By Jon Rothstein
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Both Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn were absent in a workout earlier this week at Providence but the Friars still looked like a completely different team than they were a year ago during the first week of July.

Entering their second season under the stewardship of Ed Cooley, Providence is deeper, hungrier, and more skilled than they’ve been in years. And while Dunn, the program’s point guard of the future recovers from shoulder surgery — and Ledo, who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA both wait for their chance to make their mark on the Big East, the rest of the players in Cooley’s program are making a noticeable effort to improve each time they step on the floor.

“In one year, we’ve changed our personnel and the perception of the program,” Cooley said. “We’re in a different spot. There was a lot of things I wanted to change and we’re still not complete, but we’re headed in the right direction.”

A big reason for that has been the development on and off the court of senior point guard Vincent Council. Immature and a bit nonchalant in his approach before Cooley’s arrival, Council has done a complete 180. Now talking and acting like a true leader, the 6-foot-3 guard is five pounds lighter entering his final season of college basketball. Council looks primed for a monster year after averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per outing last season as a junior.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the country,” Cooley said of Council. “He could be a double digit assist guy.”

That will probably depend solely on Ledo.

A lethal scorer with a dangerous handle and step back game, the 6-foot-6 freshman guard has the ability to lead the Big East in scoring — he’s that good. The key is just getting him eligible.

“His status is TBD,” Cooley said of Ledo. “To win in the Big East, you need a few special players and Ricky has that type of ability. He will change everything for us if he gets on the floor. He’s incredibly talented and would allow us to do different things. We could play some four guard sets with him and spread people out and try and make them stop us. He’s a special talent at 6-6 that can pass, catch, and shoot. He has a natural knack to score.”

Cooley also said that Dunn will participate in non-contact drills starting in November and could start playing games at the end of the first semester.

“We fully expect him to play this year,” Cooley said of the 6-foot-3 Dunn, who underwent surgery on his shoulder on Tuesday.

While the situations surrounding both Ledo and Dunn are currently in question, the Friars will have more of a supporting cast than they enjoyed last season.

Combo forward LaDontae Henton returns for his sophomore year after averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds as a freshman. The southpaw is one of the more underrated players in the country and should continue to get better as an undersized power forward.

Combo guard Bryce Cotton is also back after making 77 3-point shots last season while freshman sharpshooter Josh Fortune is an underrated weapon that a lot of people have yet to identify. Fortune didn’t get a great deal of attention because he was in the same recruiting class as Dunn and Ledo but he’s got all the makings of a solid piece to the Friars’ puzzle.

“He’s got a lot to learn physically,” Cooley said of the 6-foot-5 Fortune. “But he’s a shot maker. There’s no doubt about that.”

While things on the perimeter are mostly defined, Providence’s situation in the pivot is much more fluid. The Friars will go by committee at center, leaning on the trio of Kadeem Batts, Brice Kofane, and Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson.

“We’ve got to get bigger and more athletic at that position,” Cooley said of the center spot. “Kadeem is stepping up a little and Sidiki is an active body, but he’s still learning to play.”

There’s no questioning this team’s offensive abilities but Cooley still needs more depth and defensive consistency. With that said, Providence is probably a year away from having a legitimate Big East roster and making a jump in the league standings.

After the upcoming season, the Friars will add more size in 7-footer Carson Derosiers, a capable big man who has two years of eligibility remaining after transferring from Wake Forest. Skilled lefty forward Tyler Harris will also be eligible to play in the 2013-14 season after transferring from NC State.

Cooley has invigorated an entire city with his enthusiasm and his infectious personality has paid immediate dividends.

There is a palpable buzz throughout the Northeast surrounding the Providence program and it started the day Cooley had his inaugural press conference.

A Providence native, the boisterous head coach is constantly juggling recruiting calls, speaking engagements, and anything else it will take to make his hometown school one of the elite programs in the Big East.

It’s all part of a daily grind that Cooley wouldn’t trade for anything.

“Sometimes I pinch myself,” Cooley said. “I feel like I’m living the greatest American dream ever.”

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