“Winning DNA-” How Bob Walsh Has Built a Championship Program at RIC
Saturday, March 08, 2014
With all due respect to the season the Providence College Friars have had and the job Ed Cooley has done to get that team into NCAA Tournament consideration, the best college basketball program in Rhode Island is being run by a former Friars assistant coach.
Bob Walsh just finished his 9th season at the helm of the Rhode Island College Anchormen. The former assistant of Tim Welsh at Providence (from 1998 to 2005), Walsh has been to a postseason tournament in all 9 years at RIC, including 8 consecutive Division 3 NCAA Tournament appearances.
“What we’ve been able to do is get really talented and tough kids, and get them bought into the right culture where they believe in what we do every day, and being held accountable at a high level, and being in an environment where you’re expected to be great- on the court and off of it,” Walsh says.
The Anchormen were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the first round Wednesday, losing to York College 79-54. Despite the first round exit, RIC made a major statement about the quality of their program just to get back to the dance.
RIC finished 17-8 this season overall and 11-3 in Little East Conference play. They were the #2 seed in the LEC Tournament behind Eastern Connecticut State, a team that had posted the first 14-0 conference record in LEC history (and beaten RIC twice).
We weren’t playing consistent basketball for much of the year,” Walsh said. “We had a lot of new guys.”
RIC beat Southern Maine in the Quarterfinals and knocked off UMass Dartmouth in the Semifinals to qualify for their 8th consecutive LEC Championship game. For the 6th time in that 8-year span, the Anchormen were crowned Conference Champions, winning 70-61 at ECSU.
“I think there was a little bit of DNA that kicked in,” Walsh says of the upset win that earned his team an Automatic Qualifier bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Winning DNA isn’t something Walsh could teach his players. The culture at RIC under his watch has grown with each season, with continued success on and off the court fathering a healthy level of confidence in the program.
“I believe our culture and what we do every day,” Walsh says. “Quite honestly, what our kids do in practice every day, and the way we compete, I’ll put it up against anybody, anywhere, at any level.”
What’s been built at RIC is the work of a tireless and passionate head coach that identified and recruited student-athletes that fit his blueprint for a talented team of tough individuals. Walsh was surprised at how many of those players were right under his nose playing in high school gyms in the Ocean State.
“[When I first started] I didn’t think there was enough talent in Rhode Island to win at a high level, and I was completely wrong about that,” he says. “The best players that we’ve had, the foundation of our program has been Rhode Island kids.”
The fact that in-state students can pay a year’s worth of tuition (about $7,000) without breaking the bank is attractive to Rhode Island recruits. Walsh has also found it easier to get players to stay home and buy into RIC with the success the program has had under his watch.
“I think when we got here the program wasn’t in a position where you could sell it and say, ‘This is where you should want to come play,’ but now it certainly is because of the success we’ve had,” said Walsh.
Walsh is losing 3 seniors from this year’s team, and all 3 are Rhode Island natives. Nyheem Sanders (Pawtucket, St. Andrew’s) was sidelined with an injury, but Tom DeCiantis (North Kingstown, North Kingstown High School) and Michael Palumbo (Providence, Classical High School) were the experienced leaders that carried the Anchormen in the conference tournament and embodied the winning DNA.
“Tom and Mike brought a level of determination to our conference tournament where it was like, ‘We’re going out and winning this thing because that’s what we do. We’re going to the NCAA Tournament because that’s what we do,” Walsh said.
Walsh will miss his graduating seniors next year and says more than anything the 3 seniors were leaders that the coaches could trust.
“The thing that they brought was reliability more than anything, and that’s such a huge part of any program,” Walsh said. “They’ve continued to build our winning culture.”
Walsh has built a consistent winner and the 3-time LEC Coach of the Year has emerged as one of the hottest coaches in the Division 3 ranks. The winning culture he’s spawned at RIC was evident in this season’s postseason run, and Walsh says RIC now has the expectation of winning championships as part of their program standards.
“I’m comfortable saying when we have to pick who’s going to win our league [next season] I’m going to pick Rhode Island College,” Walsh says.
The final buzzer has sounded, and the focus has shifted. The road to a 9th straight NCAA Tournament starts now, and the RIC Anchormen expect to be there again next season.