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Back home, Ed Cooley tries to rebuild Providence

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - When Providence made the Final Four in 1987, Ed Cooley was a 17-year-old high schooler hoping to one day suit up for his hometown Friars.

Twenty-four years later, his dream of representing Providence came true when Cooley was hired as coach. He will now face the monumental task of returning a floundering program to its glory days.

"Coming home is unbelievable," Cooley said at the press conference where he was officially announced. "We'll get this done. It's not going to be easy. We play in the toughest conference in the country. But we're going to stand at the top of that conference someday."

It probably won't be this year, though. After all, the Friars were picked 15th out of 16 teams in the Big East preseason coaches poll.

"Deservedly so," Cooley admitted.

After finishing 14th last year, Providence lost guard Marshon Brooks, who was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics and immediately traded to the New Jersey Nets.

Guards Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman will look to fill the offensive void left by Brooks, who was the second-leading scorer in the country last season and a third-team AP All-American. Council, a quick player who can pull up from midrange or drive to the hole, led the Big East in assists last year with 5.9 per game and also averaged 13.7 points per game, highest of all returning Friars.

Coleman averaged 10.3 points per game last year and played particularly well in big games, scoring 19 points against then-No. 19 Louisville and 16 against then-No. 8 Villanova.

Sophomore guard Bryce Cotton, who led the Friars in scoring with 16 points in their first exhibition game against Assumption, should see a significant increase in his minutes this season.

But will the new leaders of the Providence backcourt be up to the challenge of filling Brooks' oversized sneakers?

"We've got no choice," Coleman said. "Ready or not, here it comes."

Brooks _ made famous after scoring a Big East-record 52 points against Notre Dame last season _ averaged 24.6 points per game and also led Providence in rebounding.

But with an experienced frontcourt, the Friars should be able to replace Brooks' rebounding more easily than his scoring. Returning starters Bilal Dixon and Kadeem Batts both averaged over five rebounds last season.

Batts was suspended for the opening exhibition game as a coach's decision. It reflected a more strict style that Cooley, who left Fairfield to replace Keno Davis, instilled immediately.

"(Cooley) is a great coach," Coleman said. "He really looks for effort _ that really changes a lot of things. The last coach didn't really look for effort, so I think that's different."

Another difference _ and another challenge _ for the Friars will be adjusting to a new set of offensive plays and defensive schemes. Cooley said his players have barely begun to learn the offense, and Council said they will also have to learn to play a full-court, intense defense, something they did not do last year.

The Friars will have only four weeks of practice before their first game against Farleigh Dickinson Nov. 12.

"It's going to be tough, but you know, we'll get through it," Coleman said. "We're going to get this thing rolling."

That is exactly what Cooley is hoping he do in his first season. He realizes the obstacles involved. But there is talent there, and the future looks bright.

"I love Providence College," he said. "I always wanted to be here as a player, but I wasn't good enough. Hopefully, I do a great job as their head coach."

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