It was almost ten years ago that I first started covering college basketball and recruiting in the state of Rhode Island. One of my first observations, candidly, was what I considered somewhat unrealistic expectations of the collective local fan base.
Rhode Island won 20 or more games for four consecutive seasons and 19 or more games in seven of nine seasons under Jim Baron through 2010-2011 and yet the narrative was more about late season collapses then it was consistent success.
At the same time, Keno Davis got just three seasons at Providence despite facing an uphill battle at what was the height of the Big East Conference with not just the other members of the “Catholic Seven” but also the likes of Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UConn, Cincinnati, and West Virginia among others.
URI would have a coaching change the very next year and so Ed Cooley and Danny Hurley arrived in the state within twelve months of each other and in so doing the roots were laid for what has turned out to be a golden age of basketball in the state of Rhode Island.
Consider where we are today. Under Cooley, Providence has set a program record with four straight trips to the NCAA tournament, not to mention at least twenty wins in each of those seasons, and a Big East tournament championship in 2014.
Under Hurley, the Rams have progressed in strictly linear fashion over the years, with an injury plagued 15-16 season being the sole exception, in route to the 2017 Atlantic Ten tournament championship and a spot among the pre-season polls coming into this 2017-2018 season.
Cooley and Hurley came to the state of Rhode Island at just the right time.
Not surprisingly, the rise of both programs was preceded by the elevation of their recruiting profile.
Cooley’s very first full recruiting class at Providence included both Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo. Dunn was a McDonald’s All-American from Connecticut and Ledo was a high profile product who was born and raised in Providence. Dunn’s career has obviously been well-documented to this point and while Ledo may never have suited up during the regular season, the sheer weight of his commitment was valuable enough for Cooley’s reputation on the recruiting trail.
A year later, Hurley’s first full recruiting class was no less critical as he landed the tandem of E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, who not only went on to be the foundation of the Rams’ future success but also earned him the same instant credibility Cooley had captured a year earlier.
What both head coaches realized is that momentum is a huge part of recruiting and when you are a first year head coach, your recruiting needs to make the type of statement that you can build future classes on.
Cooley maintained that momentum with his second class, landing another nationally ranked product from the northeast region in Brandon Austin (who regardless of how his story has turned out since only added to Cooley’s recruiting reputation at the time) as well as Rodney Bullock. A year later that gave way to maybe the most important class of Cooley’s tenure to date – Ben Bentil, Jalen Lindsey, Kyron Cartwright, and Paschal Chukwu.
— Rhody MBB (@RhodyMBB) October 6, 2017
The story is no different at Rhody where Matthews and Martin set the tone for the Rams ability to land Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett a year later. Terrell was a local New England native and a consensus top 100 prospect in the country while Garrett played his way into high-major recruitment during his year in the New England prep ranks.
Those recruiting classes set the stage for the periods of prosperity that came to follow. Now, as pre-season predictions project Providence returning to the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year and Rhode Island atop the Atlantic 10, both schools have also delivered monster recruiting classes to keep their respective balls rolling downhill.
ICYMI – ESPN 100 PG David Duke joins Makai Ashton-Langford & AJ Reeves to complete dream scenario 4 Providence https://t.co/p2ierUbt7q
— Adam Finkelstein (@AdamFinkelstein) October 14, 2017
The Friars have A.J. Reeves and David Duke a pair of concensus top 100 national prospects and travel teammates with the Mass Rivals headlining a four-man class. Equally import is the built in depth the program already features with another former top 100 prospect Alpha Diallo having played part-time starter minutes as a freshman, fellow sophomores Drew Edwards and Kalif Young set to take on bigger roles, and a very solid freshman class headlined by Makai Ashton-Langford and Nate Watson.
In short, the Friars will lose a lot following this season but they’ll reload, not rebuild.
Similarly, Rhody is set to graduate Matthews, Terrell, Garrett, Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson, and Andre Berry. So what did they do? Only deliver arguably the deepest recruiting class of Hurley’s tenure with ESPN 100 big man Jermaine Harris along with a pair of other players that had so-called high-major offers on the table in Tyrese Martin and Brendan Adams, along with local product Dana Tate. Combine that with current freshman point guard Daron Russell and you have your starting five of the future joining the likes of Cyril Langevine, Jeff Dowtin, Christian Thompson, Nicola Akele, and others. And so again, the Rams may not be picked to win the A10 next year, but they’ll remain in the hunt.
The moral of this collective story is that Cooley and Hurley came to the state of Rhode Island at just the right time and, coupled by the opportunity that conference realignment provided both schools, have taken their respective programs to unprecedented heights. They’ve delivered nationally ranked recruiting classes and won conference championships, but what has truly differentiated them both is that they’ve built sustainable models that have continued to grow and improve with each passing year, which in the world of college basketball, is the most impressive thing of all.
The Ed Cooley Coach’s Show premiers on YurView Tuesday, November 7 at 7pm on Cox Channels 4 and 1004 and YurView.com
Catch Providence College Men’s Basketball season opener vs. Houston Baptist from Alumni Hall on YurView Friday, November 10 at 7pm on Cox Channels 4 and 1004.