John Rooke: State of the Program

Let's make one thing perfectly clear. I am also a fan.

You can't be associated with a program – or a job – for 18 years without having affection for what you do, or who you represent. My position is certainly a unique one, too. As a play-by-play voice, I feel that having impartiality in broadcasting is vital to upholding journalistic standards. How can anyone believe what you report, if you're spouting "opinion," as opposed to "fact?" This is what I was trained to do, years ago.

Yet in the present world we live in, where the internet permeates much of what we get into as fans, opinion is often passed off as fact. So, that leaves those of us who rely on journalistic integrity caught somewhere in the middle of Sgt. Friday's "just the facts ma'am," the blowhards you often hear on sports talk radio, spouting untruths and obnoxious opinions, and message boards and blogs. Our radio broadcasts are played relatively straight. This piece for Friar Insider, however, is largely an opinion, based on some fact and personal observation. I say all of this in advance of one comment:

I am also disappointed with the final results of this season.

How can a Friar fan not be disappointed? All of us felt teased by the talents this team showcased through most of the season, yet they fell short of their stated goal – to make the Big East Tournament. I do not consider myself a "Tim Welsh toadie," yet Coach Welsh is a friend. He has a job to do, as do I. There is a respect between us. So, when it's time to be critical, we can be that way with each other, although the Coach chooses to keep much of his opinion on matters to himself. And I respect that.

This much, however, I know. Coach Welsh is crushed. No one works harder, and I have seen that through the previous two coaching regimes at Providence College. Sure, Rick Barnes and Pete Gillen (and their staffs) worked very hard while they were here. They had successes, and they had failures, too. The current staff is no different, nor should they be treated any differently than the others. Everyone has high standards, everyone wants to build a consistent winner. I will argue, however, that it is harder now to do this consistently, than it was 10-20 years ago. It isn't an excuse, it is a fact. This program operates in a universe that is undeniably more difficult to exist in, than previous Friar teams operated. The end result is that this staff has a more difficult job than the others, simply because we hold them to similar standards as the others. Add to this the fact that "Rick Barnes isn't walking through that door," and "Pete Gillen isn't walking through that door again, either." Just my two cents.

This match-up with Marquette was a losing battle, before it ever began. The kids were crushed, figuratively and spiritually, after the Notre Dame loss, and we all had doubts as to whether there would be any life left in their game before the tip-off in Milwaukee.

It was an 88-78 loss, which ultimately ends this teams' season short of their goal. To their credit, they did battle hard, even if it ended in vain. But there was enough of a silver lining in that loss to see that there is hope for the future – the immediate future – for this program. While Donnie McGrath's abilities will be missed, without question, Sharaud Curry could very well be an all-Big East performer before he is through. Same for Geoff McDermott. 30 offensive rebounds against the Golden Eagles. Randall Hanke showing that in an up-tempo game, he can be a very good post player. Weyinme Efejuku's ability to make opposing players look foolish trying to stay in front of him. Take a good look. There's enough there to believe this will turn around, and soon.

This teams' shortcomings had to do more with experience, or a lack thereof, than anything else. You cannot win with a predominantly freshman team in this league, or any other, outside of Duke, North Carolina, and maybe UConn. Were we upset when Curry's last second shots failed? Sure. When Hill and Hanke forgot how to box-out or play post defense? Absolutely. When McDermott threw away passes he had no business making? Yes, yes and yes. But what these guys learned, is that they cannot take down their level of intensity. And if they do, they will get beat individually. If they get beat individually, they'll be beaten as a team. Then, they won't play. Maybe they'll pout. Or even quit. It happened this season to this team, yet those who want to be here remain.

No excuses here. This team did not play defense well enough to win in this league, and it will need to improve – a lot – in order to win next year. These young Friars learned that this season, but now they need to apply what they learned to the floor. Or, someone else will come and take their spot, much like what happened earlier this season. By all indications, the incoming class of recruits should help in three key areas – defense, toughness and athleticism. The Friars will be young again next year, but they will also be a bit wiser.

One additional item to remember. Recognition is very important for young players. It took these Friars time to recognize what they needed to do in game situations on the floor. Some pick it up quicker than others. Coaches can coach, preach, yell, cajole, explain and explain some more until they are blue in the face, and players will still screw up. It is a fact of life in every program, in every sport. It happens more often in some programs, than others…especially in programs that are forced to take more chances on players, on scheduling, on traveling. So, while we can see what needs to be done in certain situations, and wonder "why didn't the coach do such-and-such," please know that indeed, these questions have been asked. Many times over. Sometimes, they simply don't get answered until much later, if at all.

Perhaps the picture isn't as rosy for you. It's understandable. And at some point, there will be an ultimate accountability. We're not there yet. The passion to succeed, perhaps as soon as next season, is alive and well, and it comes from our fans, the broadcasters, and our coaching staff.

That much is perfectly clear, even if nothing else is.

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