Thinking out loud … while wondering how to channel my inner Clark Griswold this week.
— We’ve maintained here from Day 1 — whenever that was — that Kris Dunn was a strong lean toward returning for his senior academic season at Providence College next year. Getting his degree from Providence is important to Kris, and to his family, and the realization that his game still needs improvement is a big reason why he’ll wear the black and white for one more season.
— That, and next year’s NBA draft class is already expected to be quite a bit leaner than this year’s class. Dunn, with the proper improvement to his overall game (shooting, decision-making, turnovers) could very well be a top-five pick in the 2016 draft. Just sayin’.
— Preseason Player of the Year in the Big East? Should be a slam dunk. But that kind of expectation puts pressure on a player that isn’t normal — which is one more thing that Dunn needs to learn before taking his game to the professional level. How he plays, leads and performs under pressure will go a long way toward determining his athletic future, and figuring out what kind of team the Friars will have next year.
— Teams will key on taking Dunn out of every set. They’ll put bigger defenders on him. They’ll sag and let him shoot. They’ll throw junk defenses at him. They’ll deny him the ball. Or, they’ll make him score everything and shut everyone else down. Now you can see how important his growth will be for his own success, as well as PC’s success next season.
— Congratulations to PC associate head coach Bob Simon, who is leaving Ed Cooley’s staff to join Avery Johnson’s new staff at Alabama. It’s not the head coaching position that he deserves, but it is another step toward getting where he wants to go, working in another high-profile league (SEC) and especially working with a coach with an NBA pedigree. It’s also undoubtedly a big raise, and where Big Football Dollars win over everything else. Coach Simon is one of the real good, smart, knowledgeable guys in this business, and he can’t help but be successful.
— Names to consider as a potential replacement for Simon, who was with Cooley for a total of nine years, on the PC staff? God Shammgod will get plenty of consideration, but this position likely will require someone with already-firm recruiting ties. Former Wake Forest coach Jeff Battle is a close friend of Cooley’s. Onetime PC director of basketball operations Carmen Maciarello — who left to take a floor coaching position at BU before Cooley’s staff ever coached a game and now is at George Washington ‘- also would be a consideration. Would former BC and URI coach Al Skinner, now assisting Tim O’Shea at Bryant, be interested? Additionally, former Holy Cross coach Milan Brown, who traveled with the Friars this past postseason, and current DBO Mike Jackson also should receive plenty of run. It would be an upset for the new coach to not come from this group.
— The Friars will host Illinois in the inaugural Gavitt Games Big East-Big Ten challenge next season, on Nov. 18 at the Dunk. There was never any doubt in this corner PC would get a home game in the series’ first year — how can you NOT have a game on Dave Gavitt Court?
— In tipping off the college hoop season, each Big East school will appear a minimum of six times over the eight years of this series, with Big Ten schools appearing a minimum of four times. Note the word “minimum.” With Dave Gavitt’s obvious presence and influence at Providence, it’s an upset if the Friars don’t hold the torch for the Big East throughout the event.
— Not for nuthin’, but the last time the Friars faced Illinois came in 2003, when Donnie McGrath had 15 second-half points and Ryan Gomes led the way with a 24-point, 12-rebound double-double and PC blasted a pretty good Fighting Illini team, 70-51, at Madison Square Garden. That was an Illini team featuring Deron Williams and Dee Brown in the backcourt, and was one of the more impressive defensive performances (playing zone) of Tim Welsh’s coaching tenure.
— High-profile team, high-profile league, marquee moment. Exactly the ingredients that helped the Friars build a solid non-league resume a year ago on the way to the NCAA Tournament, as they begin the quest for a third consecutive appearance in the Dance. There are two other similar stretches in team history — 1964, ’65 and ’66, and 1972, ’73, ’74 — that PC reached back-to-back-to-back NCAAs. That’s how tough it really is, and should make you appreciate the juggernaut programs at places like Duke and Kentucky. This is how you play the game today, and how history can be made next season.
— What will help propel Providence basketball back into true national prominence or relevancy isn’t so much the consecutive appearance streaks but the consistency in reaching the tournament in the first place. The 10-year droughts can’t happen any longer, if you want to be where you say you want to go.
— Onetime phenom big man Adonis De La Rosa was granted his scholarship release from St. John’s. DeLaRosa was an academic casualty for the Red Storm this past year, and I’ll say this about Chris Mullin: He has a vision for his program in mind. In this Big East, he’ll need to get that together pretty soon. Junior college transfer Darien Williams, at 6-foot-8, is a player — signing this week — and immediately becomes an important piece to next season’s puzzle. Tariq Owens, 6-foot-10, also transfers in from Tennessee, and will sit out the ’15-16 season.
— Could UConn’s Kevin Ollie actually move on to the NBA? That’s been the rumor, with the Oklahoma City job opening up and Ollie and former Friar (now Florida coach) Billy Donovan as potential candidates. Ollie, who played with Kevin Durant in OKC before returning to his alma mater, apparently took himself out of consideration this week. Five years and $15 million in Storrs, a deal he signed a year ago, remains as a nice fallback option. Which leaves Donovan, and he’s been rumored to be thinking about a move to the pros for a while. I don’t see it as a fit, but then again, I don’t run in Billy the Kid’s sneakers, either.
— So … anyone surprised the Celtics‘ playoff “run” has started out the way it has? Look, this is all a big bonus, a step toward the continued rebuild of this team and franchise. Anything — anything — the Celtics receive in the way of experience or wins is a positive for next year. But unless a little luck with personnel is mixed in, next year won’t be much different than what you see right now.
— But I will say this: I think Brad Stevens can coach. Put an actual NBA playoff-caliber team around him, and the Celtics give LeBron and the Cavs a run for their money.
— Maybe at some point this summer, the Red Sox bats and pitching will actually get on the same page? Booming bats with no pitching, and now no bats with solid pitching? When did Boston trade for the entire New York Mets roster? Stupid is as stupid does.
— Speaking of those Mets — whoa. Shades of the days when another Mookie (Wilson) roamed the diamond, a 10-game winning streak these days is something to admire. But it’s early yet.
— I’m a little surprised the Patriots schedule will open with Pittsburgh, especially since the big, early news will center on the suspensions of running backs LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Usually the NFL shies away from this kind of controversy. Perhaps the league is taking a cue from Bill Belichick and hiding behind the hoodie on this one?
— “We’ll play with the guys we have out there,” will be one of the BB quotes going into the game. That’ll suffice for the league, too. Expect the Brady vs. Roethlisberger matchup to get almost all of the hype, with the other focus of attention on the defensive backfields. Remember, no more Troy Polamalu for the Steelers, either.
— There isn’t a real, brutal multiple-game stretch on the schedule, and to that end, the defending Super Bowl champs made out pretty well. A couple of two-game stretches will prove problematic, especially playing at Dallas and at Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks after a bye week on Oct. 4. The bye week also comes very early — earlier than it has recently for the Patriots. Late-season health will be a huge factor in New England’s chances of returning to the ultimate game.
— Closing with back-to-back games on the road at the Jets and Miami will be tough, especially if either of those teams is still in the playoff chase. Those last two road games were set up that way because Gillette Stadium will be playing host to the Bruins and the NHL on New Year’s Day, so the field will need time for the reconfiguration to hockey status.
— The overall strength of schedule rates a middling-to-low 22nd in the NFL overall. Take care of your own business, and the Patriots could easily find themselves in position to do some special things in the playoffs.
— This is a very sobering thought: 6,000 of a potential 20,000 retired NFL players will suffer from Alzheimer’s or moderate dementia someday. That’s what the league believes, and because of it a federal judge has approved a $1 billion settlement plan to resolve thousands of lawsuits filed (and to be filed) by retired players. The lawsuits accuse the NFL of hiding what it has known for some time about concussion risks. The league, naturally, denies the claims.
— You’d have to be fairly dim-witted to not realize the risks of a violent, full-contact sport with collisions measured in miles per hour. I can’t imagine future player contracts not having a clause where the athlete would be forced to sign off or waive his right to future damages, knowing these risks. Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be football players.
— Speaking of dim-witted, my buddy Statbeast sez he has a friend who is, let’s just say, a little on the slow side. During a marriage counseling session, the counselor asked the friend if he knew what his wife’s favorite flower was. He leaned over, gently touched her arm and asked, “What is it, honey? Pillsbury All-Purpose?” The rest of the story isn’t pretty.
— Never let it be said that the denizens of the AFC East aren’t at least trying to keep up with the Joneses — er, Patriots. Miami’s signing this week of veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings is a good move, and hits the Patriots where they now have a literal Achilles’ heel — right in the secondary. Percy Harvin’s addition in Buffalo, likewise, is an exploitative move.
— Did you read about or hear about the story on Nate Solder‘s cancer treatment last year? In my mind, that explains quite a bit with some of his inconsistencies during the season — or, as some believed, his regression as an NFL left tackle. Solder is a stand-up guy, a great citizen, and as charitable as they come. Would you have looked at him differently had you known about his personal battle with the “Big C?” Of course. Here is where keeping injuries and illnesses close to the vest hurts the Patriots, and doesn’t do their personnel any favors. I understand the need for the right to privacy, but the NFL is a public game, played by unique individuals who also understand the need for information. Both sides of the argument make sense.
— We mentioned here last week about Bryant lacrosse coach Mike Pressler’s appearance on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It was impressive from a personal standpoint. And while his team continues to battle this year, let’s give credit where it’s due this season — Brown has the current nationally ranked team. The Bears claimed the Ocean State Cup this week, holding off the Bulldogs 9-8 to move to 11-3 on the season. They close out the Ivy schedule with Dartmouth on Saturday, and have their eyes pointed squarely toward the NCAAs.
— One of my favorite movie characters, the inimitable Clark Griswold — played by comedian Chevy Chase, in this remembrance of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983 — came to mind often this week as I attempted to steal a few days from the grind of the real world and trade the northern cold for the southern sunshine. “We’re 10 hours from the [bleeping] fun park and you want to bail out? Well, I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest — a quest for fun! You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun, we’re all gonna have so much [bleeping] fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our (bleeping) smiles!” Yes, I had fun. Thanks for asking.
— Jaylen from Iowa asked a question via Facebook this week that remains in the recesses of Patriots fans’ minds everywhere: “I wonder when the NFL is going to give us news on Deflategate? Yet they can manage to post dumb jokes the President made about it on their website.” Jaylen, you have a great question, actually. The NFL, as I’m sure you’re aware, is very PR-savvy. With the draft coming up this week, I’d really be surprised if league execs would make any announcement on this to take away from the spectacle of the draft, especially with the event moving to a new venue in Chicago. And I doubt there’s much news to tell. No smoke, no fire. Eventually, when it suits them, they’ll figure out a way to bury it in the headlines someday. Until then, we’ll all let Rob Gronkowski defend the Patriots’ honor from the President’s joke-telling.
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