Ed Cooley and his staff are busy juggling off-season roster movement (AP Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
One day the Providence Friars are losing a player, the next they are adding one.
Welcome to college basketball in 2021.
Monday was a good day for the Friars as Virginia schoolboy Jayden Epps announced his intention to play for Ed Cooley. Epps is a 6-2 combo guard from Suffolk, Va., who is rated just outside the top 100 among the Class of 2022.
Speaking with KevinMcSports, Epps said he he wanted to commit now to solidify his bond with PC’s staff.
“Providence was the place I wanted to be,” Epps said. “I trust the people up there and feel they are going to be able to make me work and take my game where it needs to be.”
Epps said that while he’s seen as a scoring guard, “I consider myself a point guard. My ability to make others better is underrated, I feel. I might be a scorer first, but I can make others better, too.”
Epps is PC’s first recruit in the Class of ’22 and when his announcement became public, Cooley posted the Tweet that all Providence fans love to see.
Epps had cut his list down to six finalists – PC, Arkansas, Florida, N.C. State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech – in December but was still receiving offers from the likes of Kansas in the past few weeks. He clearly had built a strong relationship with Cooley and assistant Ivan Thomas, who owns deep roots in the Norfolk/Chesapeake, Va. area.
There is a possibility that Epps wraps up his high schooling this year and is at Providence this summer and on scholarship for 2021-22. “That is kind of the plan,” said Rick Hite, the coach at King’s Fork High. “Jayden takes school very, very seriously and can get that done.”
Here is some film of Epps in action:
Hite has coached Epps for the last two years, one for King’s Fork and this year for a club team called Peanut City once the high school season was limited due to the pandemic. He said he’s seen Epps’ game grow and flourish to the point where he is now the 64th ranked player in the country by 247Sports.
“He’s always been a scorer, always played up in age,” Hite said. “We challenged him to facilitate and keep growing and the kid is a winner. I think in today’s basketball a guard that can control the game with his shot, passing and defense is what you want.”
Hite also coaches with the Boo Williams on the Nike circuit and had Epps in the program for several years. Epps may jump to Team Loaded this spring but could also be in Providence as early as this summer. Hite said the connection with Cooley and Thomas was a deep one.
“This goes back several years with Coach Thomas,” Hite said. “He was one of the first to see the potential in this kid. Cooley played a big part. He has that chip on his shoulder, just like Epps. They want to get something done up there.”
The Epps news came a day after current senior Noah Horchler announced that he would return for a fifth season of eligibility. Horchler said “I am excited to announce that I will be coming back to Providence College for the 2021-22 season. I enjoyed the challenge of playing in the Big East and I would like to experience it again by competing for a Big East title next season.”
Horchler started 13 of the team’s 26 games in 2020-21, including the final eight games of the season. He played an integral role for the Friars during those final eight games, shooting 43.2 percent (16-37) from three-point territory, grabbing 8.8 rebounds per game and scoring 11.5 points per game. For the season, Horchler ranked first on the team in three-point shooting (41.9 percent, 26-62), third in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and fourth in scoring (6.7 ppg).
Horchler’s return came on the heels of star center Nate Watson announcing his wishes to return to Providence. Watson was a second team All-Big East pick this past season, essentially emerging as the best low post player in the conference. He says his goals are even larger for 2021-22.
On the down side – to some extent – the Friars have lost three players to the transfer portal. Forwards Greg Gantt, Jimmy Nichols and Kris Monroe are all on the move.
Those departures give Cooley plenty of flexibility in building his roster for next season. PC is also heavily involved with high school guard Bobby Pettiford of Durham, N.C. He backed out of a pledge to Louisville and is hearing from a host of schools, including Kansas, Maryland and others.
Of course the transfer portal is filled with talent and the Friars clearly need some veteran help on the wings to replace the players who are on the move. The PC staff has contacted several players, including Al Durham (Indiana) and Noah Locke (Florida), the scoring wings who would be impact additions to the roster. Durham has scored over 1,000 points in his four years in the Big Ten and averaged a career-best 11.3 points, 2.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 26 games this season. The 6-4 guard shot 38% from 3-point range and posted a team-high 78% mark at the free throw line.