Friars unveil new weapons, steamroll AIC
Redshirt freshman Rafael Castro opened some eyes in a PC exhibition blowout win
By KEVIN McNAMARA
First, the temptation to overblow any developments in contests like these is both alluring and careless.
That’s the danger in playing exhibition games against over-matched Division Two teams like American International College, the Springfield-based member of the Northeast Conference. That’s the same AIC Yellow Jacket team that finished 6-23 a year ago so we are not talking anything close to stiff competition.
That said, it was impossible not to watch Providence College’s 99-57 shellacking Thursday night and not be impressed with many facets of what is basically a new Ed Cooley team. The Friars trotted out eight players who had never suited up under the Amica Mutual Pavilion’s lights so the exercise of doing so is certainly merited.
“Overall not a bad outing,” Cooley said. “Long way to go but I thought we got off to a good start. We’ve got eight guys who’ve never played in this building. It’s always something special about The Amp. It’s something special, the ball finds its way into the basket, it finds its way out of bounds when it’s the other team. There’s something magical about this building and hopefully these guys continue to believe and it grows.”
Here are some obvious highlights:
*Rafael Castro, the long, bouncy redshirt freshman forward has talent. Raw, real talent. And it looks as if he’s ready to play right now. He led the Friars with 18 points and 8 rebounds but more importantly showed the versatility of a real player, handling the ball in transition, passing, rebounding and even making a 3-point shot. That’s a combination Providence hasn’t seen in a 6-11, 220-pound player in ages, if ever.
“It felt real good,” Castro said. “Last year I felt it but when I’m actually out there playing with our guys it’s a whole different feeling.”
Castro – who came in last fall and quickly earned the nickname `Slim’ – said he not only gained 20 pounds and improved physically but also emotionally. “I feel like my whole mindset just changed,” he said. “Going into my redshirt year it was tough at first but looking back on it now, I definitely needed it.”
*Then there’s Bryce Hopkins. We all know the transfer from Kentucky can run, handle, pass and score but to see it in action in an exciting 6-7, 220-pound package was a pleasant sight. He finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists and showed he’s more than ready to try to step up and handle a workload accorded to a major player. That’s a pronounced switch from a year ago at Kentucky when he saw 6.6 minutes per game and scored in double figures only once (13 vs. LSU)
Here’s Cooley on the player he thought he had successfully recruited two years ago out of his Chicago high school.
*The quickness and speed of a deep guard corps is clear. Jared Bynum is an All-Big East candidate and will be irreplaceable but Devin Carter is fast and quick and knows how to knife to the hoop. Jayden Pierre is a freshman with uncommon panache and confidence and he can GO as well. Add in the strength and speed of Alyn Breed and various skills of Corey Floyd, Jr. and the Friars have multiple options, looks and strengths.
*A downside? How about missing 12 of 24 free throws. Inexcusable.
*Cooley said his team will benefit more from playing a second Div. 2 team (Assumption on Oct. 29) than a closed door scrimmage against a team like Purdue or Harvard like the Friars have done in the past. That’s certainly a debatable claim but it’s the path this team will follow heading into a season-opening stretch of Rider, Northeastern, Stonehill over eight busy days.