Since the 1950s, Providence College basketball has been one of the great stories in all of college basketball.
This year’s edition of the hoop Friars are once again in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year under coach Ed Cooley, a Providence native.
The young men who will face the University of Southern California Thursday night in North Carolina may not be aware of Vinny Ernst, Long John Thompson, Jimmy Walker, Johnny Egan or Ray Flynn, but tomorrow night they are dribbling and defending in the sneakers of those PC stars. And Marvin Barnes, John Lenihan, Ryan Gomes, Otis Thorpe, Eric Murdoch, Enrie D., Kevin Stacom, Mike Riordan, Dickey Simpkins and Dexter Westbrook.
Once again, PC is a wonderful tale, a replay on a familiar there. Tiny, Roman Catholic college in urban neighborhood with less than 4,000 undergraduates. From the nation’s smallest state. The tale of the little school that could was always an underdog trope, especially when they defeated Big State U. from Anywhere Else, USA or a college basketball royalty team such as Duke, North Carolina or Kansas.
There has never been big-time football at PC, a la Boston College, once a football and basketball powerhouse, now in the doldrums in both programs. The winter passions of PC students, alums and the school’s legions of fans have long been focused on hoops and hockey, where the Friars are defending national champions.
PC was founded in 1917 to educate the children of Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic immigrants. It was largely a commuter campus in the early days. That’s all history; the college is now more a respected regional college with high standards.
Yet, for more than a half-century, basketball has put PC in the national sports swirl. In the famous words of the Rev. Robert J. Slavin, PC president, ``seven-hundred years of Dominican scholarship and nobody ever heard of us until we put five kids on the floor at Madison Square Garden.’’
Slavin was referring to PC’s victories in the National Invitational Tournament, which was once more prestigious than the NCAA and was always played at MSG in Manhattan.
Without basketball, it is likely that Providence would have a profile more like such other New England Catholic colleges such as Assumption or Stonehill, Cooley’s alma mater.
It would be no surprise if PC beats USC. But then path gets rockier, especially if the second round opponent is the University of North Carolina, one of the nation’s premier teams.