Put yourself in the shoes of a college basketball head coach. It’s your job everyday to guide potential NBA stars to play to the highest possible level. You also need to work with a team of scouts and assistant coaches to find high school players to play for you in the future. Providence College men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley follows this routine every day. Sports Illustrated Kids got to spend a day at Providence, touring the facility, watching practice, and interviewing Coach Cooley and many of the players. During practice, he explained the importance of concentration and communication. Practice was very intense and players needed extreme athletic ability to be successful.
Another point he made was to always play with purpose and to use basketball as a life lesson. In an interview, he said that the biggest accomplishments of his career were becoming a father, graduating from college, and having the opportunity to give back to the community. He believes basketball is only “the cherry on top” to those achievements. One other thing he mentioned is his belief that players need to graduate. “We’ve never had a player play for me in 24 years of coaching that has exhausted their eligibility and not graduate,” he says. “So I would hold the school accountable for that and I, as the head coach, would hold myself accountable for that. You have to graduate to create an opportunity for yourself.”
After watching Coach Cooley during one of the first practices of the season, the most important aspects of coaching a college basketball team became clear. At Providence College, they take a different approach to preparation by establishing a family environment where the coaches can still guide the players to be the best they can be. This begins with recruiting. “Recruiting is the hardest part of the job but the most important part of the job,” says Cooley. “The biggest part of recruiting is who loves you. That’s what we talk about in recruiting. You want to recruit the people you love and that has to be reciprocated by them loving you.”
In the Big East, Providence often matches up against ranked teams. But it doesn’t change the preparation. “I think every preparation should be the same,” he says. “I don’t think you take anything for granted whether you’re playing the number one team in the country, or the number 347 team in the country. You do what you do and that’s called culture, you have to have a culture of unbelievable habits, you have to have a culture of toughness, of togetherness, of sharing, caring, loving one another, not being afraid to make mistakes in order to have success later,” he says. “Any coach in the country is not going to look at playing the number one team versus the number 347 team. You have to make sure your players follow that because by nature there could be a letdown. That’s why you see even in college football, Major League Baseball, the NBA, sometimes the worst teams beat the best teams on mental preparation and that’s where you have to be a psychologist in our sport.”
Whether you are a coach or a senior player, you are expected to be a leader and be a good influence on younger players. “The best leaders are servers, the best leaders give, the best leaders listen, and then they execute,” emphasizes Cooley.
Since being hired in 2011 by the Friars, Coach Cooley has led his team to a 123-80 (.606) record, a Big East Tournament Championship in ‘14, and four straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
The Friars enter this season with five seniors; last year they only had one. Both Rodney Bullock, a forward, and Kyron Cartwright, a guard, were named to the preseason all-conference team. Cartwright says that Cooley has impacted him for the better. “First they changed me physically, obviously I got a lot bigger and a lot stronger,” he says. “And then mentally, just keeping me on the right track. Teaching me a lot of things as a man, how to grow and be a productive person and how to thank a lot of people along the way.”
When coaches create an atmosphere where team members feel appreciated, team chemistry improves. After practice, Cooley was practicing putts on a putting mat in his office, surrounded by family members who were in town.
“It’s always about people," says Cooley. "No matter what it comes down to you have to interact with people, so, please, thank you, holding doors, smiling, making people feel a part of this. Our entire mantra here at Providence is ‘Us. We. Together. Family. Friars.’ That encapsulates everything.”
As a college basketball coach, it’s your job to provide a positive encouragement towards personal and team-based performance. “Coach Cooley talks to me a lot about defense, he believes I can be the best defender in the Big East, so I believe in that and I keep working on my defense and hope it pays off,” says Alpha Diallo, a sophomore guard. Diallo led the Friars in steals as a freshman last season with 29.
“A lot of things happen in basketball and get you frustrated, and [Cooley] always tells me to stay in the moment and keep playing,” adds sophomore guard Drew Edwards.
Andrew Fonts is a freshman guard and he is looking forward to becoming a part of this environment. “I hope to learn just how to be a leader, and how to be the best teammate I can be and supporting everyone on the team,” he says.
Another big part of a college basketball coach’s job is mentoring his players. Cooley says that the greatest advice he could give is living in the moment and taking nothing for granted. Senior forward Tom Planek has benefited from this advice. “When I was a freshman, I came in, wasn’t the loudest guy, wasn’t the most vocal but Coach Cooley has really helped me gain confidence and become a leader,” he says.
On the court, Coach Cooley wants the best for his players. Off the court, he wants to see them grow into respectful young men. “Be appreciative, say thank you, and never think this can’t be taken away from you.”
Photographs by (from top): Dylan Buell/Getty Images; Brian Clark (2)