New England Patriots let Providence men's basketball team use plane for game

CHICAGO -- Providence coach Ed Cooley is a huge New England Patriots fan, and now has another reason to support his favorite NFL team.

The Patriots lent Providence their team plane to help transport support staff members and some fans to Chicago for Friday's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 matchup against top-seeded Kansas. The plane was spotted on the tarmac of T.F. Green Airport in Providence for a midday departure Thursday, according to the Providence Journal. Providence, a No. 4 seed, is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1997.

Cooley, who grew up in Providence and has spent his entire career in the Northeast, spoke Wednesday night with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Providence's team took a separate charter to Chicago on Wednesday.

"It's New England teams supporting New England teams," Cooley said. "Our families are able to come, our donors are able to come, our supporters are able to come. I really appreciate him looking out for us. Given how many planes are being used for the NIT, for the NCAA tournament, it just was limited."

Cooley said he spoke to Kraft about his appreciation for former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has inspired him during his coaching career. Coincidentally, Cooley had dinner Wednesday night with New York Giants vice president Frank Mara, a longtime Providence donor.

But his NFL loyalties are clear, and he thanked Kraft for lending the plane.

"I don't know how many people would do that for a small college to literally send their custom plane, their logoed plane," Cooley said. "I'm pretty sure a lot of our fans will be on it, they're big Patriot fans. I love football. My team looks like a football team. We're not very pretty."

Cooley often discusses college basketball's blue-blood programs and includes Kansas in the category. He said Providence doesn't play many traditional powers outside of Villanova in the Big East, citing a reluctance for those schools to play the Friars at their home arena.

"They don't want to come to the Dunkin' Donuts Center, let's call it exactly what it is," Cooley said. "We'd love that opportunity and embrace that opportunity."

Cooley added of facing Kansas on Friday: "They are the blue blood. I know they're a win away from the all-time wins in the history of our game. And they've earned that. Coach [Bill] Self is a Hall of Fame coach, great players, great staff. ... An opportunity to play against a No. 1 seed is just something, just stuff that you dream about. And we're living that dream and hopefully continue to dream it big."