O’Shea, Bulldogs Ready To Be Unleashed
Thursday, September 20, 2012
The handcuffs are off and the Bulldogs are finally free!
With another college basketball season just around the corner, no program in Rhode Island is looking more forward to the 2012-2013 campaign that the Bryant Bulldogs.
Yes, there will be excitement at Brown and URI where new head coaches are taking over and at Providence College where McDonald’s All-American Kris Dunn is expected to take the floor at some point this season. But that excitement pales in comparison to what Bryant coach Tim O’Shea and his Bulldogs are feeling these days.
Bryant University has been making the transition from Division Two to Division One and, as part of that transition, they have been ineligible for both their conference tournament and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the last four years.
The handcuffs, or should we say the leash has finally been removed from the Bulldogs who now have something to play for.
“When you’re a provisional Division One team it’s not easy to transition to D-1,” said Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. “It’s like being on probation where there’s a postseason ban on your program.”
O’Shea is correct, although this is something that he knew he was signing up for when Bryant hired him four years ago. Now, he is excited about what lies ahead.
“We’re trying to build a program and build a brand,” he said. “Most Division One programs like Providence or URI already have a tradition, we don’t. We’re trying to build that. As part of that, playing Division One basketball gives you a chance to participate in March Madness and helps create name recognition for your institution.”
O’Shea realizes that a trip to the NCAA Tournament may be highly unlikely following this season, but he definitely likes the talent on this year’s team which he believes is the best since he arrived in Smithfield back in 2008. And it’s one of the three things he thinks is important to building a successful program.
“Dr. Tom Davis told me this once and believe this to be true. The three keys in college basketball are: recruiting, scheduling and X’s & O’s,” he said. “Getting good players is the most important thing. But putting together a good schedule can also make or break you. The X’s & O’s part of it is probably the least important of the three.”
It appears that O’Shea and Bryant are making headway in all three of those categories, starting with recruiting.
“I think the four freshman we have this year is the best class we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “It wasn’t easy to recruit Division One caliber guys here early on because of our provisional status. My nephew (Joe O’Shea) is a good example of that. Joe O’Shea was the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year in Vermont and was recruited by many Division One programs including Brown. He ended up choosing Holy Cross.
“He wouldn’t even give us a sniff back then because of our provisional status and I don’t blame him,” said Tim O’Shea. Now he is a member of the Bulldogs’ program after transferring to Bryant last year.
Joe O’Shea is one of many players his head coach is excited about. His head coach calls him a “glue guy” who he believes will do all of the little things it takes to win.
The 6’-4” sophomore is just one of a number of players that Tim O’Shea is excited about. “Talent-wise, there’s no comparison between this year’s team and last year’s. As much as I truly admire ho hard our guys played these last few years, this year’s team would probably beat last year’s by 15-25 points,” he said.
“Dyami Starks is just a great addition to the team,” said O’Shea. The 6’-2” sophomore guard transferred from Columbia where he played in 20 games as a freshman. He scored a career-high 20 points to help lead the Lions to a 64-62 upset of a good American University team. He also drained five first half three’s against St. John’s of the Big East Conference.
“Fifth year senior guard Frankie Dobbs is one of the best point guards in our conference,” said O’Shea. “Alex Francis is an all-conference talent and Vlad (Kondratyev)could have a very good senior year.”
What also excites O’Shea is the fact that he has all “good kids” in his program. “Bryant is a rigorous academic institution so we have to recruit smart kids,” he said. “The great part about this group is that they’re all good players, they’re all good students. We haven’t had any type of academic problems or off the court issues. All we have to do is coach here which is nice.”
And coach is something that O’Shea can certainly do. Known as a great recruiter for Al Skinner at URI and Boston College, he was a very successful head coach at Ohio University in the Mid American Conference.
“Ohio was a good job. They have a good tradition, a good infrastructure. That’s something that we’d like to develop here,” he said. “Having said that, this was a start-up job. Bryant had no footprint in Division One. I knew that it was going to be difficult.”
Although the Northeast Conference isn’t the MAC, O’Shea feels that there are opportunities for Bryant to make a name for itself in their non-conference schedule. “When you look at our schedule, we open up with #1 Indiana on the road. That should get some publicity for us and get our name out there,” he said. “That’s what we have to do here. We know that we’re not going to get a lot of media coverage when we play a conference game, but when we play at Providence College, you guys and the Providence Journal write about us. That’s what we have to do. We have to leverage the media assets of some of these big time teams to help get our name out there. Whether it’s getting on the Big Ten Network or maybe even ESPN, every little bit helps.”
And that’s not the only thing about scheduling that concerns O’Shea. “We’re not going to be the road warriors we’ve been in recent years,” he said. In fact, 14 of the Bulldogs’ 29 games this season will be held at the Chase Athletic Center.
As for the X’s & O’s, that shouldn’t be a problem for O’Shea who proved at Ohio that he can coach. But he also admits that sometimes a little luck can help. “Two years ago we went on a nice run in conference play because we won a lot of games at the buzzer. The same thing happened when we were at Ohio in 2005 when we went to the NCAA’s,” he said. “We won a game at Detroit at the buzzer and developed confidence and went on a roll winning like 9 of the next 10 games. Here we have a lot of guys from two years ago who have made plays to win close games for us so that confidence is there.”
“I really like our guards’ experience and I firmly believe that guards are the ones that help you win close games. Whether it’s dribble-penetration or taking a shot, guards are the ones who usually make plays at the end of games more than the big guys and I like what we have.”
A quick look at Bryant’s non-conference slate shows games at Providence College (November 12) and at Brown (November 21), but no game against the state’s other Division One program URI. Would O’Shea like to play the Rams?
“It’s not that we don’t want to play URI, but we have to look at what will help us the most. I need to bring in a certain amount of money to the program and we can get more by playing at Indiana, Providence and Boston College than we can by playing down at the Ryan Center. Plus, we probably get a bit more exposure playing those teams.”
Beyond the “guarantee” games, O’Shea tries to schedule as many like-level opponents as possible. “I think that we are in line with conferences like the Ivy League and the Patriot League,” he said. “And that’s why you see Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Army, Navy and Lehigh on our schedule.”
And while O’Shea’s focus may be on the season-opener November 9th at top-ranked Indiana, he also has a realistic goal for his team in their first year as an unrestricted member of Division One. “Our conference takes 8 of the top 12 teams to the conference tournament and we’d like to be a part of that,” he said. “Will it be easy? No. But I think that it is a very realistic goal for us to have this year.”
Bryant is already off to a good start. The team was able to practice for a week in August and then head overseas to Europe for 10 days where they played three games this summer. “I suggested that we do this a few years ago in anticipation of our first year of eligibility in Division One,” O’Shea said. “The nice thing about it is that guys already know what we’re doing. They’ve played with each other. Our freshmen were able to take part in the trip, the transfers. It helps with our team chemistry. It was a good experience.”
Things are looking up for the Bryant Bulldogs who can finally run free in Division One. It looks like they’re off to a good start.