Preview of the Providence College Men’s Basketball Team

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PROVIDENCE – The students have filled the gallery on one side. The spirits squads lined up at both ends and spoke during scheduled media timeouts.

Alumni Hall felt quite different from the cardboard cutouts from a season ago.

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That was the crowd when Providence hosted their men’s basketball home games in 2020-21. Even this intimate gathering for an intra-squad scrum was a long overdue improvement.

“It’s been 20 months since the last time the student body watched our players play in person,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said ahead of the 4:30 pm council. “Today will be an opportunity.”

Players split into two teams – Black and White – for a pair of 16-minute halves. Each of the 12 scholarship brothers were available with a trio of substitutes – veteran Andrew Fonts played four minutes into the first half. It was sort of a dress rehearsal for the opening of Thursday’s show against Stonehill in downtown Dunkin ‘Donuts.

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“We’ll get a taste tonight,” said Providence center Nate Watson. “We’ll be playing in front of the fans and friends of Friar and all that. But that’s nothing compared to The Dunk. It’s not 12,000 people.

“I’m delighted to perform in front of these people – I’m going to put on a show for them.”

Some of his teammates did just that on this little stage. Here are four observations as Providence completed one of its last full weeks of training before the start of the regular season.

A new improved AJ Reeves

AJ Reeves looked sensational. He cut red meat in the offseason, lost 20 pounds and was hoping the results would show in his fourth year on campus.

Think of this as immediate validation. Reeves got 10 for 15 in the field and 6 for 10 in a 3-point range in regulation. He finished with 31 points while leading the black team to a 65-63 double overtime victory.

“I think he’s in the best emotional, physical and mental condition since we’ve had him here,” Cooley said. “If we’re going to be a great basketball team nationally, we need AJ and we need Nate.”

Reeves is the most explosive perimeter scoring option on the list. Performances like this would prevent opposing defenses from chasing Watson to the post. It is likely to allow the brothers to meet or exceed the expectations they carry in 2021-2022.

Bynum back in shape

Jared Bynum seems to have found his stroke. Saint Joseph’s transfer was always going to be better than the 5 for 42 he shot at 3 points last season, and he made that reality evident in this one.

Bynum finished 8 for 16 on the field and 4 for 7 at the end of regulation while triggering the white team with 22 points. He missed nine games last year with a groin injury and has never quite regained the form that made him one of the Atlantic 10’s top rookies in 2018-19.

“Jared was seriously injured last year,” Watson said. “Playing a lot more with him in training helped me build my chemistry with him.”

Cooley said Bynum, Indiana graduate Al Durham, and sophomore Alyn Breed are likely to play the leader role. Durham and Breed teamed up in the White team’s backcourt, and it was Durham who knocked down the deciding two free throws.

Expect more from Croswell

Reeves isn’t the only Providence player to have made a noticeable change to his body.

Ed Croswell’s boxing training over the summer paid off. The senior forward looked strong and lean while tangling with Watson at the post.

Croswell was billed as an elite offensive rebounder when transferred from La Salle and claimed 16.9% of the boards available at that end of the pitch last season. The downside was the lack of playing time – Croswell only hit double-digit minutes seven times, and only three of those games came after December 9.

“We need all of the guys – our seniors – to lead the way,” Cooley said. “We have so many. ”

The brothers don’t really have a post depth behind Watson and Noah Horchler. Justin Minaya is presenting himself more as a wing and a pair of freshmen – Rafael Castro and Legend Geeter – will learn on the job. Croswell’s minutes in a reserve role could be critical at certain points in the season.

Court the recruits

Quante Berry and Christ Essandoko sat at the end of the black team bench.

Providence had the majority of its current 2022 recruiting class on campus for the weekend. His verbal colleague Jayden Pierre was absent.

Berry, a point guard from Tennessee, signed up in July. Essandoko, a center from France via North Carolina, selected the brothers ahead of other finalists Seton Hall, Georgetown, Maryland, Illinois, North Carolina State and Oral Roberts earlier this month.

Essandoko and Pierre are giving Providence a pair of top 150-in-class players by Rivals, and perhaps that track work sparked some schedule announcement early on Friday. Jeff Battle was promoted to Associate Head Coach as he entered his seventh season on the staff.

bkoch@providencejournal.com

On Twitter: @ BillKoch25


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