“So, how’s Providence this year?”
I get asked this question a lot, and if you’ve been following my columns I have had varying answers from the extremely positive to the highly pessimistic.
How would I describe this team? I have spent the better part of the last 24 hours (post St. John’s loss, for anyone keeping track) trying to come up with an answer. The fact that I’m figuring that out in mid-February says a lot, but that’s also the easy way out.
No, the way I would describe this team is a blank fortune cookie. (Or a blank ‘false prophet cookie’ if you’re more of a Church of Mochi guy like myself.) This comparison was inspired by my recent Chinese takeout that did indeed have a blank fortune cookie in it. ‘Huh,’ I said to myself, ‘that’s an inauspicious sign if I’ve ever gotten one.’ But, that is also how I would describe the Providence Friars 2019-2020 basketball team in mid-February.
Much like with fortune cookies, the Friars offered a promise going into the season. You don’t need to look back to be remember the high expectations that fans and the Friar community had. This was going to be our season. Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, maybe even – dare I say it? – a Final Four? Why not! We were loaded with returning talent, a promising freshman, and a coach who just said no to Michigan. Michigan! The sky was the limit!
Crack open that fortune cookie and you expect certain things. You expect a fortune, some language lessons, and some lucky numbers that never hit on the Mega Millions. Start of the season was the same deal. Everyone expected greatness from this team. Everyone knew what they were capable of, and it was hard to imagine it would be otherwise. Now, much like a fortune cookie that can be good or bad, so too could this season have gone good or bad. But you expected a call one way or the other. Much like that fortune in your fortune cookie, you wanted good but would have dealt with misfortune.
But this? This is not misfortune on behalf of the Providence Friars. For two games now (Xavier and St. John’s) we have watched Providence beat themselves. Only it didn’t look like they were beating themselves because some very underclassmen put on an effort and hustle that makes rooting for Providence fun. They are not the blank fortune cookies in this metaphor, they are the promising future.
But overall? Blank fortune cookie is the only thing that I come back to when I think about this team now. You expect something, anything, but it’s just not there. No explanation for this, no reason for why or how this could have happened, and worst of all you can’t call up China Hut and say ‘can you send another because this one is busted.’ This isn’t even a Magic 8-Ball “please try again” situation – this is more like you shook the 8-Ball and the little cube inside disappeared. You get what you get.
And naturally when this happens you do want answers. You try to justify this blank fortune cookie every which way you can. Fans are trying to do that right now with the season too. Is it the coaching staff? Are the seniors not as good as we thought they were? Is there an issue in the locker room that’s causing a rift? Is it apathy, a lack of heart and soul, or something else entirely? I think these are important questions to pose because, if there’s a question, then there most likely are also answers. Even better: if there’s an answer, there’s a solution. We need only pinpoint these challenges to solve them!
Of course, I don’t think there’s any one solution to our blank fortune dilemma in Friartown. I think that trying to say it’s purely one point or has a single origin is narrow-minded, and, fortunately, I believe a good majority of fans would agree with me here.
But there’s another reason this cookie metaphor is so apt. Though a blank fortune cookie offers no divination, it does free you from the shackles of dessert prophecy. So too are the Friars now free of almost any expectation. Quite literally: whatever happens, happens. With that in mind, perhaps now they will make their own fortune in the remainder of their Big East schedule. With the right effort and opportunity, they could still find a way to make something happen from the year. They truly could take a blank fortune cookie and attach their own context to it..
But with less than a month to go before the Big East Tournament, fans are not wondering “can they” but rather “will they”? Will the Friars rise to the last opportunity they have and seize it? There is no fortune written for the Friars, so they must make one themselves.