NCAA Basketball

The Changing Of The Guard In New England

Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun fractured his hip in a bicycle accident Saturday. Add this to the list of unfortunate health issues the Hall of Fame coach has endured over the last ten years.

The injury must be painful for a 70 year old, but so were the sanctions placed on his program by the NCAA. The sanctions, combined with Calhoun’s health, indicate a state of uneasiness for the UCONN program.

However, Neither Calhoun’s health or the NCAA sanctions should be the biggest concern for UCONN fans. The most troublesome occurrence in the last year has been the hiring of Ed Cooley at Providence. Connecticut’s troubles paired with Cooley’s hiring may very well mean the changing of the guard for New England basketball.

Cooley and the Friars went 15-17 last season, just like they did the previous year under Keno Davis. This mark is likely to improve as Cooley brings in two ESPN Top 25 recruits in Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn.

Dunn may miss the 2011-12 season because of shoulder surgery and Ledo’s eligibility is in question. Yet the fact that two players from New England, who UCONN heavily recruited, both chose Providence, may be a sign of things to come.   

If the only reason for apprehension by Huskies fans came from Cooley bettering Calhoun in his first recruiting class, that would not be too disconcerting. After all, Calhoun did ease off the recruitment of Dunn just before his decision.

What could spark a redistribution of power in New England basketball is the strong presence at Providence that Coach Cooley provides. Make no mistake about it—Ed Cooley is one of the best young coaches in the country.

Cooley already has connections in the state of Connecticut after he turned the Fairfield University program around. In Cooley’s five seasons with the Stags, he improved his record every year by at least two games, eventually taking his record from 13-19 in his first year, to 25-8 in his last.

Before Fairfield, Cooley was an assistant to Al Skinner at Boston College for nine years. Skinner, with the help of Cooley, built the BC program up to post five 20-win seasons, win a Big East Conference championship and place a berth in five NCAA Tournaments. However, after Cooley’s departure in 2006, the program went downhill until eventually, in 2010, Skinner was fired.

The moral of the story is Cooley is the kind of Coach who touches a program and it starts to blossom. The recruitment of Dunn and Ledo are only the first steps in the process to return Providence to the prominence they once knew and UCONN will have to get used to losing highly touted recruits—and games—to their New England counterparts.