Requiem For A Season

When Providence College's season ended last Wednesday night in the NIT against Miami, an era ended. A core group of seniors who made up Tim Welsh's last big recruiting class was departing, and left behind were a few answers and a whole bunch of questions. We'll take a look at five questions for Friar fans to ponder.

For many, the Friars' 19-14 season and 10-8 mark in the Big East represented an overachievement of sorts. For those fans, thoughts of a top half Big East finish and postseason rumblings seemed out of the question at the beginning of the season. For others, Providence's inability to pick up crucial wins and land in the NCAA Tournament represented an underachievement for a group of experienced seniors who had seen it all over four years.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. The 2008-09 season will be remembered, both for its surprising turns and its ultimately disappointing ending. Now, five key seniors depart, and seven newcomers will arrive, hearkening a new era in Providence basketball. But until that happens, there are both memories to savor and gaping questions to be answered. Here are five questions to ponder:

1. Can anybody here play defense?
This is a legitimate question. It's been awhile since fans have been treated to solid, rip your heart out-type defense at Providence. Certainly, you'd have to go back to the midway point in the 2003-04 season at least. Since that time, PC has regularly ranked in the lower regions of the Big East in defense, and 2008-09, with a new coaching staff and a new system, was no different.

The Friars were dead last in scoring defense, and fifteenth out of sixteen teams in the league in field goal percentage defense this past season. Opponents sliced through or bombed over PC's matchup zone with ease, and the man to man defense was even worse. Clearly, the departing seniors either could not, or would not, be taught to play tough defense. Now, the coaching staff starts with a clean slate. It's up to the staff to prove that they can teach effective defense, and the word emanating from Alumni Hall is that the coaches put an extra emphasis in recruiting players who also excelled defensively, and will demand nothing short of defensive excellence from day one next season. With a fresh set of players, that might just work. Let's hope.

2. What happened to Brian McKenzie? And while we're at it, where did Marshon Brooks go?
Few players have suffered the kind of drop in production from one season to the next as Brian McKenzie. As a sophomore, McKenzie averaged 10.9 ppg and 10.8 ppg in Big East play, and shot .406 from three point range. Noted as a long range sharpshooter coming out of high school, and hyped as the best performing player on the team in preseason practices and scrimmages, McKenzie seemed primed for a breakout season.

Instead, the junior suffered through a season mired in mystery. McKenzie averaged just over 4 ppg and shot just 24% from three. Scoreless in five of his last eight games of the year, McKenzie hit two consecutive threes just once in Big East play. Against Miami, he scored a season high 13 points and sank four straight threes, but that represented his high-water mark.

Now, McKenzie will enter his senior season with much to prove. The added three point distance may have hurt him, and he will face real competition for minutes. So what happened? No one will ever know, but the mental aspect of an athlete's game can never be underestimated, and McKenzie unquestionably had a crisis of confidence.

As for Marshon Brooks, the sophomore looked like a budding superstar early in the season, as he tantalized fans with a 30 point performance against Sacred Heart and 21 points against Marquette. However, he did not reach double figures in his last eight games, and may have hit a wall physically. Word is, he was told to get into the weight room as soon as the season ended. Getting stronger to combat the physical grind of the Big East is a must, and if he can accomplish that, the sky is still the limit for Mr. Brooks.

3. Will Sharaud Curry return?
One persistent rumor swirling around the team as the season wound down, was what did the future hold for Sharaud Curry? For sure, Curry is set to graduate in May, and although he has another season of eligibility remaining, courtesy of the medical redshirt year of a season ago, some have said that Curry may be looking at his options.

Curry took a while to shake off the rust, but once he did, he played well, averaging over 11 ppg for the season and shooting well from the outside. He regained his quickness, proved that he could withstand the grind and stay healthy over the course of a season, and post-graduate schoolwork may hold no special appeal to him. So, the thought of leaving and playing professionally in Europe is certainly an option worth thinking about.

But reality may differ from perception, and that may become apparent once Curry looks closer. The truth is that he is a 5'9ish score-first point guard, and that type of player is never in high demand. There are a myriad of low level leagues that don't pay particularly well overseas, and Curry may well be able to find work in one of them. However, if he wants to play in a good league, and make good money, his best bet will be to return for his senior season, stay healthy, put up big numbers and parlay that into a nice contract.

4. Any other comings and goings of note?
The decision of Alex Kellogg on Thursday, March 26, to leave Providence should have come as no surprise. The 6'7 sophomore had a Big East body but not a Big East game, and did not score a point in nineteen games this season. In fact, Kellogg was so gun shy, that he only attempted one shot all season. With the influx of freshmen and junior college front court players next season, it became all too evident that Kellogg would have trouble seeing the floor.

"Alex is interested in pursuing other options," coach Keno Davis said. "He is a hard working young man who gave us a great effort on and off the court. He has a bright future ahead of him and we wish him the best."

Kellogg's departure opens up another scholarship, but with seven newcomers set to arrive, will the staff want to add another player, or hold the scholarship for next season? If there is an 2009 player who is an impact player, you have to take him. Short of that, with only two scholarships to give next season, and the staff involved with a slew of talented 2010 prospects, the wise choice might be to hold the scholarship, and add to the '10 haul.

The only other player with even an outside chance of moving elsewhere would seem to be Jamine "Greedy" Peterson. There had been whispers earlier in the season that Greedy was not progressing well in his transformation from an athlete into a basketball player, but lately, the word is that Peterson has looked much better over the last month or so. If that's the case, then PC will want to hang onto Greedy, as he is already a Big East-level athlete.

5. So how should we look back on PC's graduating class of 2009?
This is perhaps the toughest question of all to answer. Will history be kind to the departing five, or will the judgement of years gone by be cruel?

There's no question that collectively, the seniors most often failed to step up and grab critical games that ultimately determined the fate of their seasons. They were poor defensively, in some cases soft physically and in some cases, soft mentally. Yet, an argument could be made that this group did as well as they, in reality, could.

Despite the fact that four of the five were 1,000 point scorers, there was no dominant, take a game by the throat, here's who you look to for the big basket-type players in this class… at least not until Weyinmi Efejuku flashed consistent, dominating, get to the free throw line or score performances over the final nine games of his career. Had Efejuku played that type of ball earlier in his career, this class would have accomplished much more, but the light bulb goes on at different times for different players.

It took Jonathan Kale until his senior year for consistent production, but he was a warrior, if somewhat undersized and physically limited, at the end. Randall Hanke experienced personal issues that stunted his development as a player over his five years. Jeff Xavier, a gritty give-it-his-all defender, achieved his dream of playing major college basketball for the hometown team, but in reality was a step slow and struggled with ballhandling duties and the deeper three point line. And Geoff McDermott, always a tough rebounder, was a shell of his former self by late in his senior season, as physical ailments coupled with an ever expanding loss of confidence decreased his production, while increasing his mental mistakes.

Ultimately, this was a class that was never effectively surrounded by complimentary talent, and that is no fault of theirs. The two consecutive recruiting classes of 2003 and 2004, which included Dwight Brewington, Gerald Brown, Jeff Parmer, DeSean White, Rob McKiver and others, were complete busts for a variety of reasons. Had those classes experienced even a normal ratio of success, these seniors would have been part of deep, talented teams during their careers, and would not have been forced into miscast, starring roles. They would have had help, and the weight of basketball success would not have sat squarely on their shoulders.

In the end, it was not to be. Fate conspired against the PC class of 2009, in many forms, and the class never achieved an NCAA Tournament, and posted just a 1-5 postseason record over four years. Frustrating losses, like the Marquette game, the Notre Dame game, the Villanova game, this season were many. But there were also memorable wins… a thrashing of Connecticut in Hartford in 2006-07, along with wins over nationally ranked Boston College, Marquette and West Virginia at home; beating ranked Arkansas in Puerto Rico, beating Boston College again, and sweeping Connecticut in 2007-08; and this season, a win over 15th ranked Syracuse, and finally, the biggest of all, just the program's second-ever defeat of a number one nationally ranked team, Pittsburgh, on Senior Day.

And maybe, in the end, that's the best way to remember this group.

Scout Friars Top Stories