Guard-Jam?

Providence College received their fifth commitment towards the Class of 2006 when guard Brian Rudolph from New Bedford announced for the Friars on March 21. Rudolph is the fourth guard in this class and the sixth in the past two classes. Does this give PC the potential for a deep backcourt… or the potential for problems?

When Corey Lowe verballed to Providence last May, most Friar fans figured that the 6'3 lead guard for Newton North in Massachusetts would team with in-coming freshmen Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku to form a solid nucleus at point guard for the Friars over the next three or four years.

Curry was better than just about anybody expected during the course of his freshman season, proving to be a true push-point for the Friars, and a player who would lay a rock solid claim to the point guard position for the next three seasons. Efejuku, meanwhile, looked less like a point as a freshman. His handle was careless at times and his outside shooting erratic. He seemed more comfortable slashing to the rim from the two-guard slot.

Which was fine, because Lowe was coming in, and most assumed that Corey would be, at the least, a great backup to Curry. Except that some reports are now describing Lowe as more of a combo guard, capable of playing the point, but not a pure point.

In comes Brian Rudolph, a 5'11, 170 pound point guard from New Bedford High. Up until recently, Rudolph had flown under the radar, and seemed destined for a lower Division I program, like New Hampshire, but recent hot performances, including a couple against Corey Lowe and Newton North, pushed his stock way up.

Suddenly, Karl Hobbs from George Washington was in the gym for New Bedford games, and George Mason, James Madison and Wake Forest started to watch Rudolph as well. Hobbs wanted Rudolph to prep a year because GW was out of scholarships, and the Friars jumped into the hunt.

Rudolph averaged 23.9 points and 10.1 assists per game for the 18-5 Whalers, and developed somewhat of a reputation as a score-first point guard. However, his coach, Ed Rodrigues, went out of his way to praise Brian's passing ability, when he told the Providence Journal, "Brian has a specialty. His vision makes him a great passer, and you don't see that in a lot of point guards today. He's a pass-first point guard. I can see all three of those kids (Rudolph, Lowe and Curry) working together."

Rudolph is the most highly recruited player in Rodrigues' 26 years as the Whalers' coach. He told the Standard-Times, "If I had to describe him, I'd say he's a player who has a speciality that few others have. Brian has amazing vision on the basketball court and he has a knack of finding the open man. I've never had a player who can pass like he does, and I know for a fact he's the only player to score more that 1,200 points and hand out more than 600 assists since I've been here."

So where does that leave Providence and coach Tim Welsh? With four guards in this class – Rudolph, 6'3 Corey Lowe, 6'2 Brian McKenzie and 6'3 Jamal Barney – added to sophomores-to-be Curry and Efejuku, there is flexibility… and minutes issues. Is it a blessing or a curse to have so many backcourt players?

It can be a little of both. First, the positives.

For the first time in years, Welsh will not have to be concerned with season-altering injuries in the backcourt. Guards like John Linehan, Abdul Mills, Dwight Brewington and Gerald Brown all suffered injuries that either ended their seasons or caused them to miss significant portions of the season.

In addition to the injuries, attrition and players whose abilities might have been misevaluated (Donell Allick, Rob McKiver) created a shortfall in the backcourt that caused walk-ons like Kareem Hayletts and Ray Cross to see major minutes.

Now that's not a concern. With six solid, young guards on the roster, Welsh will have the luxury of depth. He'll also have the luxury, if he chooses, to play up-tempo on offense, press and trap at will on defense, and run waves of fresh legs at opponents. Lowe and McKenzie come with reputations of being dead-eye outside shooters, while Barney was the leading scorer in the Baltimore area this season, so there are contrasting styles available on offense.

The single negative is playing time. For a program that has been deeply wounded by attrition over the past few years, how do you keep six hungry players happy? Or, is this group of players happy enough with Providence College to stick it out if they feel they're not playing enough?

That's got to be a concern for the coaching staff, and the players have to be sold on the value of buying into their roles. Redshirting a player from this class could be an option to alleviate the pressure of minutes. On the other hand, if one or two of these players slides to the three – say Efejuku or Barney- so that three are playing at once, then only two positions in the frontcourt are available for six frontcourt players, and the logjam becomes the frontcourt.

Whatever the case, that becomes something to worry about in the fall. For now, recruiting is the name of the game, and PC still has one scholarship to give. Look for the Friars to focus on frontcourt targets, with 6'7 Tyrone Nash a strong target, along with 6'5 Lamonte Ulmer, and a number of others. PC is also waiting on a decision by 6'5 Rakim Sanders, a Class of 2007 wing, who has narrowed his choices to PC and Boston College.

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