Ahh, the Big East. THE best pure basketball conference in the entire country. Physicality, history, and players that aren’t obsessed with one-and-done. That’s what makes up this conference. It is the grittiest conference in America, and year after year outperforms pre-season expectations. What’s not to love?
I had the privilege to chat with Coach Ed Cooley of the Providence Friars on his time there, his thoughts on star player Alpha Diallo entering his name into the NBA Draft, and much more. For those who don’t know, Cooley is one of the best and most interesting coaches in the Big East. He’s surpassed 250 all time wins while at Fairfield and Providence, and has transformed the Friars from a bottom feeder in the Big East to a team that is feared by anyone – even Villanova. He’s produced NBA players, earned the Friars AP Poll rankings, and has put Rhode Island’s team into the NCAA Tournament on numerous occasions.
Oh, and he once ripped his pants in the 2018 Big East Tournament: (sorry Ed, it’s too irresistible to not post!)
Needless to say, Ed Cooley is one of the greatest coaches of our generation. Here’s what makes him such a great coach.
ME: Coach, you’ve been at Providence since 2011, and since then have really taken the Friars from a team near the bottom of the Big East, to a highly competitive program, at one point reaching five straight NCAA Tournaments. What can you attribute that to?
COOLEY: I have been fortunate to have had great support from our President Fr. Brian Shanley and our Athletic Director Bob Driscoll. They have allowed us to grow and have provided support on so many levels. Most recently, building us our state-of-the-art practice facility, the Ruane Friar Development Center. On top of that, I have had great staff members that have done an amazing job recruiting and helping build our program.
ME: Are there any role models in your life that have had an impact on your coaching style?
COOLEY: Coach Al Skinner has been my mentor. He gave me my first big break in coaching and was a tremendous teacher for me. While I have modeled a lot of what he has done I have also developed some of my own brand and techniques.
ME: What can you say to the strength of the coaches in the Big East – between yourself, Jay Wright, Kevin Willard, and others?
COOLEY: Consistency and stability are always keys when it comes to coaching. I have so much respect for all the coaches in our league. To play a true round robin schedule like we do, is a test for any coach. When you factor in how tough our league is it obvious why we average half the league making the NCAA Tourney each year.
ME: Alpha Diallo recently put his name in the NBA Draft process. How have you guided him with that decision?
COOLEY: Yes. Alpha and I talk regularly. The way the NBA Draft is structured now, this is a great opportunity to garner info and grow as a player.Courtesy of friarbasketball.com
ME: What about Alpha’s game can translate to the NBA?
COOLEY: Alpha is a tough player. He rebounds well and is a very athletic. He can play a number of different positions both offensively and defensively so he is a match-up nightmare for other teams.
ME: Your Friars were picked to finish pretty high in the pre-season Big East polls. You had some ups and downs, but overall couldn’t get out of the jungle that the Big East was this past season. What are you looking to improve on for next season?
COOLEY: We were young in 2018-19 and that led to some inconsistent decision making on offense. I do believe we made great strides improving on defense. I am looking to see that continue next year. I also would like to see us improve on our perimeter shooting.
ME: Finally coach, what would you say to younger players trying to make it to the collegiate level?
COOLEY: Get in the gym and stay in the gym. Don’t be afraid to work hard. Lots of kids think they need to work on their weaknesses and tend to neglect their strengths. Work on both. Also, when your coach has you on the bench, watch your teammates and learn. You can grow so much by using that time on the bench to study the game.