Key Losses: F Ryan Gomes (21.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg), F Tuukka Kotti (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Sean Van De Walle
Fresh Meadows, NY/Brewster (NH) Academy
Mattapan, MA/St. Andrew’s (RI) School
New Rochelle, NY/New Rochelle
McDermott is the highest-ranked recruit Welsh has signed in his seven-year tenure at the school. A two-sport star, McDermott received a basketball scholarship offer from Duke, while Syracuse, Wisconsin and Rutgers came after him in football. Curry was Gerogia's Class 5A Player of the Year after leading his school to its second state title in three years. Kale averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds at St. Andrew's (RI) School. Efejuku scored 18 points per game at Brewster Academy.
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Here's the situation in a nutshell. The Friars suffered through a losing season and were 4-12 record in the Big East -- and that was with Ryan Gomes.
Gomes, the versatile 6-foot-7-inch forward who returned for his senior season rather than enter the NBA Draft as a junior, led the Big East with a 21.6 points a game. He became the first Providence player to be a first-team all-league selection twice and joined Eric Murdock as the only Friars to lead the conference in scoring.
And the Friars still lost 17 times, 12 in the Big East and 13 of their last 18 games.
So why does Providence coach Tim Welsh seem so optimistic about the 2005-06 season?
Simply put, Gomes' departure offers Welsh the opportunity to give his club an extreme makeover. He returns four players who started at least 10 games last year, in addition to sophomore DeSean White, who played behind Gomes as a freshman. And Welsh is bringing in a four-player recruiting class that could yield a starter and a couple of contributors.
"Losing the leading scorer in the league, that's obviously going to be hard to replace," says Welsh. "It just means we'll have to be more balanced on offense and we'll need bigger contributions from the young guys. It'll be an adjustment for a lot of the guys, but we've lost good players before -- every school does -- and you've just got to recover."
Gomes isn't the only frontcourt player Providence lost. Tuukka Kotti, the Friars' second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, also graduated. For now, Providence's frontline consists of sophomores White and Randall Hanke and junior center Herbert Hill.
Hanke came on strong at the end of his freshman season, averaging 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last six games. And he put up those numbers despite getting just 24 minutes per game. He also broke the single-season school record for field goal percentage, hitting 72.2 percent of his shots.
"Those numbers don't lie, and they were against Big East teams," Welsh says. "He showed vast improvement. If he can be consistent and stay out of foul trouble, we have ourselves a good big man."
White is an emerging talent who can play either forward spot, but Welsh wants the 230-pound Philadelphia native to use his physical strength more. Hill provides serviceable post play and some shot-blocking ability.
Geoff McDermott, a 6-7 freshman, could shake up the frontcourt equation. A two-sport star in high school, McDermott led his team to the New York state Class AA finals in both football and basketball. He could see time at both small forward and shooting guard.
Providence's starting backcourt never really got a chance to help the Friars in the Big East last season. Dwight Brewington missed eight games late in the season due to an injured ankle, and the Friars missed his 13.3 points per game. Donnie McGrath ranked third in the Big East in 3-point shooting last season, and he tied an NCAA record when he hit all nine of his 3-point attempts in a win over Virginia.
"Donnie and Dwight have been through it," Welsh says. "They have to take the reins."
Welsh thinks versatility will help Providence this season. The 6-4 McGrath could slide over to the off-guard spot to give freshman point guard Sharaud Curry a chance. Another option at the 2-guard is Weyinmi Efejuku, a product of New York's Rice High School who played at Brewster (N.H.) Academy last season.
Eight of Providence's 12 conference losses were by five points or less. But that's what happens to teams that can't get a defensive stop. The Friars scored 75 points or more 15 times last season and lost six of those games.
In the year after Gomes, the Friars won't be outscoring anyone. They're going to have to become a tougher defensive team. Can Welsh get a team with just one scholarship senior (McGrath) to play consistently on defense?
He'll have to or else last year's four Big East wins might be too high of a target.
"We think we've got a good group of guys," Welsh says. "They've proved that they can play at the Big East level, especially Dwight and Donnie. Now they have to prove that they can play and help a team win. That's a big step."