Entering the season, perhaps no coach in the country was feeling the hot seat's vague, disconcerting warmth quite like Providence coach Keno Davis.
Davis' Friars were 12-19 this past season, a season that ended with an 11-game losing streak. That was bad enough, but it was only Davis' second season. No coach deserves the hot seat after two rebuilding years -- especially in the meat-grinder that is the Big East. It wasn't pretty, but it was understandable.
Less so were the issues that came this offseason, when the Providence program was rocked by the assault charges levied against freshmen Johnnie Lacy and James Still, followed by the dismissal of star forward Jamine "Greedy" Peterson -- the only player in the Big East to average a double-double last season -- for an alleged incident with local AAU players in a campus dorm room. Then, in July, redshirt freshman Kadeem Batts was charged with disorderly conduct for a disagreement with police outside a downtown Providence night club. Batts, unlike his fellow Friars, eventually plead "not guilty" and was welcomed back to the team, but the damage was done. Davis seemed to have lost control of his program. Suddenly, the second-year coach was walking on eggshells.
All of that is still true. Davis still needs progress on the court and off it to feel safe about his job d. But on Christmas Day, Davis got some news that just might save his job in the long run. On Saturday, Ricky Ledo, one of the nation's best 2012 recruits, decided to become to a Friar.
Ledo is the No. 13-ranked overall player and the No. 3-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2012, according to ESPN.com's recruiting analysts. Ledo spurned Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, Syracuse and Connecticut -- a who's who of national recruiting powerhouses -- to play for Davis at Providence. Why? Because he's a local kid from Providence's West End that decided he wants to stay at home, play right away and, if all goes well, become a provincial hero in the process. From the Providence Journal's Kevin McNamara:
"I'm going to do it in front of my family and friends as opposed to leaving," Ledo said on Christmas morning. "So many other guys have left. I want to stay close to home, like Marvin Barnes." [...] "I talked to my family and I just wanted to get this over with," he said. "It's home and Providence gives me the best shot as a player to play a lot right away. I also like Keno's style: fast-paced, run-and-gun."
Landing a top recruit is big in and of itself. Landing one from your home city -- especially at a place like Providence, which has a history of embracing local heroes similar to, say, Memphis -- is a major boost for a flagging program and a coach that desperately needed some good news. One good recruit, or even one good recruiting class, won't make Providence a Big East contender overnight. But one top player can change the trajectory of a program, can make it relevant again, and -- most importantly for Davis -- can buy a beleaguered coach some much-needed extra time.
Ledo's commitment is also well-timed for another reason. Ledo is of Puerto Rican descent, meaning he could elect to play for the island's national team this offseason. Guess who's set to coach that team? Louisville coach Rick Pitino. The Cardinals desperately wanted Ledo, and Pitino no doubt had the highly-rated guard in mind when he took the Puerto Rico gig. Anything can still happen -- if I'm a Providence fan, I'm nervous until Ledo signs on the line that is dotted -- but the guard's early commitment means his chances of ending up in Louisville just dropped precipitously.
After a brutal few months, Davis' stock is back on the rise. The Friars are 11-2 heading into Big East play. The offseason nonsense has been halted. And one of the nation's best players, a Providence kid no less, just committed to be a Friar in 2012. It's all good stuff, and it couldn't have come at a better time.