Providence College starting honoring – not retiring – the numbers of its great players in 1996 when Lenny Wilkens became the first to have his number raised to the rafters on a banner. But that was more an aberration than a policy, as it wasn’t until Bob Driscoll took the reins and in 2008 began to regularly celebrate the Friars’ legendary players and coaches.
During the 2014-15 season, John Thompson ’64 and Jim Hadnot ’62 joined 11 other Friars who had previously had their jersey’s honored by Providence College. Lenny Wilkens ’60, John Egan ’61, Vinnie Ernst ’63, Ray Flynn ’63, Jimmy Walker ’67, Ernie DiGregorio ’73, Marvin Barnes ’74, Kevin Stacom ’74, Joe Hassett ’77 all had their numbers on banners raised to the rafters at the Dunk and they were joined by banners of coaches Joe Mullaney and Dave Gavitt.
This group of 13 men form a select group known as Friar Legends. The qualifications for admittance into this club are reasonably vague. To be honored, “the player or coach must have made a significant impact on Friar basketball and he must have received national recognition during his career at Providence.”
The one thing that all of the players who have been recognized so far seem to have in common is that each one of them received some form of All-America notice while at PC, whether First Team honors or Honorable Mention notice, which certainly fulfills the national recognition requirement. So, in determining who else will make the cut, that factor seems to be a reasonable starting point. You have to have been an All-American.
In analyzing the list of who has already been honored, the reality is that what remains is not an exceedingly large group. In fact, it’s a fairly limited list that remains. During the golden age of Friar basketball in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a heavy concentration of All-American players and we would argue that everyone from the 1955-1975 era who deserves to be honored has now been honored. Which leaves 1975 to the present day.
So who remains that is worthy of a banner raising?
There are a handful of players who should be regarded as sure things and the next honorees will likely come from this group:
BRUCE “SOUP” CAMPBELL ‘78
Soup passed away last year but he’ll be honored posthumously. He is arguably the last pre-1980 player that deserves the honor. An Honorable Mention All-American, Campbell was one of the top 5 high schoolers in the nation when he selected PC. A smooth southpaw, Soup was ahead of his time as a player. At 6’9, in an era where 6’9 players manned the post, Campbell was a slick ballhandler and passer and more of a small forward. With 1,809 points and 949 rebounds, PC reached the postseason in all four of his seasons, with 2 NITs and 2 NCAA’s.
OTIS THORPE ‘84
Whenever PC fans discuss players deserving of being represented in the rafters, or a ceremony occurs in which other players are honored, the question invariably is asked, “Why isn’t Thorpe up there?” Be patient, Friar fans, it’s going to happen. There were just some older players who had to be taken care of first. A two-time Honorable Mention All-American, Otis was PC’s bright light in the dark, early days of the Big East. While being double and tripled teamed, Thorpe managed 1,625 points and 902 rebounds and went on to an outstanding NBA career. It also doesn’t hurt that Otis has been back to Providence several times in recent years and, unlike a recent honoree from Washington, DC, would show up to anchor the celebration.
Billy Donovan ‘87
For two years, Donovan was a pudgy, slow kid out of Long Island. Enter Rick Pitino who emphasized a stronger work ethic, and suddenly the Friars had their version of Billy the Kid. Donovan transformed into a point guard who could dominate games and square off against the Big East’s elite and the Friars’ emerged from the league’s scrap heap, able to challenge the status quo. An Honorable Mention All-American, Billy scored 1,328 points and had 546 assists and averaged 20.6 ppg as a senior in leading PC to its second Final Four.
ERIC MURDOCK ‘91
Eric Murdock Time became a rallying cry for Friar fans during the Man of Steals’ superlative senior season. Murdock gained First and Second Team All-America notice by averaging 25.6 ppg and pouring in points at a record clip. Oh, and along the way, he also shattered the NCAA career steals record with 376 swipes. Murdock became the second Friar to crack 2,000 points, finishing with 2,021, topped 500 rebounds and approached 500 assists. One of the Friars’ greatest all-around players, it’s only a matter of time before Eric’s number goes up.
Ryan Gomes ‘05
A First Team All-American, Gomes keyed the 2004 NCAA Friars with his scoring and rebounding prowess. The versatile forward burst on the scene as a freshman and never stopped producing as he broke Jimmy Walker’s 38 year old school scoring record with 2,138 points, while also adding 1,028 rebounds. While some fans criticized him for stepping away from the basket as a senior, he averaged 21.6 ppg. After a fine NBA career, Gomes is often visible at the Dunk during games and is a no-brainer to be honored.
Disregarding players who have recently graduated (more on that in a bit), these are the 5 sure-fire, slam-dunk picks to be the next to have their numbers honored. By our estimation, according to the criteria, three others could also be considered.
Jamel Thomas ’99: Thomas certainly put up numbers, averaging 22 ppg as a senior and scoring 1,971 points overall. A key part of PC’s Elite Eight run in 1997, Jamel was a jumping jack swingman who achieved Honorable Mention All American status. While not generally thought of among the all-time Friar greats, Thomas’ inclusion could come down the road.
John Linehan ’02: No one ever played tougher man defense than John Linehan. He broke Eric Murdock’s career steals record, and still holds the mark with 385 and was a full-court terror for opposing ballhandlers. An Honorable Mention All-American, Linehan scored 997 points and provided steady, if unspectacular point guard play. Like Thomas, Linehan’s turn could come with time.
Marshon Brooks ’11: Playing as the main scoring option in the dreadful Keno Davis era didn’t help Brooks, but he certainly took advantage of his role. He achieved Third Team and Fourth Team All American honors after a senior season that saw him average 24.6 ppg and score 1,629 points in his career. And then there was Marshon’s school record-tying 52 point outburst against Notre Dame. Another possible down the road selection.
In terms of the recently graduated players that were alluded to earlier, there are two who will definitely see their numbers honored. But it’s just too soon at this point and there are others ahead of them.
Bryce Cotton ’14: From a high school player with no D1 or D2 scholarship offers to one of PC’s greatest players and clutch shooters, Cotton’s story is remarkable. A Third Team All American, Cotton led Ed Cooley’s resurgent program to its first NCAA berth in 10 years. The tireless point guard averaged 21.8 ppg and scored 1,975 points over four years. Schools rarely honor athletes who have only recently graduated but when Cotton’s time comes, he’s a slam dunk for this honor.
LaDontae Henton ’15: Named an Honorable Mention All American, Henton became eligible for being honored, and like Cotton, he’ll see his number go up at the proper time. A four year junk yard dog and Cooley’s first recruit, Henton led PC to back-to-back NCAA appearances. He also scored 2,059 points and grabbed 1,054 rebounds during a career in which he played more games and saw more minutes than any Friar ever.
Which brings us to two players who don’t meet the All America criteria but who are considered by many to be among the Friar greats. If PC chooses to honor them, they’ll have to bend the rules a bit.
Michael Smith ’94: Hands down the greatest rebounder in Big East history, Smith never garnered All-America mention. Even more surprisingly, despite the fact that he led the league in rebounding all three years that he played, Smith also was never named First Team All-Big East. But he is arguably the greatest pure power forward in PC annals. He scored 1,110 points and pulled down 1,038 rebounds in 3 years and averaged 11 boards a game for his career.
Austin Croshere ’97: Croshere also never received All America notice, although he was honored by the Big East. An inside-out 6’9 forward, AC helped to lead PC on its Elite Eight run in 1997 and played in the postseason all four years. He scored 1,523 points and challenged for Big East Player of the Year as a senior. Croshere had a solid NBA career and is a tireless advocate for his alma mater.
So there you have it. Eleven men already honored. Five slam dunk nominees that are likely to be among the next honorees. Two future slam dunk prospects. And five more who should be considered. Possibly another 12 banners and PC will have accomplished its goal of honoring its past.
WHOSE NUMBER GETS HONORED?
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