For a 4,000 kid Catholic school in the smallest state in the country, Providence College has an extraordinary basketball history.
Two Big East championships
Four Elite 8’s
Two Final Fours
Many successful pros
We have been led by legendary coaches from Joe Mullaney to Dave Gavitt to Rick Pitino to Rick Barnes.
Being a Friar comes with the responsibility of carrying on a storied and proud tradition. Unfortunately, during my lifetime, it has not been all sunshine and rainbows. This blog is going to be littered with the words “would have’s”, “could have’s”, and “should have’s”.
Here is a look into the heart of a fan of the most unlucky college basketball program in the history of the world.
Early success… 1970-1990
For the most part, the Friars had an unbelievably successful 70s, 80s, and 90s. But to understand where this curse comes from, you have to understand the 1973 final four game vs. Memphis State.
The Friars were led by the unlikely combo of Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin “Bad News” Barnes (one of the biggest “what if’s in sports history); they were coached by the founder of the Big East, Dave Gavitt.
“Ernie DiGregorio was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He grew up on the north side, in an Italian neighborhood. Marvin “Bad News” Barnes was also born in Providence, but on the opposite side of town in a black neighborhood.”
“People could never understand, with the racial turmoil being so crazy in the 70’s, how a big, black 7-foot high guy and a little white Italian guy could be friends,” said DiGregorio. “And the reason we were best friends is we had the same goal, to win.”
This unlikely friendship brought Providence to their first Final Four in school history. It was a showdown vs. Memphis State that Friar fans considered a must win, as Marvin was itching for an opportunity to prove himself against Bill Walton and the powerhouse that was UCLA.
The Friars jumped out to a large double digit lead in the first half. Then, the words that give every Friar fan nightmares: “Marvin got hurt” came to fruition. Barnes went down with a knee injury and could not return. The Friars blew the lead and lost 98-85.
That is pain. That is defeat. That is Providence College Basketball.
The Tim Welsh Era (1998-2008)
Okay, so fast forward to 2004. Ryan Gomes, an all american, along with Donnie McGrath lead the Friars to a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. They fall victim to the classic 12-5 upset and lose to Pacific 66-58. Fucking Pacific. They lost to an ocean. God dammit.
After 2004, there were minimal bright spots for this program.
By minimal, I mean none. It was embarrassing. Weyenmi Efejuku was simply not enough to produce winning seasons. Shocker. In fact, Tim Welsh only had one more winning season at Providence before being fired in 2008.
Not only did this start a string of being the laughing stock in the Big East, it began the trend of Friar players leaving for the NBA when they simply weren’t good enough. This will be a recurring theme for the entire blog.
Enter Rob Sanders: averaged 10. 8 PPG in the 03-04 season. Left for the draft. Let’s just say, it didn’t work out at the next level for Robby.
The Keno Davis Era (2008-2011)
Things actually got better for a second when Keno Davis came to town.
In Keno’s first year, the Friars went 19-14. No tournament, but we were on the right track. Maybe we finally found our coach.
Keno followed it up with a 12-19 season and a 15-17 season. What the fuck.
Keno is fired.
To make it worse, our best player at the time Jamine “Greedy” Peterson, the high flying sensation, was kicked out of school.
Why was he kicked out of school?
Oh, just because he was hiring a prostitute to help convince potential recruits. Classic.
To make it even worse, one of our most talented prospects, Duke Mondy, was accused of rape and asked to leave school.
Ohh, and freshmen prospects Johnnie Lacy and James Still jumped an Asian and also had to leave school. Why the fuck does this keep happening? Why can’t our players stay out of trouble?
Time to restart, again. Keno is fired. This was a dark era. Not much to be proud of from 2008-2011 if you’re a Friar fan.
The Ed Cooley Era (2011-Present)
I am not going to sit here and act like we don’t have our coach. I am proud to say that Ed Cooley is my basketball coach. We would be very lucky if he really stays in Friartown for his whole career; but, his time at Providence probably has the most “What If” moments in school history.
Ed brought in 2 recruits in his first year as a Friar: LaDontae Henton and Kiwi Garnder. I could not find anything bad to say about Henton if I tried. He changed the program. 2000 points. 1000 rebounds. 4 year starter. BIG EAST CHAMPION.
Kiwi, on the other hand, is the first in a long list of Cooley’s recruits who never touched the court. Kiwi was a 5’8 exciting point guard with unbelievable handles. We were excited for him. No, he wasn’t a high profile recruit, but he was exciting and at that time, we needed any excitement we could get.
Kiwi was academically ineligible never played a game for the Friars. Get used to that theme.
Hahahahahahahaha. The 2012 recruiting class.
Cooley brought in TWO top 30 recruits. Holy fuck. The Friars are on the map. Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn were going to bring us to the promised land.
Ledo was truly one of the most talented high school basketball players I have ever seen. If you don’t believe me, enjoy this video of him working John Wall one on one.
Dunn, Ledo, Cotton, and Henton
This team is loaded.
Ledo is announced as academically ineligable. He misses the entire season. Now it is Dunn, Cotton, and Henton. Okay, that’s fine. We’ll get Ledo back next year and everything will be fine.
Dunn separates his shoulder. Out for year. Fantastic.
Ledo declares for the draft after not playing one single game.
Great, everything is going great.
Okay, lots of optimism this year.
Brandon Austin, a top 60 recruit and once described as “the best player I have ever seen in Philadelphia”, by a Philadelphia high school basketball expert, was going to join a healthy Kris Dunn. Austin was joining Rodney Bullock in a solid class for the Friars.
Dunn separates his shoulder again. Out til the 2015 season. God fucking dammit.
Brandon Austin begins his string of sexual assaults and is kicked out of school before the season starts. Ahh, what could have been. Bullock is involved in the incident and also has to sit out the year.
Surprisingly, despite half of our team not being eligible for whatever reason, the Friars were still competing. Cooley, with the help of Henton and Cotton, was changing the culture.
2014 was a magical year. Highlighted by Bryce Cotton’s improbable run to the Big East title. Despite all of the success, one could only wonder, what if Dunn, Ledo, and Austin were a part of this team.
Ohh, and Bullock tore his MCL in the summer before 2014 and also had to sit again.
Dunn was healthy finally. Henton is a senior. This is the year to make a run. We were a big man away. So Cooley snags 4 star center, Alex Owens. Finally, a complete team. The Friars are back.
Well, kind of. Alex Owens pops up in a Youtube music video with an AK-47 and is kicked out of school before move in day. Dude, what are you thinking. Figure it out.
Luckily, Dunn and Henton have a great year and lead us to a 6 seed. Fantastic.
Oops, we lay a dud vs Dayton and get upset in the first round by 13 fucking points.
Kris Dunn is coming off a Big East Player of the Year season. He decides to come back for his senior year. He and Ben Bentil have Providence looking like serious contenders.
After a big win at Nova, the Friars are up to 8th on the AP polls. I used to dream about having that little number next to Providence. Yes we were 24th the year before, but now we are 8th. EIGHTH. That is a 2 seed. Holy fuck.
The team ends the year absolutely horribly. We get a 9 seed in the tournament and lose in the second round. Unbelievable. Way to send off Kris Dunn, boys. He did not deserve that ending.
Bentil, like Sanders and Ledo before him, prematurely decides to go to the NBA.
Last season was a huge surprise. After losing two studs to the NBA, nobody gave the Friars a chance, yet they snuck into the tournament.
Now Cooley is getting big time recruits year after year and, for the most part, they have been staying out of trouble.
Making it to the second weekend of the tournament this year or next year is an absolute must for me, as a fan.
This should be our 5th year making the tournament in a row, and I am tired of getting bounced early.
I believe in Cooley and I believe hat this program is ready to take the next step.
If you were not a part of all the “what if’s”. If you were not devastated when Kiwi Gardner could not play. If you are not dying to know what it would be like to see Dunn and Ledo play together, then don’t even bother watching the Friars make a run this year.
Don’t watch Makai Ashton Langford cut the nets down in MSG if you didn’t watch Kris Dunn separate his shoulder vs Rhode Island College.
I cannot wait to breakthrough to the next tier of college basketball programs. I cannot wait.
It is impossible to understand what it was like to be a Friars fan from 2005-2011, but if you know where I am coming from, then buckle up, because the next two years are going to be a hell of a ride.