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On August 24, 2011, Kris Dunn, a highly rated point guard out of New London High in Connecticut, gave a verbal commitment to new Providence head coach Ed Cooley. Dunn was a 6’3, 175 pound maestro who was Scout.com’s number-one ranked point guard in the class and a Top 20 player nationally. When Dunn, who had also considered Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette, Boston College and others, announced for Providence, Cooley was confident that he had landed his point guard for the next four years.
Things are seldom ever that simple. A shoulder injury suffered late in his senior season was aggravated over the summer before he enrolled at PC and Dunn missed the first 9 games of his freshman season recovering from shoulder surgery. Even when he returned, he played with hesitation and it wasn’t until late in the year that he began flashing his McDonald’s All-American-level skills.
Hopes were high for his second season but those hopes were dashed during an exhibition game against Rhode Island College when an opposing player landed on that same shoulder during a scrum for the ball near the Friars’ bench. After four limited games, Dunn was forced to shut it down for the season and endure a second surgery to his shoulder.
During his long absences, Cooley was forced to find an alternative and Bryce Cotton stepped into the role of point guard for the Friars. A virtual unknown coming out of high school, Cotton stepped into the starting point guard role and developed into an All-American, scoring nearly 2,000 points in his career. He developed into one of PC’s great clutch shooters and led the Friars to a Big East Tournament championship and the school’s first NCAA appearance in 10 years. While undrafted, Cotton’s abilities and athleticism have earned him NBA minutes.
Meanwhile, healthy at last, Dunn returned for the 2014-15 season. Finally able to play free of pain, Dunn’s season established him as superstar on the national stage. He regularly stuffed stat sheets and averaged 15.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 7.5 apg and 2.7 steals and notched a triple-double. Those numbers helped PC to a 22-12 record and a second consecutive NCAA trip. A two-way terror, Dunn was recently named Blue Ribbon magazine’s preseason National Player of the Year.
The reality of the situation was not lost on Ed Cooley. He knew that Dunn was a special talent who would one day be plying his trade in the NBA; he just didn’t know when. And so, the quest for Who Would Replace Kris Dunn began.
During the 2013-14 season, the Friars’ coaching staff kept their eye out for point guards. Dunn was out for the season with his second shoulder injury and Cotton was a senior. The Friars had no guarantee that Dunn would ever return to form and desperately needed depth at the lead guard slot.
Kaleb Joseph was the early top target at point guard but ended up at Syracuse. Kevin Zabo, Winston Morgan, Wayne Baldwin, Khadeen Carrington, Shevar Newkirk, Khari Beaufort and Conrad Chambers, among others, were all names that Friar fans heard bandies about during the course of the season.
In January of 2014, St. Anthony’s Tarin Smith appeared ready to pull the trigger for PC. He was a slight point guard who had no high major offers and PC had a need but an offer never materialized. As the winter extended, it became apparent that Smith would jump at whoever offered and after a visit to Nebraska, he committed to the Cornhuskers.
In the spring, the Friars’ focus shifted when Josh Fortune surprisingly announced his intention to transfer. Now, PC belatedly began pursuing shooting guards as their attention to point guards was pushed to the backburner. Cooley and staff came up empty after getting in late with a number of shooting guards, but their secondary pursuit of point guards did not stop.
The college was briefly considered by a number of prospects that it pursued with gusto in the spring. Nate Mason ended up at Minnesota, Tremaine Isabell landed at Missouri, Devonte Graham was reeled in by Kansas and out-going Jayhawk point guard Naadir Tharpe was considered, along with Armel Potter.
Late in the spring, the Friars did land 5’11 point guard Kyron Cartwright from Compton, California. Considered a sleeper, Cartwright was considering Loyola Marymount, New Mexico, Cal Fullerton, San Diego and Pepperdine before the Friars jumped in.
In the 2015 recruiting cycle, Cooley and company again targeted some top talent at point guard. Jalen Adams was an early target but that interest cooled and Adams chose Connecticut. While PC had luck filling their shooting guard needs in this class, one by one their point guard targets chose other destinations. Over the course of the season, the Friars pursued a number of blue chip point guards. Eli Cain, Jarvis Johnson, Justin Jenifer, Justin Robinson, David Crisp, John Crosby and Traci Carter were all mentioned at some point with Providence but all landed elsewhere.
Ed Cooley knew he had dodged a bullet. Kris Dunn had generated a lot of buzz in the spring and a number of NBA mock drafts had him going in the first round. While he may not have snuck into the lottery, there seemed to be no question that Dunn, had he decided to declare, would have been a first-rounder with a guaranteed contract. But Dunn, going against the grain, decided to return to Providence for his redshirt junior year.
Still, Cooley knew that the 2015-16 season was likely Dunn’s last in a Friar uniform and so the need to land a quality replacement was even more pressing. Cartwright had had a promising freshman season, but he was limited and besides that, there was no other pure point guard on the roster other than Kyron. With a limited number of scholarships to give, landing a point guard was a priority for the 2016 class.
At first glance, Providence would appear to have a great deal going for it in terms of attracting a blue chip point guard. First, Kris Dunn will likely be gone next year, and so, for the first time in three years, a point guard can come in knowing that he won’t have to sit behind Dunn and will only have to compete with Cartwright for playing time. Second, between Cotton and Dunn, PC, under Ed Cooley, is establishing itself as a program where point guards can come, develop and go on to the NBA. Third, with a ballhandling legend like God Shammgod on staff, along with Andre LaFleur, who developed many great guards at Connecticut, point guards know that they’ll receive great tutoring.
Despite that, this cycle has been difficult so far for Providence. Unlike most of their Big East brethren, the Friars have no verbals so far, and the quest for a point guard to replace Dunn remains unfulfilled. PC has certainly taken their shots. Early in the summer, Cooley’s attention was firmly focused on T.J. Gibbs, and he seemed interested, but he verballed to Notre Dame in May. Tony Carr was a legitimate target but committed to Penn State. Bryce Aiken trimmed his list and excluded PC and Seton Hall may be his landing spot. Most recently, Justice Kithcart committed to Pittsburgh.
The most curious recruitment may have been that of Quentin Jackson, a 6’3 point out of Virginia, a target of new assistant Jeff Battle. Jackson cut his list to Providence, Charlotte, Lehigh, Rutgers and Cincinnati and word quickly leaked that PC might have the edge. Just as quickly, Jackson committed to Charlotte.
The Friars, however, remain fully engaged with a number of intriguing prospects. Shamorie Ponds is a 6-foot point out of Thomas Jefferson High and is the highest ranked point guard prospect still on Providence’s board. The 41st-rated player in the class, Ponds is reportedly down to PC, St. John’s and Creighton, with most experts giving the Johnnies the edge. Ponds’ decision could come at any moment, as he and his parents debate the merits of St. John’s and Providence. He would appear to be a perfect replacement for Dunn, lacking only size.
Three other prospects appear to be lined up behind Ponds. Maliek White, from George Wythe High in Virginia is a 6’2 point who is considering Providence, Boston College, Cincinnati, Fairfield, Hofstra, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Towson, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, among others. White was thought to potentially be part of a package deal with power forward J.J. Matthews until Matthews tore his ACL and ended up committing to Towson. It remains possible that White could also join Matthews at Towson, but he does still have an October 2 visit at PC scheduled.
Jalen Harris is a 6-footer out of the Greenfield School in North Carolina, considering Providence, SMU, Vanderbilt, Buffalo, Charlotte, DePaul, Florida State, North Carolina State, Clemson, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. A year ago, Harris was 5’9 and 130 pounds but he has grown and his game has developed along with his growth. Like White, Harris has a tight handle and is a quick point who can get into tight spaces and drive and dish.
Finally, PC recently checked out Davion Mintz, a 6’3 point from North Mecklenburg High in North Carolina, a late-bloomer who is considering Providence, Delaware, Robert Morris and Marshall, among others. But the bigger schools are beginning to get involved.
And so the quest continues. A Ponds’ commitment would be an ideal ending for the Friars, but make no mistake: Ed Cooley and staff are dialed in on landing a point guard in the 2016 class and the sense of urgency is only increasing.