The “PC Friars: BDTM” series (Show #5 above) features Friar fanatic reporter Brendan McGair and Warrior Friar Superfan Daniel James examining the team’s road to success in the Big Dance.
The NCAA Tournament “Selection Show” was being shown on a large screen in the atrium of the Ruane Friar Development Center.
It was early Sunday night and the Providence College men’s basketball team had gathered for the big bracket unveiling. Players and coaches were dressed alike – black pants and white zip-up hoodies. Patience certainly became a virtue, what with three regions announced and the Friars still waiting to see their name appear.
“Really nerve-racking. My hands were sweating. I needed about 17 glasses of water,” said head coach Ed Cooley.
All the anxiousness melted away shortly after 6:30 p.m. when Providence learned of its inclusion in the Field of 68, courtesy of the CBS national broadcast. The marching orders consisted of being dubbed an 11th seed out of the East Region and a Friday night date with one of the sport’s blue bloods (No. 6 Kentucky) down in Greensboro, N.C.
“I’ve never been so excited to see a Friar logo pop up,” said sophomore guard Devin Carter.
“It’s Divine Providence,” said Cooley, undoubtedly thankful for the NCAA Selection Committee sending PC to a site located less than two hours away (via airplane) from Rhode Island.
Cooley has been on the job at PC for 12 seasons. He has now guided the Friars to the Big Dance seven times, though he’s quick to point out that it would have been eight appearances had the coronavirus pandemic not wiped out the 2020 installment of the NCAA Tournament.
“Breaking Down The Madness:” YurView’s annual deep dive into the Big Dance runs through April 3 on YurView, Cox channel 4 in Rhode Island. See full schedule at the end of this article.
It’s a feat that shouldn’t be taken lightly or for granted, regardless of what unfolds Friday night down in ACC country against John Calipari’s Wildcats. Of the 363 schools included in this year’s NCAA Division I NET rankings, only 19 percent of the participants can say they’re in the same boat – six wins, or in the case of the eight teams participating in the Round of First Four games, seven victories away from being called a national champion.
The fact that the Friars have become synonymous with the sport’s marquee event is a testament to the advancements that Cooley and his staff have made. Yet the coach knows that moving forward with an eye towards creating more of a national profile can’t and won’t happen without the blessing and support from administrators. They’re the ones who have to sign off on charter flights and constructing a state-of-the-art practice facility in the name of keeping pace in the arms race in college athletics.
“I always say that administrations win championships. Coaches and players win games,” said Cooley. “When you’ve had the commitment that Providence College has shown … we’ve just got to continue to grow and develop and hopefully compete for championships.”
The NCAA doesn’t hand out berths because a team has become known as a regular fixture. Each season represents its own entity. The journey of the Bryce Hopkins-led Friars bears little resemblance to last year’s PC squad that gained admittance and ultimately reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997. The first Cooley-led Friar team to reach the NCAA Tournament achieved the feat in 2014 as Big East Tournament champions courtesy of Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton. They have an NCAA-themed story to tell, as do the Friar teams led by Kris Dunn that also qualified for this single-elimination format.
One day before boarding a charter flight that would take the Friars to Greensboro, Cooley was asked if he’s taken a moment from dissecting Kentucky to smell the roses at what has unfolded under his watch. Providence is embarking on the program’s 22nd appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Roughly one-third of those appearances have transpired with Cooley at the helm.
“There is some satisfaction in building a program. It’s gratifying. It’s very hard in our business to get to this day,” said Cooley. “I’ve never been more excited to be in the NCAA Tournament than I am this week. Just the energy around a team that you’re able to get to the tournament … we have all these [media] cameras around us because we’re still playing. A lot of teams would love to still be playing. There are blue bloods that aren’t playing.
“The fact that we’re able to do it with a new team is a credit to our staff and the players. There were so many new pieces,” added Cooley with a reference to this year’s PC team breaking in eight players.
To say the Friars have become a basketball hothouse would not be a stretch of the truth. The proof lies in the number of NCAA berths that have materialized under Cooley.
That doesn’t mean the spoils should be viewed as some sort of birthright, or forgone conclusion. They should be appreciated, something to keep in mind as the Friars gear up for their latest appearance on college basketball’s grand stage.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.