We've got to have DeSean White," Steve DeMeo said into the phone. DeMeo, a Providence College assistant basketball coach, was irredeemably in love. In games and practices during the 2002-03 season, he had relentlessly tracked White, a versatile 6'7" forward from Cardinal Dougherty High in Philadelphia. Now, in July 2003, after the senior-to-be had outplayed future first-round pick Al Jefferson at the Nike All-American Camp in Indianapolis, DeMeo at last was publicly declaring his affection for White to Dave Distel, an assistant coach at Cardinal Dougherty, who was managing the college recruitment of his school's players.
DeMeo had fallen for White at a time when few other schools were so smitten. Penn State had shown some interest, as had some mid-major Division I schools, but after an inconsistent junior season White had been considered, at best, a top 200 player. DeMeo knew that White's performance at Nike would boost the kid's stock. Soon the glamour schools would come calling--and DeMeo might be nudged aside by other, perhaps more attractive suitors. Now, he decided, was the moment to apply the full-court press.
"We've got to convince this kid to commit now," DeMeo told Distel. "He's going to blow up into a top 50 player and then we won't get him."
On Aug. 10, 2003, White made an unofficial visit to the Providence campus and met with head coach Tim Welsh. The next day, after returning to Philadelphia and talking with his mom, Jackie, White telephoned Welsh and orally committed to play for the Friars. "I don't need to visit anywhere else," he told Distel before calling Welsh with the good news. "Providence wanted me and talked to me before anyone else."
November 1, 2004
Sitting in his office recently, DeMeo, who had followed Welsh from Iona to Providence in 1998, fondly recalled White's recruitment as he leafed through rankings of recruits from the high school class of 2004. "Of all the kids we signed in this class, and we signed a lot, DeSean's recruitment probably was the most conventional," DeMeo said. "It wasn't easy, but it was the most ... normal."
Little else went smoothly as the Providence coaches assembled the crop of freshmen who would run onto the court at Mullaney Gym when the preseason No. 21 Friars opened practice on Oct. 16 with Late Night Madness festivities. In April 2003 Welsh agreed to give SI an inside look as his staff pursued its quarry from the class of '04. (Following NCAA rules, the coaches did not discuss a player with SI until he had signed a letter of intent with Providence or another school.)
In the end, as is true every year, Providence won some and lost some. The Friars would sign seven players to letters of intent, the school's largest such group in five years. The road to the Final Seven, however, was marked by detours and pocked with potholes. Moreover, just when the journey seemed over, two surprise departures threatened to gut the roster--whereupon Welsh and his staff were rescued by divine providence in the form of a change in a key NCAA rule. Finally, even before fall practice began, the coaches had to deal with academic and personal issues that would cost them two of their hard-won prizes.
DeMeo, a recruiter at the junior college and Division I level since 1988, long ago stopped calling recruiting an art or a science. It is a maddening sprint, he says, and coaches at schools like Providence--who must compete against traditional powers, balmy weather and gorgeous campuses--always start a few strides behind.
Here's how the Friars caught up.
Welsh and his lead assistants, DeMeo and Phil Seymore, are known as ambitious and crafty recruiters, and the stakes were high in the spring of 2003, when they began homing in on the class of 2004. The Friars were coming off a 2002-03 season in which they had gone 18-14, finished 8-8 in the Big East and reached the second round of the NIT, in which they lost to Georgetown 67-58. With All-America forward Ryan Gomes, a preseason candidate for the Wooden Award (given to the national player of the year), set to return for his junior season, and a class of incoming recruits tabbed among the top 20 in the nation, Providence was clearly a team on the rise.
For the high school class of '04, Welsh, DeMeo and Seymore had five scholarships to hand out. (Their early target list was dubbed "the Friar 40," a number that, after additions and deletions, would swell to 53.) Privately they called it the most important recruiting class in Welsh's six years at the school.
The 44-year-old Welsh, who grew up in Massena, N.Y., is one of the coaching fraternity's most sociable members. An amiable bachelor and avid golfer, Welsh played guard for his father, Jerry, at Potsdam (N.Y.) State, then learned the effectiveness of the 2-3 zone and the value of networking while scouting games as an assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. He was head coach at Iona for three years before going to Providence in 1998. Welsh, not his assistants, plays the good cop with his players. On court and off, he is intent on putting his school in the spotlight.
DeMeo and Seymore are the kind of yin-and-yang assistants found on any successful coaching staff. From April to September each spends some 60 days on the road. After snaring DeSean White, DeMeo made one other huge acquisition: He bought his first house. "It feels a little weird, like I am putting down roots or something," DeMeo says, laughing.
DeMeo, 39, who is now associate head coach, is a New York City native (and former insurance broker on Wall Street) who coached at junior colleges in the Bronx for five seasons before joining Welsh at Iona. As a recruiter DeMeo is as dogged as they come. "Steve can hear no a hundred times, and he will keep calling, keep coming at a kid, keep working it," Seymore says. ("He's the same way with girls," Seymore adds with a laugh about his bachelor colleague.) DeMeo also has a keen eye for talent. He once gave his business card to a nine-year-old named Cliffy Clinkscales, whom he saw shooting jumpers on a New York playground. By the spring of 2003 Clinkscales was a highly touted 6'1" guard at Shores Christian Academy in Ocala, Fla., and was, not surprisingly, among the Friar 40. (He ultimately signed with DePaul.)
Seymore is a 43-year-old Brooklyn native who played guard for Canisius and coached there and at Richmond before joining Welsh's staff in 2000. Married with a 10-year-old daughter, he is also the only African-American on Welsh's staff. Seymore's approach is subtle. He often looks past the big names to the players whom he connects with personally. "I think I can communicate with young people," he says. "I can go down on their level and keep my dignity and respect."
Much of Seymore's success has come from seeing a kid's potential before coaches from bigger schools do. It was the method he hoped would work with his dream recruit from the class of 2004, a 6'8" wing player named James Gist.
In September 2002 Seymore got a call from Tim McKenna, then Gist's coach at Good Counsel, a private school in Wheaton, Md. "You've got to see this junior I've got," said McKenna, a Providence graduate. Seymore took a flight to Maryland, walked into Good Counsel's gym and fell in love with James Gist's game in less time than it had taken him to pick up his rental car.
"This kid is like Vince Carter," he whispered to himself. Seymore took in the alley-oops and driving dunks, and he smiled at his luck. Here was a kid playing 11 miles from the Maryland campus who hadn't attracted the Terps' attention.
Seymore offered James Gist a scholarship on the spot, and the kid was giddy but noncommittal. Seymore quickly developed a good relationship with Gist's mother, Linda, who liked Providence's small classes. Gist's visit to the Providence campus a few months later went well, so in the spring of 2003 Seymore decided to try to close the deal by bringing in the heavy hitter: Welsh.
Their objective was laid out on the flight down to Maryland: Don't leave without an oral commitment. Both of Gist's parents had graduated from Maryland, which had won the national title only the year before, so, Seymore warned, "if Maryland offers, we're done." When they arrived at Good Counsel, McKenna stopped them at the door. "Maryland offered last night," he said.
Seymore felt as if he'd been punched. "Why can't we get a damn break?" he said to Welsh. "One damn break."
Two weeks later Gist orally committed to Maryland.
Like a jilted lover, Seymore thought of Gist often while recruiting the class of 2004, and he was thinking of Gist as he walked into a gym in Ewing, N.J., in early July. He had gone from finishing second on James Gist to scouting a 6'10" beanpole whom coaches weren't sure was good enough to play in the Big East and who was rumored to be better at golf than basketball. From the next Vince Carter to a future competitor on the Nationwide tour.
Seymore was in Ewing as a favor to DeMeo. In June, Nick Blatchford, the coach of New Heights NYC, a traveling team based on New York City's Upper West Side, called DeMeo to promote one of his new players, Randall Hanke, a 6'10" center who had played at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. "He's developing," Blatchford said. "You should see him." But Hanke hadn't academically qualified for Division I play and was now headed for a fifth year of high school at Trinity-Pawling, a prep school in Pawling, N.Y. Providence might sign Hanke but not be able to enroll him.
After June's Rumble in the Bronx tournament (one which, because it is scheduled during a so-called recruiting "quiet period," coaches are not allowed to attend), DeMeo read Internet reports from recruiting analysts and was surprised by the positive reviews on the pivotman. The Eastern Invitational in Ewing from July 7 to 10 was the next camp in which Hanke was scheduled to appear, but it started when the more prestigious Nike and ABCD camps (the latter of which takes place in Teaneck, N.J.) were already in session. DeMeo was stuck in Indianapolis babysitting DeSean White, but in a stroke of luck Bob Walsh, the Friars' third assistant, had arranged to work the Eastern Invitational as a counselor. Walsh called DeMeo after Hanke's first game with this report: "He is a legit 6'10" and long and athletic. He's a player, and we should get him."
"I haven't even seen him," DeMeo confessed.
"Well, you should because this is a kid we could really use," Walsh said.
DeMeo called Seymore, who was finishing up at ABCD, and Seymore agreed to drive the 60 miles to Ewing and offer a second opinion on Hanke. When Seymore arrived, the courts at the College of New Jersey were packed with coaches from small Division I schools and those from lower NCAA levels. Immediately, an assistant from Elon approached Seymore. "What are you doing here?" he asked. Seymore, who knows the assistant, nodded toward the court where Hanke was warming up. "The big man."
"Hanke? He's not good enough for you all," the assistant said. "Plus, he's going to Elon. He committed to Elon." Seymore was laughing inside. It had been a long time since someone tried to talk him out of recruiting a kid.
The assistant followed Seymore around, saying over and over, "He's going to Elon." Seymore kept repeating, "Really ... Elon ... That's great."
After Hanke's final game, Seymore called DeMeo. "Hanke can go," he said. "We should get him."
"I want to take this one," DeMeo said. He meant he wanted to be the lead recruiter, and Seymore acquiesced. Though there is a natural competition between assistants asked to prove their worth anew every recruiting season, picking the lead guy on Hanke was an easy call. He was a New York City kid, like DeMeo, who already had a good relationship with Hanke's coaches.
Before DeMeo made contact with Hanke, he phoned Seth Eilberg, Hanke's high school coach, and got an important tip. "Make sure you talk to the mom [Lynn] first," Eilberg said. DeMeo called Lynn Hanke, who delivered some bad news. "He's going to Elon," she said. "His sister goes to Duke, and he wants to be close to her. He also loves golf, and there are a lot of great courses down there." DeMeo wanted to scream into the phone, "Are you crazy? Elon?" but it was time for tact. They talked for about 20 minutes, and DeMeo ended the conversation by saying, "Mrs. Hanke, with all due respect, I don't think you know how good your son is going to be. He is a Big East player."
DeMeo's next chance to see Hanke was a week later at Adidas's Three Stripes Classic in Neptune, N.J. DeMeo hadn't made inroads enough with Hanke to feel comfortable if Maryland, Syracuse or another giant made Hanke a target. He told Welsh before he left, "The worst thing that could happen is for Hanke to go off."
Hanke went off.
He averaged a double double for the tournament, but the highlight was a 90-second exchange with 7-foot Randolph Morris of the Atlanta Celtics, who would eventually sign with Kentucky. With his team trailing by 10 in the second half, Hanke dunked over Morris and was fouled, then made the free throw. On the ensuing possession Morris dunked over Hanke. Instead of backing down, Hanke got the ball on the wing the next time down the floor and made a three-pointer with Morris in his face. "He played like one of the best players in the country," DeMeo told Welsh after the game. "Now everyone is going to be drooling over this kid. We're never going to get him."
DeMeo drove back to Providence cursing his inaction after Blatchford had first tipped him. It reminded him of a missed opportunity four years earlier, when an AAU coach DeMeo knew called and claimed he had just the point guard Providence needed. "He's only 5'11", but he's a player," the coach insisted. "Right now only Saint Joseph's has offered." DeMeo couldn't be bothered. How good can the kid be if Saint Joseph's was his best option? The player he passed on was, of course, Jameer Nelson.
After the Three Stripes, Boston College and North Carolina State intensified their efforts to land Hanke. DeMeo didn't know it, but Providence was the leader. Hanke wanted to go to a smaller school close enough that his parents could visit. And he noticed that at every game he played after the Eastern Invitational, either DeMeo or Welsh attended.
In late August, Hanke decided to take unofficial day visits to Boston College and Providence and then make a decision between the two. One problem: Lynn Hanke didn't inform DeMeo until the day before the visit. DeMeo got the message on his cellphone while lying in bed at a friend's home in New York City. He had undergone throat surgery the day before and had been ordered not to talk for four days. But he e-mailed his doctor and got permission to be by Hanke's side during his visit.
Two weeks later DeMeo was in his office when his cellphone rang. "I'm signing with Providence," Hanke said. DeMeo, his voice still limited because of the surgery, hoarsely but ecstatically broke the news to Welsh and Seymore. "If I could scream," he told them, "I would."
The Providence coaches have a recruiting credo: Know who you are. It means understanding that the school, although possessing an esteemed basketball tradition, doesn't have a large and diverse student body like Syracuse's, or a sparkling new arena like Maryland's, or the sunshine of Florida, or the perennial triumph of Duke. Providence is a private college with a student body of around 3,700 that, with a small minority presence, can seem awfully white on a recruiting visit. The Friars play off-campus in the 32-year-old Dunkin' Donuts Center, a 12,993-seat downtown arena in need of a face-lift, and rare is the day a kid outside of Rhode Island is seen sporting PC gear. The attributes that Welsh and his staff play up are the small class sizes that James Gist's mother liked, the Friars' membership in the Big East and Welsh's willingness to give freshmen major minutes. But the bottom line is that "we are not Duke," Seymore says, "so sometimes you have to take a chance on a kid with some flaws."
In late July 2003 Seymore flew to Orlando for the Super Showcase. When he landed, he got a call from Anthony Ivory, a 6'9" forward with soft hands and quick feet who had made the trip to Orlando to play for the Southern Region Explosion, an AAU outfit based in Waldorf, Md. Ivory was an East Coast schoolboy legend. But he had a checkered schoolboy career, migrating from National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., to Springbrook (Md.) High, to the Marriott Hospitality Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and he had battled chronic shin splints and stress fractures in his legs.
Seymore first met him at Springbrook in the fall of 2002 while scouting a point guard named Folarin Campbell. When Ivory didn't play a single game as a junior, seemingly every college assistant had given up on him ...except Phil Seymore.
He had invited Ivory to join Campbell on a visit to a summer camp on campus in June 2003. By that time Ivory weighed 330 pounds and hadn't played a competitive game in more than 15 months. "I really like Anthony," Welsh told Seymore after spending most of a day with him. "He's a gentle kid who wants to be coached. The question is, Can he get healthy, get in shape and get the guidance he needs?"
Seymore got an encouraging glimpse of Ivory in the first of two games he played in Orlando. On one series he got the ball near the free throw line, backed in against his defender, spun to his left and then back to his right before finishing with a lefthanded layup. He's probably 60 to 70 pounds above his ideal weight and still taking guys, Seymore thought. After Ivory's strong showing in Orlando, Florida State, Houston and Clemson began recruiting him, but they wanted to see if he could stay healthy before offering a scholarship. Providence had no such stipulation, and Ivory's AAU coach, Lynn Smack, felt like it was time for Ivory to reward Seymore's loyalty.
In late August, Smack had a crab feed for his players at his home in Waldorf. Over a plate of blue crabs, he told Ivory, "When you got hurt, everyone started shying away. Even my own cousin [Clemson coach Oliver Purnell] shied away. But Coach Seymore--he stuck with you. He told you he'd help you find a prep school. He's told you to work on your grades and not worry about basketball, that Providence would always be there for you. Coach Seymore has your best interests at heart." A month later Ivory surprised Seymore with a call. "I want to come to Providence. I'm tired of all this [recruiting]," he said. Smack followed up with a call to Seymore. "Anthony needed a father figure, and you've become that for him," Smack said. "He's coming to Providence because of you."
At the beginning, the class of '04 seemed to offer a plethora of point guards. DeMeo talked of landing Sebastian Telfair, whose half-brother Jamel Thomas had played for the Friars. DeMeo flirted with DeSean White's Cardinal Dougherty teammate Kyle Lowry before Lowry committed to Villanova, and he also pursued Manny Quezada of St. Albans in Washington, D.C. Quezada would sign with Rutgers. Seymore courted one-time Anthony Ivory schoolmate Folarin Campbell (who's headed to George Mason).
Welsh is customarily the recruiting closer. DeMeo and Seymore keep him abreast of players they are after, and Welsh leaves it to their judgment to decide when he should get involved. But Welsh liked point guard Ron Ramon of All Hallows High in the Bronx so much that he handled Ramon's recruitment personally. However, after vacillating for several weeks, Ramon in early October chose Pittsburgh over Providence.
When Seymore got word of Ramon's decision, he immediately called Harvey Brewer, coach of the Baltimore Bombers, who is known for giving kids a second chance. Poor grades, trouble off the court--Brewer forgives and forgets and turns one-time misfits into Division I prospects. His major project in the summer of 2003 was a skinny, 5'11" lefthanded guard with seemingly endless arms named JaJuan Robinson, whom everyone calls Ice.
Seymore had seen Robinson play for Baltimore Select in the summer of 2002 and wasn't convinced that Robinson was a Big East player. But Robinson had been tearing up the summer circuit in 2003, scoring 37 against UCLA-bound guard Jordan Farmar in a tournament and then, with Seymore in attendance, dominating several high-profile guards at the Best of the Summer tournament in Los Angeles in July. Trying to describe Robinson's game to DeMeo, Seymore struggled to pinpoint which part was so impressive. "It was nothing in particular, but he was just in the flow doing everything he wanted to do," Seymore explained.
At the same time that Ramon was breaking Welsh's heart, Robinson enrolled at Prince Avenue Prep in Pickens, S. C., and got on the path to academic eligibility. "Are you going to come and recruit my guy now?" Brewer asked Seymore during a phone conversation. His answer was still "maybe." He needed to sell Robinson to Welsh, who hadn't seen him play. Seymore made Welsh a highlight tape culled from some of Robinson's summer games.
Welsh was sitting on the blue leather couch in his office in early October and popped in the tape just as Ryan Gomes walked into the room. Gomes sat next to Welsh and watched only a few seconds before blurting out, "That's Ice." Gomes had seen Robinson play against his old AAU team in a tournament at Penn State in the summer. "That kid can play," Gomes said. "He could help us."
Welsh needed no further endorsements. Robinson visited the campus with his uncle a few weeks later, watched Gomes play in an exhibition game, then orally committed in a hotel room afterward. "Let's dance," he told Seymore. "I'm going to help you all get to the dance."
With White, Hanke, Ivory and Robinson set to sign letters of intent in November, Welsh felt confident enough to try to steal a recruit from one of the glamour programs. The attempt had an unintended by-product. Arizona had the inside track on forward Jesus Verdejo out of the Winchendon (Mass.) School, yet Welsh and Seymore drove to Winchendon in late September to meet with him and, they hoped, keep him on the East Coast. But during his game, Welsh couldn't stop talking about one of Verdejo's teammates, an emotional (sometimes overly so) but skilled 6'3" guard.
After the game, Welsh spoke with Verdejo for 15 minutes, then spent 45 minutes with the guard, Robert McKiver, who started naming past Providence players even DeMeo didn't know. DeMeo handed McKiver his card and said he'd keep in touch. During the 90-minute drive back to Providence, Welsh talked endlessly about McKiver's toughness. "This is a kid who is not going to be afraid to go into Louisville and beat Rick Pitino in front of a sellout crowd, or Cincinnati with Bob Huggins on the sidelines," said Welsh, already thinking about two premier rivals who'd be joining the reconfigured Big East in 2005-06.
McKiver, nicknamed Fluff, had committed to Georgetown as a sophomore at Archbishop Carroll in D.C. But rumors of a bad attitude and poor play after he started hopscotching from one school to another (from Redan H.S. in Stone Mountain, Ga., to Archbishop Carroll to James Hillhouse High in New Haven before landing at Winchendon) scared off the Hoyas. DeMeo had been watching McKiver for more a year (and had him on the original Friar 40); he, too, had been worried about McKiver's rumored hotheadedness. But after Welsh showed strong interest, DeMeo started calling around. He was looking for red flags--fights, problems with girls, arrests--but couldn't find anything damning.
In early December, McKiver, worried that an ankle injury would cripple his chances of landing a scholarship, started ringing DeMeo's cellphone every other day, often leaving just short messages on his voice mail.
Monday: "Coach, I want to be a Friar."
Wednesday: "Coach, offer me a scholarship."
Friday: "Coach, I'm good off the court. I know I am emotional but I am working on it. I WANT to be a FRIIIIIIAR!"
Just before Christmas, Welsh, DeMeo and Seymore came to a decision. They would offer McKiver a scholarship, knowing that they had until he signed his letter of intent in April to rescind the offer should McKiver make a misstep. But for the rest of the season McKiver gave them no reason to use the out. He signed his letter in April.
With the maximum five players in the fold, Providence's recruiting efforts seemed to be at an end, just a fortnight after the team had concluded an exhilarating but erratic 2003-04 season (one in which they had achieved a 20-9 record and briefly cracked the Top 25) with a disappointing 66-58 loss to Pacific in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "But it's when you think you are done that something happens and you have to start all over," DeMeo said days after McKiver faxed his letter of intent to the basketball office.
Having once worked on Wall Street, Steve DeMeo is always playing the futures market, which is why shortly after McKiver signed, DeMeo kept recruiting players even though Providence had no more scholarships to give. "A good assistant has some backups," DeMeo says. He would need them after a series of events reshuffled Providence's prospective roster, leading DeMeo and Welsh to resume their quest right up until the NCAA's May 18 deadline for signing players.
• In early February, Anthony Ivory left Marriott Hospitality Public Charter High after the team was disbanded following a Washington Post report that the coach had pled guilty to felony theft in 1999 and that several players, including Ivory, were not properly enrolled. He eventually returned, but he had fallen even further behind academically. Now his chances of achieving the course requirements and test scores that would qualify him for eligibility seemed imperiled.
• In early April junior forward Rob Sanders, who averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds during an injury-riddled 2003-04 season, abruptly left Providence with a year of eligibility remaining and little to no chance of playing in the NBA.
• On May 6 Ryan Gomes, following an All-America season, declared for the NBA draft but didn't hire an agent, leaving open the possibility he could return to play as a senior.
Potentially losing three pieces of a front-line rotation that late in the recruiting process could have been a disaster had another development not saved the Friars. On April 29, the NCAA did away with the "five/eight rule," which had prevented coaches from signing more than five players in a single year and eight over a two-year period. Under the old rule Providence couldn't have replaced Sanders or Gomes. The new ruling meant the Friars could add two more players and--even if Gomes stayed--still be at the 13-scholarship limit.
The task of finding replacements was assigned to DeMeo. His favorite fallbacks were two players once destined for other schools. Charles Burch, a 6'6" forward from Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass., had signed with St. Bonaventure in November but then asked for and was granted a release from his letter of intent after his former prep school coach, Dave First, quit as a Bonnies assistant. Quinton Hosley, a 6'7" junior college All-America, and the son of New York City street-ball legend Ron (the Terminator) Mathius, had orally committed to St. John's in December. But after Norm Roberts replaced Mike Jarvis as coach, the Red Storm backed off Hosley because he needed substantial credits to gain eligibility.
DeMeo began recruiting Burch, who had been among the Friars' 53 targets, in late April, and the player visited the campus on May 9--Mother's Day. DeMeo canceled a trip to see his mother in New York City, and Welsh delayed a trip to a cousin's wedding in Nutley, N.J., to stay in Providence. During a meeting in Welsh's office that included Burch's father, Charles Sr., the coaches made a salient point: Where else are you going to have a chance to play so many minutes as a freshman? On May 12 Burch told DeMeo he was coming to Providence, picking it over Villanova. "I like the coaches," he told his father, "and the opportunity for playing time is there."
Almost every major school had stopped recruiting Hosley because of the academic concerns and rumors that he was intent on staying in New York City. DeMeo was the one coach who didn't believe the scuttlebutt, and he had come up with a creative solution to Hosley's eligibility problem. Over a dinner of filet mignon at Providence Prime, a local steak house, DeMeo told Hosley and his father that if Hosley didn't qualify, Providence would admit him in December after he accrued more credits at Lamar (Colo.) Community College--though, in that case, Hosley would not be eligible to compete for the Friars until the 2005-06 season.
Hosley signed his letter of intent on May 18. He is on track academically to enroll in December.
The end of the recruiting process did not, however, permit the Providence coaches to take a breath and contemplate their rotation. The following months would bring good news and bad. In June, after attending the NBA predraft camp in Chicago, Gomes decided to stay in school for his senior season, which he again enters as one of the favorites--this time, possibly the favorite--for the Wooden Award. Though his return will cut into the playing time Welsh & Co. had promised the freshman Burch, Welsh insists that all his newcomers will have to play major minutes for Providence to be successful this season. "We are counting on them," Welsh says. Other than Gomes, Providence has only two returning frontcourt players.
The Friars' front line, however, will not include Anthony Ivory, at least not this season. Ivory did not qualify academically; he is attending Coastal Christian Academy in Virginia Beach, Va. Seymore will have to recruit him all over again. "That is just how it goes sometimes," says Seymore.
Then, in September, the Friars saw the departure of JaJuan Robinson, who had attended summer school at Providence but missed his family and his pregnant girlfriend. In mid-September, after attending fall-semester classes for a week, he traveled to Baltimore for the birth of his son. After returning to school for a few days, he told Seymore he was leaving for good. "With all the conflicts going on at home, he couldn't focus on what he needed to do here," says Seymore, who immediately began calling coaches at schools closer to Baltimore in hopes of finding Ice a scholarship.
"It leaves us thin at guard, where we are already very young," Seymore says of the loss of Robinson. "If one guy gets injured, not having JaJuan could really hurt."
Back on May 18, when Hosley affixed his signature to his letter of intent, the Providence coaches knew at last that their pursuit of the class of '04 had officially, mercifully and successfully ended. Even on that day, though, there was no pause to celebrate. Welsh was trying to get out of town for a few days of rest before a recruiting stretch that would take him to New Jersey, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. DeMeo was shuffling travel plans so he could make multiple tournaments during July. And Phil Seymore was in his office talking about his latest dream recruit, a wing player from the class of 2005.
"He could be," Seymore said, "this year's James Gist."
Privately, the Friars' coaches called this the most IMPORTANT CLASS in Welsh's six years at the school.
"Now everyone is going to be DROOLING OVER this kid," DeMeo told Welsh. "We're never going to get him."
"This is a kid who is not going to be afraid to go into Louisville and BEAT PITINO," said Welsh.
"I like the coaches," Burch told his father, "and the opportunity for PLAYING TIME is there."
"I don't need to visit anywhere else," said White. "Providence WANTED ME before anyone else."