Straight from the mouth of a member of the PC Friar basketball family, LaDontae Henton says you can go right ahead and apply the lines of symmetry.
In terms of culture and identity, the Providence College team that cut down the nets as this year’s Big East Tournament regular-season champion bears a striking resemblance to the 2014 Friar group that enjoyed a similar signature moment as the last team left standing at that year’s Big East Tournament.
Henton is well within his right to make such a claim and no one should question the reasoning behind it. In 2014, he teamed up with Bryce Cotton to form a 1-2 dynamic punch that helped Providence place a capper on a March Madness drought that had lasted a decade.
In a move that could be chalked up to a stroke of good timing, Henton called it on the professional playing career to join Ed Cooley’s staff in advance of the 2021-22 season.
Holding the title of special assistant to head coach, Henton represents a proud link to an earlier time in Cooley’s now-11-year run at Providence when the Friars were looking to establish a track record of winning.
Now, Henton can lay claim to a boots-on-the-ground account of another NCAA Tournament ride. This time, the authors are big man Nate Watson and sharpshooting A.J. Reeves along with a host of players who opened their college careers in other places before descending upon Providence.
“This group is very similar [to the ’14 PC squad]. They love to play with each other and the camaraderie is off the charts,” Henton told Yurview in advance of the Friars leaving for Buffalo for their NCAA first-round matchup against South Dakota State.
“They’re great kids and a joy to be around every day. It’s been a great ride.
“It’s surreal to be a part of something like this again,” added Henton, one of two players to finish with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his Friar career.
“It’s also beautiful to see players’ dreams come true. Making it to the NCAA Tournament is something you hope for and think about. I’m happy to see these guys were able to accomplish that and play at the highest level. Making it to the tournament was one of their goals coming into the season and they’ve achieved it.”
The 2014 Providence team represents the gold standard of Friar teams in the Cooley era, an endorsement that Henton can back up with facts and figures. The Friars from that aforementioned season played in four double-overtime games and featured the same starting five for all 35 games – Henton and Cotton along with Tyler Harris, Carson Desrosiers, and Josh Fortune.
“We set the bar for what it takes to be successful with Coach Cooley … what he asks from the guys,” said Henton.
This year’s group of Friars made waves for spending the 13 weeks leading up to the NCAA Tournament in the national polls while cracking the top 10 on two occasions. Still, there’s a national perception that the Friars are a lucky group due to winning so many close games – PC is 11-2 in games decided by five points or less. The law of averages suggests that things should balance out, yet Providence has displayed an “it” factor whenever a basket or stop is needed in a tight game.
“They’re tough. They’re gritty. They play for one another. Coach Cooley speaks about those traits all the time and they bring it every game,” said Henton. “All those close games prepare you for the moments you’re about to experience … these NCAA Tournament games. To be battle-tested means a lot.
“Coach always goes over late-game situations. That’s a reason why we won a lot of close games when I played and now that I’m coaching,” Henton delved further. “The message and the standard are the same today from my time as a Friar. All Coach Cooley wants is for you to pay attention to detail, execute down the stretch, and play for one another. He’s still preaching that to this day.”
Is there anyone more of an Ed Cooley guy than Buckets? When I think about @HentonBuckets23 career at PC, the first thing I think about was his leadership. Now back home on the bench, LaDontae is making a huge impact on these 21-22 Friars #pcbbhttps://t.co/B6DAIWk4Di
— The Friar Podcast (@FriarPodcast) February 8, 2022
Henton was a part of two PC teams that reached the NCAA’s. Outside of Watson and Andrew Fonts, a baptism-by-fire awaits everyone else on this year’s Friar roster come Thursday afternoon in Buffalo when the bright lights become even more luminous.
“I would tell them to enjoy every moment and make sure to be in the moment,” said Henton when asked what words of wisdom he would dispense about stepping into the belly of the NCAA beast. “This is a chance of a lifetime … an opportunity of a lifetime. You’re doing this with your teammates. You’re not doing it by yourself. Stay together and don’t let anything change. Be prepared for anything.”
For Henton, seeing the bracket reveal through the eyes of a group of Friar players this past Sunday night – smiles mixed with cell phones recording the jubilant moment – brings back pleasant memories. Eight years ago, he sat inside Alumni Hall as an eager player … chomping at the bit to learn Providence’s assignment from the NCAA Selection Committee.
Still, now is not the time to be satisfied – not by a longshot in the eyes of someone who’s written the Friar hoops book on coming full circle.
“This group has done a great job staying together and keeping their eyes on the prize. Hopefully, we can get things done in the tournament,” said Henton. “I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. I was in the NCAA Tournament my last year as a player [in 2015]. I come back and we’re back in the tournament. It’s a surreal feeling.”
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