Nearly 30 years have passed, but Jamal Gomes remembers the phone call he received on the day of his high school graduation as if it were yesterday.
Dressed in his dark green cap and gown, he was about to head out to the Cathedral in Providence where he would join his classmates for the Bishop Hendricken graduation ceremony. As he walked out the door, he heard the phone ring.
It was the spring of 1991, long before cell phones. He turned around and answered the phone that hung on the wall in his Cranston home. The voice on the other end was a familiar one.
“Hi Jamal. How are you doing? This is Ed Cooley from Stonehill. I just want to welcome you to the Stonehill Family. ‘“
“”I was blown away,” said Gomes. “That meant a lot because Ed was a student at Stonehill at the time. He was going to be named captain of the team in his junior year and he was reaching out to an incoming freshman to say ‘Welcome to the Stonehill Family. We’re looking forward to playing with you and having a good time with you at Stonehill.’
“Now you flash forward ahead about 25 years and you see why Ed Cooley is the great coach that he is. He is great at relationships. He is great at communication,” said Gomes. “So I caught a glimpse of his future success just in that phone call back in 1991.”
Their relationship had started long before the phone call on Gomes’ graduation day. The two met years earlier on the public basketball courts in Providence and in Cranston. At the time, Cooley was the star at Central in the heart of the inner city. Gomes was a few years younger and was about to enter Bishop Hendricken, the all-boys private Catholic School in the suburbs. Basketball was their bond.
“Growing up Ed was a hero to me..,a superstar. All-Stater (at Central). MVP. Gatorade Player of the Year (in RI). Ed Cooley personality. Everyone knew all about Ed Cooley. I played pick up with him in Providence and was in awe of him,” said Gomes.
Cooley went on to a year of prep school and then entered Stonehill while Gomes headed to Hendricken where he had an outstanding high school career. The same honors that Cooley received in high school would soon be earned by Gomes. A leader on and off the court, Gomes was chosen as captain and was named All-State and Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in 1991.
Their paths crossed on the basketball court again when Gomes was a senior at Hendricken and began the recruiting process.
Dave DeCiantis, a Hendricken graduate and assistant at the time at Stonehill under former Hendricken coach Ray Pepin, recruited Gomes. He had also recruited Cooley.
‘Dave was a great mentor,” said Gomes. “He always watched out for me.”
Although Cooley was older than Gomes, a year of prep school and a back injury that led to a red shirt year allowed the two to play together for two years at Stonehill.
“I looked up to Ed,” said Gomes. “He was my mentor. He took me under his wing. He took care of me as he took care of many at Stonehill.
“We weren’t roommates but we spent a lot of time together,” said Gomes. “I learned a lot from Ed. Everyone loved him. He created relationships and strong friendships. I learned the importance of strong relationships through him.”
“Jamal was always someone who gave,” said Cooley. “He said, ‘Man, I’m going to give you the ball every time you’re open…’ “but Jamal was better than me as a player so I told him to shoot it. Don’t pass it to me. He was better than me, but totally unselfish.”
The two lived on the opposite sides of Roger Williams Park – Cooley on the Providence side and Gomes on the Cranston end. They would meet at the park and run all summer together, according to DiCiantis.
“I remember us hanging out at Ed’s apartment in the summer watching the (Chicago) Bulls in the NBA finals. My memories of Eddie back then are of him being a great mentor, a great leader and great friend,” said Gomes.
Gomes had an outstanding playing career at Stonehill where he was a 1,000 point scorer, a captain and led his team to a pair of 19-win seasons and second place finishes in the Northeast-10 Conference.
Cooley was a three-time captain and finished his career just shy of 800 points and nearly 600 rebounds while helping Stonehill to four Northeast-10 Tournament appearances, including a semifinal appearance as a senior.
Cooley graduated from Stonehill in 1994, followed by Gomes a year later. After graduation their basketball careers took different paths.
Cooley’s storied 24-year college coaching career ultimately led to Providence College, where he has served as the head coach for the past eight years. He’s led the Friars to the 2014 Big East Championship, five NCAA appearances and two NIT appearances.
Gomes, 46, will enter his 20th season as the head coach of his alma mater Bishop Hendricken, where he was also recently named the Athletic Director – just the third AD in the last 45 years of the school.
As the head coach of the Hawks, Gomes has won 11 state titles in the past 19 years and has earned enough awards to fill his new office, which is just short of a three point shot away from the basketball court at Hendricken. A two-time RI Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, Gomes is a six-time RIBCA Championship coach of the Year.
He has also been named USA Today Coach of the Year. Last December the basketball court inside the Hendricken gym was named after him. Ironically, the court is in the Ray Pepin Gym, named for the late Stonehill Hall of Famer who would later coach Gomes in college.
“I have had the opportunity to coach thousands of young people, many of whom have gone on to play at all levels of collegiate basketball and some in the professional ranks,” said Gomes, noting players like Jimmy Baron, who is currently having an exceptional career playing professionally in Europe.
The basketball has bounced in different directions for Cooley and Gomes, but their 30 plus year friendship has remained strong.
“My thoughts of Ed are so positive,” said Gomes. “For the people that know him it’s so easy to understand why he is such a successful coach and why his teams improve every year. I’m quite sure he’s tough on his team. I’ve been to his practices. But I see why everyone loves him. People call him the Mayor now. We used to call him the Mayor of Stonehill. His way with people is amazing. It always has been.”
Gomes recalls years ago when his Hendricken team was playing in a tournament in Connecticut. Cooley was coaching Fairfield at the time and was in the gym, recruiting someone playing in the tournament.
“I saw him in the gym and went over to say hi. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but it was like not a day had passed since we had last seen each other. He told me to bring my team to Fairfield the next day,” said Gomes. “We showed up and took a tour of the campus, went in the locker room and watched practice. Ed spoke to my team. I was blown away that he cleared his schedule and was able to rearrange his schedule in such a short period of time. He did that because his friendships..his relationships are important to him.
“I tell my own players that relationships are the most important thing,” said Gomes. “I learned that from my education at Hendricken and at Stonehill and my own relationships with people like Ed. Kindness, respect and love is everything in life. That’s what I tell my teams every year.“
The subject of Gomes taking the leap and leaving high school to coach at the college level comes up often. He has given it a lot of thought over the years – on more than one occasion. But Hendricken remains his home.
“I remember the day Ed got the job at Fairfield. I picked up the phone and dialed his number. I hung up before he answered. It just didn’t feel right,” said Gomes. “I’ve had opportunities. There have been times I have thought about and have been approached about coaching at the college level, but my family comes first and I know what that lifestyle demands.”
“When I first came back to Rhode Island I asked him to join our staff. He thought about it for a while. My advice to him was to follow your love and see where you fit. See what’s great for your life…he is accustomed to being at home and that doesn’t happen at our level,” explained Cooley.
A few years ago rumors swirled about Gomes joining Cooley’s staff at Providence. Gomes won’t confirm or deny the rumors. He doesn’t answer. He just smiles.
Gomes called Cooley last spring when he was interviewing to become the athletic director at Hendricken. They spoke for over an hour. Gomes asked Cooley if he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for him.
“I told him the only recommendation would be to come work with me,” said Cooley with a smile.
“Jamal’s passion and his dream was to stay at the high school level and become the athletic director, which he is right now and is leading in a different way,” added Cooley. “Jamal and I grew up on the same courts. I hosted him on his official visit to Stonehill. To see what he has done for basketball in the state of Rhode Island. To see the type of husband he is, the type of father he is…I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
They played together at Stonehill and nearly 25 years later returned to the Stonehill Campus where they were recently inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame together.
Neither spoke of their own college or coaching careers during their acceptance speeches. They spoke about their love for their family, teammates, coaches and others who helped get them to where they are today – both on and off the basketball court. DiCiantis, who has known both Cooley and Gomes since they were teenagers, was among those in attendance at the Hall of Fame Dinner.
“I am very proud of both of them. Both Jamal and Ed have had outstanding careers,” said DiCiantis. “Both have given back more than they have received. They have been able to maintain their relationship with so many over the years. It shows they are very genuine people. ”
“To be with Jamal here today gives me chills.. seeing him, seeing his family, his mom and dad, his brother…It’s great to be here with him more than anything,” said Cooley. “We are friends and brothers for life and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
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