Late Bloomer With a little prodding, Providence's Ryan Gomes has turned into a star

March 01, 2004

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."

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Gomes, who was averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 boards a game, hasgone from unheralded to unstoppable.

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