Ed Cooley Speaks His Mind

Head coach Ed Cooley of Providence College is known for his colorful conversation and always looking you straight in the eye. ScoutFriars.com spoke with him recently in perhaps his most frank interview to date to get the straight scoop on his first season and what his plans are for Friar Hoops in the coming year.

SH: LaDonte Henton really was a break out freshman for you in your first year. Can you talk about that?

EC: You saw his numbers shift dramatically from game 11 or 12 on with his production, because I think he's one of the toughest match ups in the Big East just because he is such a versatile player. We've had players like him everywhere I've coached. Just players. The media asks me what position a guy is. Does it matter what position they are? I want basketball players, and it doesn't matter to me0. what position they are. You need a couple of long guys, guys who can make decisions, and guys who can put the ball in the basket. You get that, you'll probably have some success.

SH: You had the best 3pt shooting percentage in the Big East, but probably look the fewest too. Most of those were Bryce Cotton's. Is fair to say that without Bryce Cotton's 3 point shooting this year, you probably don't win a single Big East game?

EC: Yes, I would agree with you. He won games for us like Rutgers, (back to back 3's), Connecticut he put us on his shoulders, 5 for 5 against Louisville. Without him, we don't beat Boston College, and we probably don't beat Bryant. Cotton went from 14 threes to 77. Has anybody else in America has done that? Think about that. Over 60 more shots made from his freshman year to this year, and everybody knows that's all you've got (from there). If we had an MVP, Bryce Cotton is easily in that conversation.

Y SH: You had limited flexibility with your lineups, but often went small to create mismatches. Can you elaborate on that?

EC Sometimes we needed more size on the court, but I felt we were one of the quickest teams in the Big East this year. LaDontae also picked up his three point shooting a ton as the season went on as well after we moved his position. So then you've got Andre Drummond trying to guard him, Biruta trying to guard him, Kevin Jones from West Virgina. With those guys it's the electric fence defense when they are that big; if they come out of their comfort zone on LaDontae, he can blow right by them. That's how we want to play. We want to be a transition offense type team.

SH: You do need that size somewhere though, either through recruiting or coaching up current players on the roster. Brice Kofane showed good shot blocking instincts, but led the team in fouls with 84 in only 15 minutes per game. How much progress can you get out of him this coming season?

EC: I think we can get a lot more from him. Remember, that was his first year playing coming off of a red shirt. That year he red shirted, I don't think he did a damn thing. He didn't pick up a pound, he lost weight, I don't think his concentration was there, quite frankly; and as for the mentorship, I don't know who was mentoring him either. He did have some productive games for us though. I think at DePaul, he had a game changing play, and against Boston College, they couldn't get to the rim on him. He needs to work on his hands, and needs to improve his strength.

EC: When you talk about dominant front court guys, how many have had great success scoring with their back to the basket? Not many post players score much. Most big men make their money on rebounding and blocked shots. You want guys that big to buy into a role. Everyone wants to validate themselves through scoring, but look at the NBA. Dennis Rodman made millions just rebounding. Ben Wallace. Sean Williams at BC could not score in a gym by himself and was a first round pick because he could block shots. I tell guys that if they lead the Big East in rebounding, they'll probably end up being a millionaire.

SH: You're still recruiting big men, but how does the APR affect your job and managing your roster?

EC: It's brutal. It's a rule that I don't understand with a number that just comes out of nowhere. I understand the intent of it, but how many kids transferred (nationally) this year? The most ever in the history of college basketball, on the year they changed the rule. We've been dealing with the APR for six or seven years now, and of players 9 through 13 on any roster every year, three of those kids are transferring, every year...and there's zero accountability on their end. It's now on the coach, and on the school. That whole rule needs to be amended. If you're not playing, you're leaving because the grass is always greener (somewhere).

SH: How close are we to a potential situation where Providence could conceivably land a potential Top 100 recruit but cannot act on it because it would require a roster move than might trigger an APR penalty from the NCAA?

EC: We're close. But again, we've had a lot of change over three coaches here over the last 5 years. That's a lot of changes to manage. What do you do with a kid who plays 36 minutes a game, averages 14 points a game, and comes in and says, "I'm leaving". You have no juice (as a coach), and what are you going to do? And if you do hold him up, they kill Bo Ryan; and they kill Phil Martelli. So Providence College invests 192K into a kid's life, and then they walk away? And you hear that coaches walk away all the time. Well that's true, but coaches are subject to paying buyouts, so at least there is some accountability for coaches, not a ton, but some. Believe me, I'm paying a buyout right now. It's a difficult issue to deal with.

SH: So with all these transfers, can you win without any seniors? Most say you can't win in the Big East without seniors.

EC: It's hard, unless you've got five pros on the roster. You want juniors and seniors on your roster and if you've got that it will make you very competitive. How do you get there? You've got to make sure you are taking the right kids, but you also have to recruit ‘difference makers'. I think we have a couple of those guys coming in this year, and two of them are already in our program. So, you piece it all together bit by bit.

SH: Let's talk about Vincent Council's minutes next year? What are your expectations?

EC: He will not play as many minutes next season. They will be reduced, absolutely. Less is going to be more for Vincent.

SH: What about his shooting? He had some incredible performances, but only shot 29% from behind the arc.

EC: Like I said, less is going to be more for him. He was always the facilitator for everyone and never accepted a pass from anyone. But now, playing along side some other real play makers, he will shoot a higher percentage and those numbers will go up. They'll go up because he won't have to think for everyone anymore. Who was Coleman going to decide for? Cotton? LaDontae? Nope. Also, when you inherit a group of young men that believed whoever touched the ball was always on "Go", you have to totally, I mean, totally change the mind set and let the ball find the open player and have them trust each other. That wasn't in our program.

SH: You've changed the culture here, and you're also bringing in a number of talented players, but won't you still have a lot of team building to do this year given the roster turnover?

EC: Realistically, early on in our schedule, we could have a bit of a rocky road because our schedule will be competitive early. But as we settle into our league, those kids that gain experience will begin to gel with the team, and I think we'll settle in.

SH: How deep of a rotation do you expect you could have this year?

EC: I really don't know right now. I really don't. Normally, you want to hopefully get your rotation to 10 if you can. You want to be able to press and you want to bring in situational players. Guys have to buy into a role. When you have a team that has totally bought in, you have success.

SH: At schools like Memphis or Syracuse where they might have been contending for a national championship, you can get young top talent like a Mike Carter Williams to wait his turn on the bench. But what about other high majors like NC State or Providence? With talented kids there, often if they don't start, they might walk? How do you get them to buy in?

EC: I think it is daily communication; I think it is the trust you develop. Sometimes it's a player's last shot after they transfer as well. But it's mainly them buying in to you as their coach. Kids don't commit to colleges, they commit to coaches. I don't care what anyone says. It's always about the coaching staff, and maybe some of the tradition as well. Kids want to play though. If you have a great relationship with a kid, and you do a really good job of recruiting him...and I think that's one of our strengths, targeting kids early and then we're bulldogs in the recruiting process; that relationship should get you over the hump, assuming everything is fair. Of course it's not always fair out there but we will never step outside the box, nor will I sacrifice our integrity to win two more games.

SH: So you've finished your first season in Providence, and what's the future hold?

EC: We have a great staff, our support has been phenomenal, and I'm appreciative of the crowds that we've had, helping us to build the program. I think some very good things are happening around our program, but you've still got to get a little lucky. Guys need to stay healthy, and you have to keep your players out of any trouble to reach your team goals. I can tell you we will also have more accountability next season and we will continue to improve defensively or guys will sit next to me. That is the great equalizer. I'm not here to be their friend, I'm here to win.

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