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The Dawn of the Kim English Era: Providence Friars 2023-24 Season Preview

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

It’s a new day in Friartown - English is in, Cooley is out, and the new era of Providence Friar Basketball begins on Monday.



Well, that was one hell of an offseason.


I know this isn’t news to anyone, but let’s get this part out of the way - after thirteen seasons at the helm of the Providence Friars Basketball program, Coach Cooley (or as he now prefers to be called, “Ed”) has left his hometown to take over as head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas.


There’s been plenty of speculation, debate, disagreement and vitriol strewn around the world of BIG EAST basketball over the past seven months as to why Coach Cooley left the job that made him who he is (or was), but I think I speak for most of the Friar Faithful when I say that it was devastating, and more so shocking, to see him go.


I won’t speculate as to why I think he left, that’s not what this article is for, but I will say this: Coach Cooley did a lot for Providence Basketball. He took a team that was in the gutter and turned it into a nationally relevant program that is still on the rise.


Why did he leave for a team that hasn’t been nationally relevant in over a decade, and has been the residential punching bag of the BIG EAST since conference realignment? Who knows.

What I do know is that I’m saving any bitterness and sour feelings that I have towards Coach Cooley, and letting them sit until Saturday, January 27th, 2024. I’d suggest that most Friar fans do the same.


 

A New Era


At 35 years young Kim English takes the reins of Providence Basketball after serving as head coach of the George Mason Patriots for the past two seasons. During his time as head coach of the Patriots, English posted a 34-29 overall record (.539%) and an 18-16 Atlantic 10 record (.529%).


In 2022-23, English led the Patriots to a program record 11 conference victories, to go along with the team’s first 20-win season since the 2016-17 campaign. The 2022-23 Patriots also posted a school record for the program’s best three-point field goal defense (.301%), which ranked 17th nationally.


Although his head coaching resume is only two seasons deep, there is still a lot of hype around English in Friartown - and rightfully so. English arrived at a time when there was a ton of uncertainty for the future of the program, and convinced a majority of last year’s players to stay - within just two weeks of his introduction as head coach, mind you.

However, there are also a ton of questions that come with English’s arrival. How will he adapt to the style of play from a power conference like the BIG EAST? How will he compete against the likes of Shaka Smart, Dan Hurley, Rick Pitino, Greg McDermott, amongst others? With only two years of experience as a head coach, does Kim English have what it takes to lead this talented Providence roster to a third consecutive top-5 finish in a loaded conference?


Unfortunately, Friar fans are going to have to wait and see how English fares in the big leagues. No amount of secret scrimmage scores, overseas exhibition games, or Mal Brown intrasquad game results can tell us what’s going to happen this season because, quite frankly, none of those stats matter.


What does matter is that in his short time in Friartown, and under the mantra of "Mindset", Kim English has already won over the program. This started last spring when English successfully retained the key pieces of the Friars’ returning roster. Put on blast by English's social media activity, he quickly got on the better side of Providence's returning players, and used his own experience of being a college player-turned-pro as a means to relate with them. English even did what his predecessor could not do, and that’s get four star freshman and potential NBA talent, Garwey Dual, to sign his National Letter of Intent ...even after Dual had decommitted from the program in March.


Although the popular trend on BIG EAST social media is to designate the returning players as “Cooley’s guys” (specifically by one fan base that’s only celebrated 2 conference wins in the past two seasons), it’s clear to see that “Cooley’s guys” have bought into Kim English's Mindset.


 

Who’s Back


  • Bryce Hopkins, F/G | Junior

  • Devin Carter, G | Junior

  • Corey Floyd Jr., G | R-Sophomore

  • Rafael Castro, F | R-Sophomore

  • Jayden Pierre, G | Sophomore

  • Luke Fonts, G | Walk-On Junior

  • Kieran O’Hare, F | Walk-On Junior


As mentioned, English’s short tenure in Friartown has thus far been highlighted by his ability to prevent roster turnover, and keep last season’s core group intact. Keeping Bryce Hopkins, Devin Carter, Corey Floyd Jr, Jayden Pierre, and Rafael Castro on the team was a huge first step towards any on-court success for the third year head coach.


The returning crop of players this season is, as expected, highlighted by Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team selection, Bryce Hopkins and by Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention selection, Devin Carter. Keeping Hopkins and Carter was the biggest win of the off-season.



Last season, Bryce Hopkins was a force to be reckoned with, leading the Friars in points per game (15.8), rebounds per game (8.5), and minutes played per game (34.9). Hopkins finished the season with All-BIG EAST First Team honors, and was in the conversation for BIG EAST Player of the Year for most of the season.


Hopkins is already picking up right where he left off, by not only earning his aforementioned preseason all conference honors, but by also being named to the Preseason Karl Malone Award Watchlist, the College Hoops Preseason All-America Second Team, the CBS Sports Preseason All-America Third Team, and the NABC Player of the Year Watchlist. That’s a lot of preseason honor for a guy who John Calipari thought was only worth six minutes of playing time a game.


As Bryce Hopkins goes, so does this Friars team. Listed at 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Hopkins can play virtually any position on the court. He can handle the ball like a guard, he’s savvy on the low block, and can drive down the lane with the force of a downhill steam train. Hopkins is projected to not only replicate, but improve his offensive domination from last season, and is looking to establish his presence from beyond the arc. If that’s the case, and Kim English’s “200-three’s-a-practice” routine sticks, then Hopkins is going to give Tyler Kolek a run for his money for BIG EAST Player of the Year. Buy stock now.



Devin Carter returns to the Friars as arguably one of the best two-way guards and best on-ball defender in the conference. Carter was a pleasant surprise last season when his athleticism and his ability to disrupt opponents’ passes won over Friar fans. Carter finished third in scoring for the Friars last season (13.0), third in rebounds (4.9), second in minutes played (32.0), and first in steals (1.8). But perhaps Carter’s most noteworthy impact was his ability to steal and score on almost any given night.

Carter wound up playing a major role on last year’s squad, being tasked with guarding each opponent’s best player night-in and night-out. That’ll be no different this season, but Carter will be relied on more heavily to score this year with the likes of Ed Croswell, Noah Locke, and Jared Bynum having moved on. This shouldn’t be a problem for Carter, as he was third on the team last year in scoring, but he’s going to have to increase his shooting volume - especially from behind the arc - to make up for some of the difference.


Rounding out the rest of the returnees are the sophomores, Corey Floyd Jr, Jayden Pierre, and Rafael Castro.


At the end of last season, Corey Floyd Jr really came into his own, playing a huge role off the bench. Floyd Jr’s season was most notably highlighted by his buzzer-beating three at home against UConn, his strong second half on the road at Villanova, his defensive steal and score late in an intense BIG EAST Tournament thriller against UConn, and his emphatic one hand slam alley-oop in the Friars’ NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky.

This season, look for Corey Floyd Jr to have an increased role in the Friars’ backcourt. With Noah Locke and Alyn Breed gone, Floyd Jr is this team’s most veteran combo/2-guard player, and will log a healthy amount of minutes with a potential starting spot.


Jayden Pierre had a somewhat inconsistent freshman campaign last year, largely due to the fact that he was playing behind reigning BIG EAST 6th Man of the Year, Jared Bynum. Now, with Bynum moved on to Stanford, Pierre is the only returning guard that’s logged time running the point for the Friars. That’s not to say that there won’t be a battle for the starting job, with highly talented freshman Garwey Dual now in the mix (more on him later), but Pierre is a sophomore and is the veteran point guard on this team. Not to mention, Pierre had no choice but to stay with the Friars after losing a 1:1 game with his new head coach back in March, with the consequence of defeat being to take his name out of the transfer portal.

Last season, Jayden Pierre logged 2.5-points per game and dished out 1.9-assists per game in eleven minutes of playing time. Pierre shot a healthy 42.7% clip from the field, and 54.5% from three-point land. Pierre’s first season was highlighted by his back-to-back 13-point outings against Columbia and at TCU in November, along with a season-high 11-assists against Albany in December.


Rafael Castro, listed at 6-foot-11, 220 pounds, is the most intriguing of the returnees. Third in line last season behind backcourt veterans Clifton Moore and Ed Croswell, Rafael Castro only saw the court for an average of six and a half minutes a game. However, this season presents a horizon of opportunity for the redshirt sophomore. With big-man transfer Will McNair having left the program, Castro is likely second in line for minutes at the 5-spot, behind George Mason transfer Josh Oduro. Oduro, while very talented, is undersized compared to the stable of bigs that conference opponents have to offer this season, which is where Castro’s length and athleticism can provide benefit to the Friars’ frontcourt and rim protection.


 

Who’s In


  • Josh Oduro, F | Graduate Transfer (George Mason)

  • Davonte "Ticket" Gaines, G | Graduate Transfer (George Mason)

  • Justyn Fernandez, G | Sophomore Transfer (George Mason)

  • Garwey Dual, G | Freshman

  • Donovan Santoro, F | Freshman

  • Rich Barron, F/G | Freshman

  • Eli DeLaurier, F | Freshman


After earning the trust of last season’s returnees, Kim English made quick work filling the gaps in the Friars’ roster left vacant by last year’s departures. The result? Three transfers from George Mason, including a sleeper pick for impact transfer of the year in Josh Oduro (made-up award), plus a talented freshman class highlighted by the highly-anticipated Garwey Dual. And, unlike the transfers of the Coach Cooley era, Kim English’s transfers were not brought over with the intent of being the focal points of the team, and instead were brought on as additive pieces to complement the existing group.



Of the newcomers, there are three guys specifically that I think will provide an immediate impact: Josh Oduro, Ticket Gaines, and Garwey Dual.


Fifth-year big man Josh Oduro comes into this season with some colossal shoes to fill. Friar fans have been spoiled over the past six years with the likes of Nate Watson, Ed Croswell, and Kalif Young holding down the frontcourt. Last year specifically, Ed Croswell made a case to be the most underrated player in the conference. Croswell was second on the Friars in scoring and rebounds (13.3ppg / 7.5rpg), third in minutes played (28.7), and first in field goal percentage, posting a 61.2% clip (for what it's worth, he was also second in three-point field goal percentage at 50%... but he only took 2 threes).


As impactful as Ed Croswell was for the Friars last year, Oduro too did his share of holding down the paint over at George Mason. Oduro led the Patriots in scoring (15.6), rebounds (7.9) and blocks (0.9). He was third on the team in field goal percentage (55.1%), and fourth in minutes played (29.1). Since arriving in Friartown, there has been nothing but praise for the big man, especially from his teammates and head coach.

Now, keep in mind that while Oduro was the leader on his former team, he’s going to be playing in a much tougher league this season, with some of the best big men in the country. It is without a doubt going to be a step up for him once conference play arrives in December. Nevertheless, I think Oduro is more than up for the challenge, and will surprise some people this season. He’s crafty in the paint, light on his feet, and will give the Friars the option to go small-ball and upset some of their opponents defensively. Don’t sleep on Josh Oduro.


Davonte “Ticket” Gaines joins the Friars alongside Josh Oduro as a fifth-year graduate transfer from George Mason. When it comes to player/coach loyalty Ticket is second to none, having followed Kim English from Tennessee, to George Mason, to Providence. English has a lot of trust in the 6-foot-7, 190 pound sharp shooter, and it clearly shows.


Last year saw Ticket’s senior year numbers dip from his junior year, as he was dealing with injury during the back-half of the season. However, from what the tape shows, Ticket can be a lethal threat from the perimeter when he’s healthy. During his junior year campaign, Ticket averaged just over 10-points per game, while grabbing 8-boards per game, and shooting a very healthy 40.2% from beyond the arc (45% from the field). The last Friar to shoot 40%+ from three, while playing 15 minutes (or more) per game, was Jared Bynum during the 2021-22 season (41.3%). My prediction for Ticket is either a starting spot, or an impactful 6th man role off the bench.

The Garwey Dual story is certainly an interesting one, and lends very kindly to the claim that Kim English is a fantastic recruiter. A highly-coveted four star out of high school, Garwey Dual verbally committed to Providence College in June of 2022, but never signed his letter of intent. In March 2023, when the news dropped that Cooley was leaving Providence, Garwey decommitted from the Friars.


Kim English then did what Coach Cooley did not - and that's get on a plane and fly out to Southern California to see Garwey and, a few weeks later, get Dual to sign his National Letter of Intent and recommit to the Friars. With that, the Friars gained a huge roster piece that is going to provide an immediate impact in the backcourt.


Dual is long and athletic, and is known for his elite defense. All of the big-name college hoops reporters that have had the chance to watch him play, have had nothing but praise for the freshman.


While Jayden Pierre is the veteran point guard on the team, I’d expect that there’s been some competition for the starting spot. If I had to predict the role that Garwey is going to play in the Friars’ backcourt this season, I’d say that it would be more along the lines of a combo-guard that is a secondary option to run the point. If what the critics are saying is true, and Dual is as great of a defender and athlete as promised, then having him and Devin Carter on the court at the same time should be a no-brainer. My prediction is that Garwey comes off the bench, but gets a ton of playing time, and that as the season progresses will work his way into the starting five.


Rounding out the remainder of the new guys is sophomore transfer, Justyn Fernandez, who is likely redshirting this season, plus the freshman class of Donovan Santoro, Rich Barron, and Eli DeLaurier.


If I had to make a prediction on roles and playing time I’d say that DeLaurier and Barron will provide rotational support off the bench, playing roughly ten or so minutes a game, while Santoro joins Fernandez on the red shirt list, as he'll likely struggle for minutes behind Hopkins and Oduro at the forward spot. DeLaurier will likely be thrown into the mix early and often to provide Oduro and Castro some much needed support in the paint. Barron on the other hand might find himself with limited minutes, due to the depth of the veterans ahead of him on the wing and in the backcourt.


 

Projected Starters


PG: Jayden Pierre

SG: Devin Carter

SG: Ticket Gaines

PF: Bryce Hopkins

PF: Josh Oduro


For anyone who’s known me for the tenure of my Friar fandom, you’ll know that I love predicting the starting 5. Can’t tell ya why, but I just love it.

This time around however, I had some trouble picking who I think it’ll be. Specifically, I think that either Corey Floyd Jr, or Garwey Dual, has a really good case to be the starting 2-guard (with Devin Carter starting the wing), but I convinced myself to go with Ticket at the 3, based solely on English’s trust in him and the fact that he’s a fifth-year guy. Age wins in this sport.


Even with that, there is still uncertainty regarding two projected starters, Devin Carter and Josh Oduro, who both suffered injuries this summer and have been playing limited minutes in the Friars’ preseason games and scrimmages. While their statuses are still unknown, until they are officially ruled out on Monday night, I’m expecting both of them to start and play.


Regardless of what’s rolled out on Monday night, I think that there are several options as to who can start vs. who can provide a spark off the bench. This team is versatile and has the right pieces to mix it up and put some really competitive lineups on the floor.


 

Final Thoughts


All in all, I am really excited for this year’s team.


While Kim English is still relatively unproven as a head coach, he does have the pieces to build something special with this year’s group. He has guys that have been there before and have played together. He has all-conference level talent in Bryce Hopkins and Devin Carter. He has the facilities. He has a fresh new perspective and brings the experience of once being a college player with NBA aspirations. And, most importantly, he has the ever-so-loyal support of the Friar Faithful behind him, and with that, the best home court advantage in the conference.


Things still might not go the Friars’ way this season, and that’s okay. But regardless of the outcome, the program is in great shape, and the seeds have been planted for the next era of Providence Basketball.


The dawn of The Kim English Era starts Monday. See you at the AMP.


Go Friars.


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