a walk through the Ruane Friar Development Center, which this week saw the installment of the facility’s hardwood courts.
“It’s really a dream of ours to have that facility,” Cooley said. “Every time I walk through there, I just smile. It’s something that I never thought would happen.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03