New coaches bring new systems and new styles to the hardcourt. The magic exists in attempting to transform older players who are set in their ways, and to blend those older players with new ones who are eager to learn the new ways.
As a fan, the trick is to look for clues and tendencies of how the season might play out with limited opportunities to view the team. With that in mind, and with the knowledge that exposure to the team has been limited so far, here are a few impressions by this observer after the Friars struggled past Assumption, 64-51, last Tuesday in front of 1,892 fans.
Ed Cooley is larger than life
Some coaches have the ‘it' factor. Ed Cooley is one of them. From the moment he enters a gym, he commands attention, and his family and friends turn out in force to support him. Cooley's mannerisms are larger than life; from exhorting starters to dive to the floor for loose balls to throwing his arms up in disgust at blown plays… but all are genuine.
Cooley is also not afraid to make a big statement. Fourteen seconds into the second half, after Assumption's Antonio Adams snuck inside for an uncontested lay-up to cut the lead to 30-25, Cooley called a timeout and firmly planted starters Brice Kofane, LaDontae Henton, Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council on the bench, and inserted Lee Goldsbrough and walk-ons Ted Bancroft, Chris Carter and Mike Murray, along with Bryce Cotton. For four minutes, this group, as expected, struggled to score, but hustled all over the court and defended as if their lives depended on it. If the big statement results in a loss, so be it. The lessons learned are more important than wins or losses.
Adversity is right around the corner
Before the opening tip, news circulated that Kadeem Batts and Kiwi Gardner would be unavailable for action on this night. In Gardner's case, the NCAA Clearinghouse had alerted PC on Monday that they were questioning one of the courses he took in prep school, and he would be ineligible to play until cleared. PC and Gardner were taken by surprise and the Friars' are hoping for good news soon on their appeal.
In Batts' case, the reasons for his benching remain murky. Rumors on game night had him missing just the Assumption game or missing the entire first semester. Whatever the case, turning around the culture that had permeated the team in terms of academic indifference is clearly not an easy fix and will take time. That culture may have produced its first victim in Kadeem Batts.
Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward
One of the most highly anticipated recruits at PC recently was Gerard Coleman. A borderline Top 50 recruit, Coleman dazzled colleges and fans with his explosive first step, his athleticism and ability to score and his knack for taking a game over. When he arrived at PC, fans saw a weak left hand when putting the ball on the floor, a nonexistent outside shooting stroke and, despite his length and athleticism, one of the poorer defenders on the team.
So far, Coleman's game has seemed to regress this season. In a more structured halfcourt game, he has struggled to look comfortable, has forced a number of excursions to the hoop, and even in open court situations, has missed badly. Like many before him, players who excelled because of athleticism and length, fans will need to be patient with Coleman, as he learns how to play basketball and refines his considerable skills.
They call him Buckets
LaDontae Henton is a basketball player. Originally slated to attend Dayton, Henton asked out after a coaching change and Ed Cooley swooped in. Instead of becoming a Flyer, he became a Friar. One of a handful of players in Michigan high school history to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds, Henton is a lunchpail kind of guy who knows how to play the game. The Friars are lucky to have him. As one of the few skilled offensive players in the frontcourt on the roster this year, Henton can take it to the rim or step out and shoot to three point range.
In fact, his one weakness may be that he is a bit of a tweener. At 6'6, and not burly, he is a cross between a power forward and a small forward, but, despite his impressive high school numbers, isn't an elite leaper or rebounder. He'll have his struggles against bigger, equally athletic frontlines, and the man he was defending on Assumption, Jimmy Zenevitch, outrebounded him, 13 to 2. As a team, the smaller Greyhounds outboarded PC, 38-33… not a great harbinger for future Big East games.
The importance of depth
Depth on a basketball team can never be understated. Injuries, foul trouble, academics… any number of things can derail games and seasons without adequate depth. In Ed Cooley's case, he was already entering the season with just nine scholarship players and with the loss of Garner and Batts, that number has shrunk to seven. Take into consideration an overall level of talent not up to Cooley's liking, and the forecast grows even cloudier.
Not all is bleak, though. Bryce Cotton has returned to school a stronger, more confident player and has looked good handling the ball. Important, because with the loss of Gardner, this gives Vincent Council back-up and the ability to play some off the ball. Council has said that he is up to the challenge of replacing Marshon Brooks' points, but he still isn't the shooter that Brooks was. Meanwhile, Bilal Dixon finally looked animated and energetic against Assumption and played well after sitting for the first ten minutes of the game. If that's a sign of more to come, it's a most welcome sign.
Which leaves Brice Kofane, Ron Giplaye and Lee Goldsbrough. How much can they be counted on? Certainly, in Kofane and Giplaye's cases, they can provide some rebounding, but offensively the skills are just not there yet, and neither provided much against a smaller frontline, even with decent minutes. So, depth is nonexistent, especially if Batts and Gardner are lost for extended periods of time.
What is clear is that PC will play at a slower pace, will defend much harder and will run more structured offensive sets. They will run when the opportunities present themselves and settle into their offense when they don't. They will have games where they are blitzed on the boards, games where they don't shoot well and games where they surprise. Above all, they will improve and get better. And that's what this season will be all about.
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