Providence women’s basketball Jim Crowley shared updates on his team and the world in general during a virtual Zoom meeting held with fans on June 25.
Crowley and his assistant coaches Priscilla Edwards, Jessica Jenkins and Tiara Johnson spoke about the season past, the one ahead and outlined possible challenges in the future as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“These last three and a half months have been interesting, unique and at times challenging,” Crowley said.
He left St. Bonaventure after 20 years (16 seasons as head coach, four as an assistant/associate coach) and was named Providence’s head coach on May 10, 2016 following St. Bonaventure’s trip to the NCAA Tournament. The 1993 Keuka College graduate was the head coach at his alma mater for three seasons before arriving at St. Bonaventure.
In seasons as Bona head coach, Crowley compiled a 258-231 record (108-134 in Atlantic 10 play). His teams twice reached the NCAA Tournament (2012, 2016) and four times qualified for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. His teams routinely finished with stellar academics in addition to finding on-court success. Crowley ended his Bonaventure tenure as the winningest coach in program history by a substantial margin and he was Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year three times (2009, ‘12, ‘14).
“I came from a small Catholic school in a good basketball league,” Crowley said of his past. “There were a lot of challenges there in terms of resources.”
Crowley discussed familiarity as a coaching staff, calling it a “gift” – Edwards, Jenkins and Johnson as well as director of operations Jennifer Nabrinzy, all of whom either played for Crowley at Bona or served in a staff role. With that familiarity from top to bottom, coaching philosophies and player development can be key to a team’s success. It happened at Bonaventure, and the seeds are there for similar results at Providence.
“AFTER A challenging season, you need to hear the things that aren’t comfortable or that you don’t want to hear,” he said. “It’s a gift that they’re willing to tell me. This offseason has been really beneficial because of the growth I’ve been able to have because of their honesty and their trust in me. I’ve watched them have great careers as college students and watch them grow into incredible professionals. I tell (recruits) to look at these ladies. They are incredible role models and care deeply about our student-athletes. To me, those are the most important things you can have as a coach.”
HIS STINT at Providence has been rocky (54-74 in his four seasons) but his teams have been far more competitive than in the seasons prior to his arrival. The Friars also earned two wins in the WNIT during the 2018-19 season in what was the program’s first winning season in more than 10 years. Last year the team finished 13-19 and had an inauspicious start to the Big East season in which it started 0-8 en route to a 3-15 finish in conference play after a 9-3 non-conference start. Despite the relative lack of success against Big East opponents, Providence won its first-round Big East Tournament game against Georgetown before suffering a blowout loss to eventual champion DePaul in the quarterfinals. Five days after that defeat, collegiate sports shut down due to the pandemic.
“We knew this past season wasn’t what we wanted it to be. It was disappointing,” Crowley said. “None of us were at the level we needed to be. It’s clear the ability is there, we’ve got to make sure to put them in good spots and demand consistency from them.
“There was true excitement as we were getting ready to head into the offseason because we knew how talented we were. We were excited as a program. But then Covid-19 stepped in and completely changed everyone’s world.”
FOUR MONTHS later, Crowley discussed how the civic social injustices in the country is another aspect on how his team came together.
“We pride ourselves on being a very diverse group,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re talking about it, acknowledging it and educating about it. We want to be leaders in showing the improvement that can happen. We’re working hard in that area.”
ANOTHER topic Crowley discussed was the arrival of Connecticut to the Big East as the Huskies left the American Athletic Conference on July 1. Even casual fans know that the Connecticut women’s basketball team is a beast of a different nature, and Crowley understands the challenges the Huskies bring. In 2013, the Bonnies played No. 1 UConn and were soundly defeated, 88-39. Bona led 2-0 just 37 seconds into the game. The next time it scored a point, UConn had 31.
“If you’re a competitor, you want to go against the best,” Crowley said. “They are coming in with points to prove, they haven’t won a national title in a few years. The Big East is different with them in it. They are a powerful program. That’s the excitement of being a competitor. It’s great for all the teams in the Big East to have a standard of talent that not only has the physical talent but also the mental talent to play really, really hard. There will be times it won’t be fun having them in the league but it’s a great opportunity. One of the best programs in the history of sports in our league. How could you not want to be part of that?”
SOUNDING like the Crowley of Bonaventure days, he mentioned certain topics that were significant to building the program here and continue to be high on his list of priorities and his coaching style: assist-to-turnover ratio, getting better in practice, making the extra pass and caring for teammates.
“When you have a team, and I’ve been fortunate to coach a number of teams that have it, who leans on their defense and knows that it’s showing up every day, it’s one of the most powerful things you can have,” he said.
“If you’re going to have a good team two things have to happen – you have to have a kid who does the dirty work who keeps the team together, and your best player has to be your best teammate. Play really hard every day and at the end of the year they still like basketball and each other. If we can reach those goals we probably did some pretty good stuff.”
Crowley’s Zoom conference is available through a Youtube search.
(Jeff Madigan, a Times Herald sportswriter, can be reached at email@example.com)