Friar Preview 2013-14: Defining Success
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Success is a relative term, sure. But the very definition of the word brings to mind only one thing.
Winning. And that hasn't happened often enough in the past few years for anyone currently associated with Providence College basketball.
The 2013-14 season - which tips off this Saturday at the Dunkin Donuts Center with an exhibition against Rhode Island College - is one of the most anticipated basketball seasons on Smith Hill in some time. At least since the days of all-American Ryan Gomes 10 years ago, which coincidentally is the last time the Friar program found itself in the NCAA Tournament. Nothing short of ultimate success - winning - seems to be on the minds of the current Friars.
"Success overall is just improvement," said Bryce Cotton, PC's returning scoring leader and a 1st team all-Big East selection at guard. "We won a lot toward the end of the year last year, so if continue to win a whole lot more this year then we improve - and therefore I see the season as successful."
But almost to a man, Cotton's teammates followed his lead with a short, succinct answer to the question "how do you define success?"
"We've got to show ourselves. We haven't played a game yet," junior forward LaDontae Henton said. "This is a great group of guys, we've got great chemistry but we still have to play on the court and improve each and every day."
"But we want to get to the tournament," he added. "We want to win the Big East."
Pre-season picked for 6th by the coaches in the re-made Big East, the opportunity is there for the taking. Marquette was the selection for #1, but even the Golden Eagles have some question marks in the backcourt for a team that reached the Elite 8 in the NCAA's a year ago. Providence returns four starters from their 19-15 (9-9 Big East) team last season that reached the NIT quarterfinals, graduating only all-time assist leader Vincent Council. They have quality depth at every position. That's something you traditionally see from title contending teams, not also-rans.
Bryce Cotton leads the way. At 6-1, the senior from Arizona isn't a traditional scoring guard, but he sure acts like one. Whether he's creating shots for himself, or popping off of screens set on the perimeter, the defending Big East scoring champ will need to continue to find ways to score as teams focus on slowing him down. And that may be what the Friars are looking for, with several other options this season. Sophomore Kris Dunn, the McDonalds' all-American from New London, CT, takes the reins at the point. He's finally healthy after shoulder surgery a year ago, he's bigger and stronger. He's also looking to lead and embraces his role, which is key for any young player. Don't be surprised if Dunn throws a triple-double game or two out there...he's got the ability to be dominant, and rebounds very well. Freshman Brandon Austin is mentioned as a potential Big East Rookie of the Year candidate, he's that good. While all freshmen players take some time to adjust, and then re-adjust once conference play arrives, Austin is a matchup nightmare on the wing at 6-6 with a very long reach. He'll see some time at the point, as will Cotton, which shows the group has great versatility. And don't forget sophomore Josh Fortune, who hit double-figures off the bench 10 times last season, and had to learn the point on-the-run during some injury troubles a year ago. His role now is to spot and shoot - and who wouldn't like to have that job? We'll also include senior Ted Bancroft with this group, even though at 6-5 he's likely to play some forward as well. But the former walk-on (he was awarded a scholarship in the off-season) is an energy-guy off the bench who prides in his defense and rebounding. Rest assured that if others are slacking, Bancroft will be in there picking up that slack...and taking someone else's playing time.
This is where the Friars' true potential lies in transforming themselves into a championship-worthy contender. Depth is plentiful, for the first time since the NCAA-caliber teams of 2001 and 2004. Talent is there, too...which may be a good "problem" to have over the course of the season. It starts with 6-9 senior Kadeem Batts, who was named as a co-winner of the Big East's Most Improved Player award last year, and was named to the all-conference 3rd team. As a 5th year redshirt, Batts is ready to place himself in the spotlight as one of the league's top post players - certainly on the offensive end - after averaging 14 points per game last season. Where he can always improve is on the defensive end, and with his rebounding. The double-double machine by his side, LaDontae Henton, had a down year percentage-wise with his offense compared to a phenomenal freshman season. Henton's biggest faults come from his confidence - he just knows he can make a shot. Instead, if Henton learns to take (and make) the tough two's rather than settle for the three, he'll probably get to the free throw line more often. And put the opponents' defenders in foul trouble. 6-9 senior Lee Goldsbrough has improved greatly since his arrival on campus, with a chiseled frame and willingness to do whatever the coaches ask of him. With that attitude, he'll find minutes. The X-factors here come from transfers Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers. Harris spent his summer refining his skills at LeBron James' and Kevin Durant's skills camps. At 6-9, his shooting ability takes him out to the three-point line, and his long arms make him difficult to defend in the lower post. He could be a matchup nightmare. As for the 7-foot Desrosiers, he's more of a traditional center who has the ability to pop out, hit a jumper and pull his defender out with him - leaving the clean-up opportunities and the lane open for teammates.
Not to be overlooked, 6-8 Brice Kofane, 6-7 freshman Rodney Bullock and 6-0 walk-on freshman Casey Woodring will all compete for playing time. Kofane's ability to block shots, and Bullock's nose for the ball will certainly keep them in the mix, especially early in the season. The one trait that really stands out among this Friar team is its length. Expect Providence to play with man-to-man principles, but to try and confound teams with their length and quickness playing zone defense. Remember Syracuse's better defensive teams? The Friars, at least physically, are similar. The schedule sets up nicely, with plenty of opportunity to make some waves, with the season opener on national TV (Fox Sports 1) against Boston College, the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, a game in Brooklyn, NY against pre-season national #1 Kentucky...and the traditional rivalry with URI - on the road in Kingston. Big East newbies Creighton, Xavier and Butler will add a splash of the unexpected when it comes to grinding it out in January and February within the league. The stage is set for Ed Cooley and his staff to orchestrate a memorable season.
"I think where this program is going, and where we're at now, it all comes down to winning," Desrosiers said. "Coach Cooley has done a great job of getting us prepared, and this is the year we've got to really make a big run."
John Rooke begins his 25th season as "Voice of the Friars," and will once again team up with former Friar all-American Joe Hassett for every game on WEEI 103.7 FM. And follow John on Twitter: @JRBroadcaster
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