Future bright for Chukwu
Ed Cooley sees the vision in his head clear as day. He is sitting in the Theater at Madison Square Garden or some other venue and watching as the NBA commissioner walks to the podium and says into the microphone ... "With the (blank) pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the (blanks) select ... Paschal Chukwu from Providence University."
Could this happen? Could a kid from Fairfield Prep defy the overwhelming odds and make it professionally? Cooley certainly thinks so. When talking about his players he has never blown smoke in anyone's eyes. He tells it like it is, good, bad or ugly. He did it at Fairfield University and he's doing it now when it comes to his 7-foot-1 center that just completed his freshman season at Providence.
The kid has potential. The kid has ability. But does he have the drive to make it in the NBA? It's Cooley's job to make sure that he does.
"I think the kid, if he continues to develop, could play in the NBA when all is said and done," Cooley said in a recent phone conversation. "I think the kid could be the defensive player of the year in the Big East, I think he could be a first-team all-Big East player and I think he has a chance to be the player of the year candidate. But he has to feel the same way. Does he see what we see in him? That's my job, to pump him up because a lot of times they can't see it. You've got to be able to deliver it to them. You've got to coach them through it."
After one season, well ... so far, so good. Coming off the bench and playing in a reserve role for most of the Friars season, Chukwu gave Cooley decent minutes and decent production as Providence finished 22-12 and reached the NCAA tournament, losing to Dayton. The freshman -- who led Fairfield Prep to back-to-back Class LL championship games 2013 and 2014 -- played in 34 games, averaging 9.8 minutes, 2.65 points and 2.44 rebounds. Not eye-popping but more than enough for Cooley.
"I think he's exceeded my expectations as a freshman," Cooley said. "Because I had a fifth year guy here in Carson Deroises, I could have easily played Paschal more. Paschal helped us win many games in the Big East this year."
Two games immediately come to mind for Cooley. One, a game against Butler where he played the entire second half (a 66-62 win) scoring four points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking two shots and a game against Marquette, where he scored eight points and had six rebounds in a 77-66 victory.
"What I appreciated about him was he doesn't mind being developed," Cooley said. "He's working out in the weight room like a madman. This season, his minutes will double and he'll be a starter for us. I think he'll be one of the impact players for us in the Big East."
Chukwu -- who declined to be interviewed for this story -- shot 66 percent from the field (33 of 50), grabbed 83 rebounds and had 23 blocks. He had a season high nine points against Rhode Island, nine rebounds against Butler and four blocks against Marquette.
"Great things are going to happen with him," Cooley said. "I can't brag enough about him. I'm as high on him as any kid I've ever recruited and I know his best is yet to come. He should have a hell of a run from here on out. I'm excited as I can be about him.
"He's got really good hands. He's got a great touch. He can score around the basket. His biggest growth is going to come from strength. Once he gets stronger and is not moved out of the post ... that development in him will help him get to another level."
But that development will take time. Cooley knows it. But he's determined to drive Chukwu hard over these next three seasons to make sure that the kid has every opportunity to make that vision of seeing his name selected in the NBA draft come true.
"I'm going to give him all the confidence in the world to be that great player," Cooley said. "He's a long, big, individual and I tell you what, the sky's going to be the limit for him. No bull (blank), this kid has a high, high upside. I love that kid, what a great kid."