NEW YORK – This wasn't supposed to be the year for Providence -- especially not after freshman Ricardo Ledo was forced to redshirt and classmate Kris Dunn missed the first half of the season with an injury.
Despite having eight scholarship players for most of the Big East season, though, the Friars managed to finish 9-9 in the conference, fighting their way onto the bubble before a Big East tournament loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday, 61-44.
“I expect to be in big games going forward,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “The program has come a long way in the last year, but we're not ready for that moment yet.”
That moment could come as soon as next year, when Ledo is expected to return and Dunn should be fully healthy from the first day of practice. Moreover, Providence loses just one player -- guard Vincent Council -- and also welcomes Wake Forest transfer Carson Desrosiers and NC State transfer Tyler Harris, along with recruits Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock.
When asked specifically why Cooley was optimistic about next season, he responded: “The guys sitting out. Recruiting.”
While Ledo is reportedly undecided on whether he will return to Providence next season -- as opposed to going to the NBA -- his addition would make the Friars an immediate factor in the new Big East. He is a pure scorer who is capable of going on stretches where he is simply unguardable. Ledo is 6-foot-6 with deep range and an array of moves inside the perimeter.
With the return of Big East leading scorer Bryce Cotton (19.6 points per game) in the backcourt, the duo of Ledo and Dunn gives the Friars one of the most explosive perimeters in the conference. As a high school senior, Dunn was a five-star prospect and one of the more dynamic point guards in the class. Josh Fortune saw good minutes as a freshman as well.
Up front, Kadeem Batts (15.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) will be coming off a breakout season and LaDontae Henton continues to be a matchup problem for most opponents. Austin is an extremely versatile swingman who can play multiple positions, and Desrosiers saw extended minutes as a freshman at Wake Forest before sitting out at Providence this past season.
The most important thing for Providence could be the experience the roster gained this year, especially a stretch in which the Friars won seven of their last nine games to end the regular season.
“The way you win is if you have special young players, or juniors and seniors,” Cooley said. “Because when these babies get on these stages, you have to change their drawers.”
Next year, Providence will have both explosive young prospects and experienced veterans at the top of the roster.
“Today is not indicative of the future for us,” Cooley said after the loss. “I'm encouraged about our future."
With the talent he will have next year, it's hard not to be.
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