A Night to Honor the 1987 Final Four Friars

Providence College looked back to its past Saturday night to honor one of its greatest men's basketball teams, and one of the great stories in college basketball history. The 20th Anniversary Celebration of the 1987 PC Friars Final Four team was a great opportunity to bring Friartown together - fans, coaches, and players past and present - to honor that memorable team.

The evening began at the Rhode Island Convention Center at 5:30 with a pre-Gala reception where fans could mingle with members of the Final Four team, along with current and former players, have a drink, and purchase Final Four merchandise.

All guests made their way into the main ballroom for the 7:00 "tipoff", though the festivities didn't get under way until closer to 7:30. Banners of the members of the Final Four Friars players and coaches hung on the walls, with a head table for the team and special guests at the front of the room. Each table had a commemorative basketball signed by the members of the team, which were later auctioned off to raise $39,000 for the new Fitness Center, scheduled to open in September.

ESPN's Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery welcomed the gathering and introduced the players and coaches from the 1987 team, along with other special guests like Dave Gavitt, Mike Tranghese, Eric Reid, Joe Hassett, Tim Welsh, Bob Driscoll, Father Brian Shanley, and Jim Boeheim, who received probably the first ovation of his career in Providence.

Bob Driscoll and Father Shanley greeted everyone and spoke briefly prior to dinner. Following dinner, McDonough and Raftery continued the celebration, introducing more special guests, while keeping the crowd laughing by injecting a lot of humor.

Several guest speakers - Tranghese, Welsh, Gavitt, Reid, and Boeheim - shared their thoughts and stories on the Final Four Friars. A common theme related by the speakers had to do with the amazing transformation of the team in Rick Pitino's two years at PC, and the great story that was the 1987 Friars.

Dave Gavitt spoke of how he didn't even recognize the players at practice after Pitino had some time to work with them. Eric Reid, the former voice of the Friars, compared the Friars to the Miami Heat's 2006 championship team under Pat Riley, referring to them as a "Forever Team". Jim Boeheim displayed a good sense of humor, including telling the story of how he interrupted the Pitino's honeymoon to interview Rick for an assistant coaching job in 1976. He also explained how he felt the Friars would have beaten any team in the Final Four that year other than his Orangemen, due to Syracuse's familiarity with PC's style of play, as well as their great talent, athleticism, and size, including having Sherman Douglas as one of the only if not the only point guard that could handle Billy Donovan.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a "round-sofa" discussion of the Final Four team, featuring McDonough, Raftery, Pitino, and Donovan. Pitino spoke candidly about the events leading up to him taking the job at PC, how he originally hoped some of the returning players would transfer after he took the job, and how didn't receive any interest from Jim Calhoun at Northeastern or the coach at Fairfield when trying to convince them to take a Big East point guard transfer in Billy D. He also spoke of the different reception he received when he returned as coach of Louisville to PC and Kentucky ... getting mostly booed at Kentucky, but getting a warm standing ovation at PC nearly 20 years after leaving, which caused him to tear up. He also addressed the current Friars team, saying if they work hard like their predecessors 20 years ago, great things will be in their future.

Donovan spoke of his and his teammates' experiences adjusting to coach Pitino and his staff's practices, including the first practice when a player arrived 25 minutes late, and was made to run 25 miles by Pitino. It was a new world for them. He spoke of how the team gradually transformed into an improving, legitimate Big East team.

Jeff Van Gundy and Marty Conlon also contributed their personal stories to the mix, which gave a nice, lighthearted look into this Friars team.

Concluding the evening, a video about the 1987 Friars was shown. It included interviews with players and coaches, along with highlights from important games during the season and on the road to New Orleans and the Final Four.

In general, the main factors that can be attributed to the Friars' success in the 1986-1987 season are the long hours the coaches and players put in, never complaining, a terrific work ethic, and a great coaching staff - perhaps one of the best ever assembled, as seen by the success the coaches each had in the college ranks and the NBA after leaving PC.

Another key point is that Pitino came to PC from the New York Knicks and the NBA, so he had a good knowledge of using and defending the 3 point shot, which was new to the college game that year. This, coupled with the Friars relentless pressure defense, made them a difficult team to play, and attributed to their run to the Final Four. A good question is if this could be done in the current day with restrictions on practice to 20 hours a week. It certainly would be a more difficult task.

The 1987 Final Four Gala was a very well organized event. It was a sellout, with all the team and coaches in attendance except Abdul Shamsid-Deen, Darryl Wright, Bryan Benham, Gordie Chiesa, Stu Jackson and Sean Kearney. This great turnout 20 years later shows how much that team was loved by its fans even to this day, and what an important impact it had in shaping the lives of the players and coaches.

It was truly a memorable night to honor a "Forever Team".

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