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Providence’s Ed Cooley not lacking confidence with “unknown” team

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Give Providence head coach Ed Cooley a lot of credit. When life gives him lemons, he does his best to make lemonade.

With Providence losing superstars — and All-Big East First Team members — Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, Cooley still heads into the 2016-’17 season with boundless optimism, even though that optimism is shrouded in uncertainty.

“We’re the unknown,” Cooley said Tuesday at Big East Media Day. “We’re the complete unknown. Nobody knows who we are.”

Cooley grasps the significance of losing Dunn and Bentil and what they meant to a program that has made three straight NCAA Tournaments. He knows getting back to the NCAAs for a fourth straight time without them will be tough.

Cooley is not one to back down from a challenge, though.

“The new era has kicked in,” said Cooley.

“We’re a different team, it will be more by committee. When you have somebody like Kris and Ben you can get into a two-man game and let them win the game for you.

“Not having Kris is good and bad. The good part is everybody else got to play. The bad part is everybody else got to play. He (Dunn) made you look like a good coach.”

Without Dunn and Bentil, as well as rotation member Junior Lomomba, Providence suffered in terms of perception: Big East coaches picked the Friars to finish in ninth place in the preseason poll.

In spite of all this, Cooley is still an extremely confident man. Perception doesn’t affect his reality.

“We’re excited about this year’s team,” Cooley added. “We got to earn our way up. We have to find out what our identity is and we’re not there yet. But it’s a fun group. We’re an athletic group and I think we’ll develop just fine.”

A lot of Friar fans will surely miss Dunn, but they are confident that junior point guard Kyron Cartwright can take on the responsibility of the lead guard.

Cartwright could have started for many Big East teams, and he is primed for a breakout season. When considering that Cartwright averaged 5.9 points and 4 assists in just 24.2 minutes per game last season behind Dunn, he could attain a far higher level of play with more minutes and responsibility.

Cooley doubled down on that sentiment.

“I expect Kyron to lead the league in assists,” Cooley boasted. “I expect his numbers offensively to triple. I think he has the chance to be an all-conference guard.”

None one will say Cooley lacks confidence in his players. It just wouldn’t be Cooley if he wasn’t a calm, cool and confident coach.

Another player who will have to step up big-time for the Friars is junior forward Rodney Bullock. He is coming off a solid season as the third option for the Friars. He averaged 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season in his first fully healthy season. Bullock is a versatile player who will be asked to go above and beyond the call of duty this season.

“Rodney’s role will be really, really big,” said Cooley.

Providence’s coach was also very excited about the impact George Mason transfer Isaiah Jackson can make for his team. Jackson, a versatile forward, averaged 8.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in his last season with the Patriots.

“Isaiah Jackson is the Swiss Army knife,” Cooley said. “He does everything and I mean he may even cook for you. He is really a solid piece for us.”

While Cooley lauded the rest of the Big East for being strong top to bottom, he does not want to count out his team just yet.

This current incarnation of the Friars reminds Cooley of an underrated Boston College team that was predicted to do nothing at the turn of the century. Cooley, who was an assistant for Al Sinner at the time (the 2000-’01 season), said that team went far and above expectations.

“When I was at Boston College — when we were in the Big East — in 2000, I don’t know where we were picked, I think it was close to last. And (then) we ran away with the conference. We won the Big East regular season (and) the Big East conference tournament. This team reminds me of that team.”

Although Cooley is showing a lot of ambition, no one will fault him for trying to inject some optimism into his team — especially for a team that lost so much.

While Cooley is working with a lot of moving parts, if things come together as he expects, Providence can exceed everybody’s expectations.

At least Providence will be led by a coach that believes in his players, even if they are “unknown.”

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