With a little prodding, Providence's Ryan Gomes has turned into a star
Before almost every game, Providence coach Tim Welsh takes power forward Ryan Gomes aside in the locker room and says, "You're going to be the best player on the floor. Act like it." A 6'7", 245-pound junior, Gomes has tried to develop a swagger to go along with his burgeoning skills, but it hasn't been easy. "Everyone is always telling me, 'You don't know how good you can be,' " Gomes says. "I kind of laugh it off. Maybe I really don't know."
Still, he's made a career out of exceeding others' expectations. He was lightly recruited coming out of Wilby High in Waterbury, Conn., as an undersized, slightly overweight post player, but now he's making a strong case for first-team All-America honors, ranking second in the Big East in rebounding (9.8 boards a game), third in scoring (19.3 points a game) and fourth in field goal percentage (.529). He's also the main reason why Providence was 18-5 (9-3 in the Big East) through Sunday and ranked 13th in the latest AP poll.
Even Welsh underestimated Gomes as a freshman. The coach didn't play him in the Friars' first seven games—"He didn't even take his warmups off," Welsh says—and thought about redshirting him, but after Gomes impressed him a few times in practice, Welsh gave him a shot in a game at South Carolina on Dec. 3, 2001. Gomes had 15 points and eight rebounds in a 67-48 loss and has started every game since.
After that, Welsh says, "not only has he gotten better from year to year but also from month to month." In his three seasons at Providence, Gomes has dropped 15 pounds and has dramatically improved his perimeter game. He didn't make a single three-point shot during his first two seasons, but this year he was 24 for 66 (36.4%) at week's end. He has also improved his foul shooting, going from 61.3% as a freshman to 88.3% this year, tops in the Big East.
Yet even though he averaged 18.4 points and 9-7 rebounds as a sophomore, Gomes was not among the 51 players invited to the USA Basketball trials last spring. Welsh was furious at the snub, but he has used it to fire up his star. "He's been getting a lot of double teams this year, and his tendency is to let someone else step up," Welsh says. "I want him to think he's too good to be stopped."
Gomes admits he was "very shy" when he first got to Providence, but he surprised his coach during a social event at Welsh's house last fall when he stood up before a roomful of Providence boosters and announced, "You all better get your tickets this season, because we're going to be special." That might have been the first time Gomes showed a confidence to match his game, but he hasn't forgotten the slights he suffered along the way. "Maybe if I had always heard how good I was, I wouldn't have been so hungry to get better," he says. "I can look back and say that I put in my work. Nothing was given to me."
A Mighty Mid-Major
Don't Sleep on The Salukis
Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter is grateful that athletic director Paul Kowalczyk named him to succeed Bruce Weber last spring after Weber left to coach Illinois, even though Painter was a 32-year-old assistant with no head coaching experience. Kowalczyk, however, was simply going on the recommendation of the players. "None of us wanted to start over with a new guy," 6'7" senior center Sylvester Willis says. "I saw how Coach Painter acted in practice and how Coach Weber leaned on him for advice. There was never a question in my mind he could handle himself as a head coach."
Painter is one of a handful of former assistants who are mriving after getting a promotion this season. ( Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Western Michigan's Steve Hawkins and Painter were a combined 66-7 through Sunday.) Despite losing stars Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman, who accounted for 40% of the team's scoring last season, Southern Illinois had clinched its third consecutive Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title with a 15-0 record (22-2 overall). The Salukis earned their first AP national ranking since 1976 earlier this season and are ranked No. 16 in the latest poll. With an RPI of 19, they should earn an NCAA at-large berth even if they fail to win their league tournament.