Ed Cooley confident Georgetown move was right one
NEW YORK -- A decade since it left football behind, the Big East Conference is embracing a distinct, basketball-first identity.
Villanova and UConn have combined to win three of the last seven national titles in men's basketball. Defending league champ Marquette enters 2023-24 ranked No. 5 in the country thanks to reigning National Coach of the Year Shaka Smart. And at Tuesday's Big East media day inside Madison Square Garden, Rick Pitino reintroduced himself to the league as he tries to revitalize St. John's.
Amid all these teams competing for attention, one of the most recognizable figures in the building held court with a throng of reporters, a scene that belied his new program's recent track record. Georgetown has become a college hoops punchline in Patrick Ewing's final years, but Ed Cooley took up the challenge of restoring the Hoyas' standing in their historic conference.
He just had to leave a Big East rival -- and his hometown -- to do so.
"I'll always be a kid from Providence," Cooley said. "I miss the beaches. I miss the clam chowder down there. I miss the people. But at the same time, what I don't miss is not giving myself an opportunity to experience change. I think all of us have changed in our life, it's just I'm under more scrutiny because of the narrative."
Commissioner Val Ackerman described Cooley as a "Big East stalwart" in her opening remarks Tuesday morning. Cooley, 54, had coached Providence since 2011 and became the league's elder statesman after Villanova's Jay Wright retired. His Big East peers admire him; younger Black coaches in particular compare him to an older brother.
Cooley's decision to trade Providence for Washington, D.C. shook up the conference. Friars fans were left feeling betrayed, while fellow coaches understood his desire to try something new.
"Ed did what was best for Ed Cooley," DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield said, "and again, he's going to bring even more excitement (to the Big East). I'm just happy for Ed and the decision he made."
Cooley conceded that, had he chosen a new outpost somewhere like Texas, it might have been less difficult for fans than this intraconference flip.
"I can feel the anger and I get it. I understand it. I can internalize that," Cooley said. "But in our world, change is OK. I don't think you should be villainized or victimized."
Cooley's booming voice and magnetic personality will now draw players to Georgetown instead of Providence, where he went 242-153 in 12 seasons with seven NCAA Tournament bids and a conference tournament title.
Not long after Cooley was hired this spring, Class of 2024 guard Kayvaun Mulready and Class of 2023 center Drew Fielder -- both four-star prospects -- flipped commitments from Providence to Georgetown.
"I know when you change your job and you go to a different place, there's so many things that can change, so many things that can happen," Fielder said Tuesday. "For him to make me a priority, it did mean the world."
Fielder and North Carolina transfer Dontrez Styles said Cooley's honesty is a big part of the appeal.
"He's not going to just tell you what you want to hear," Fielder said. "... When he's just honest with you and keeps it 100 percent real, it makes it easy to separate him."
"He's the reason I came here," Styles added.
Providence will forge ahead with Kim English, who spent two years at George Mason and won 20 games there last season. Cooley has a relationship with English and rained praise on him Tuesday, at one point calling him a superstar on the rise.
English is just 35 and the only first-time head coach in the league this year, but he said there's no trepidation about going head-to-head with the likes of Pitino and Cooley.
"I've coached against guys who have been to Final Fours before," English said. "That's not my focus. The game's won on the court."
The Friars may be the better squad in the near term. They retained Bryce Hopkins and Devin Carter, two of their top three scorers from last season, and were voted seventh in the Big East preseason poll -- one spot ahead of Cooley's Hoyas.
Wherever the programs stand on Jan. 27, 2024, it will be an emotional day in Providence as Cooley steps on the opposing sideline for the Hoyas.
It's three months away.
"Truthfully, I have not even thought about January 27," English said.
But Cooley knows to expect a ton of noise from one of the most raucous student sections in the sport.
"The reception, it'll be what it is," he said. "I'll feel really proud if it's really angry, because I understand that. But we created that together as a community."
Cooley reflected on one of his role models, Big John Thompson, the Hall of Fame coach who decades ago established Georgetown as a national title contender.
"In the back of my mind, I always hear Coach Thompson saying, ‘Do something different every now and then. Do something different that'll shock the world,'" Cooley said. "‘Make sure you take care of your own soul.'"
--Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media
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