Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big East.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In three years at Providence, Ed Cooley has been able to get plenty of talent into his program.
But actually getting that talent on the floor has been easier said than done.
Ricky Ledo was never cleared by the NCAA to play. The Providence native, a gifted scorer, was drafted the following June without ever playing a collegiate game. The following season, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock — both Rivals Top 150 recruits —were set to add depth to the forward positions. And both were suspended prior to the start of the season. Austin is now on his third college in three semesters and Bullock is set to miss his second straight season after tearing his ACL last month.
For Kris Dunn, a five-star recruit and the top point guard in the Class of 2012, it has been a pair of injuries to the same shoulder that has limited to only 29 games through the first two years with the Friars. A redshirt sophomore, the former McDonald’s All-American is looking to put the injuries behind him, and the Friars will need him because their hopes for this season fall squarely on his shoulders.
“We’re excited to have his smile back,” Cooley said hours before Providence’s Late Night Madness on Oct. 17. “He’s a charismatic young man, and could arguably one of the best point guards in the country at the end of the season.”
Even with Dunn sidelined for the final 28 games of the 2013-14 season, Providence was able to reach its first NCAA tournament in a decade on the back of Bryce Cotton. The all-Big East first team guard embodied toughness and endurance for the Friars. At one point during the year he was averaging 40.2 minutes per game. The injured Dunn treated every game like as a learning experience, the Dunkin Donuts Center his classroom and Cotton the professor.
“When you have a year off and you can just see how things work game-by-game. You understand the pace of the game, and you can see the open areas,” Dunn told NBCSports.com.
Providence took a foreign tour to Italy in August with Dunn still not cleared for full-contact drills. It wasn’t until mid-September when Dunn was allowed to practice without restrictions, which came as a sigh of relief for Cooley and key returnees such as LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris.
“It’s great having him back,” Henton said. “He makes it easier for guys like me. He’ll find you in transition for easy buckets. He brings a lot of energy to the team. Defensively, he’s a dog. I just love playing with him.”
With three starters gone from a season ago, almost all of Providence’s experience will reside in the front court with Henton and Harris, both of whom started all 35 games, as well as Carson Desrosiers, who will move into the starting center spot. With Cotton’s graduation and Josh Fortune’s transfer to Colorado, it will be a new-look perimeter for Cooley, though. Dunn’s year off to fully recover, mixed with the talent that made him the top-rated point guard in 2012, will help the transition as Junior Lomomba, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey adapt to the level of play.
“He’s mature,” Cooley added. “The game is slowing down for him. Physically, he’s as gifted a player as I’ve ever coached.”
Being able to better understand the game may be the bright spot in an otherwise difficult two-year stretch. Even before arriving on campus in the fall, Dunn had a banged up shoulder. He had injured it during a USA Basketball Under-18 team tryout, requiring surgery that put him out until the second semester of his freshman season. With Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from the FIBA World Cup and Paul George’s season-ending leg injury, an ongoing discussion this summer has been whether top players should or should not suit up for the national team, risking injuries to represent their country. Two years later, Dunn doesn’t regret his decision.
“Not at all,” Dunn said. “It’s an honor to play for the U.S. It was just an honor to even tryout. Freak accidents happen. You can’t base decisions off that.”
Entering the second year of the Big East relaunch, Villanova, a top-15 team, will be the clear-cut favorite while there is uncertainty among the four other contenders. It might just set the stage for a healthy Dunn to reintroduce himself to college basketball and propel the Friars to another NCAA tournament.
“Just like last year, there are a lot of good teams,” he said. “It’s exciting because you don’t know who could come out of it.”