Coming off a season in which they won their first Big East regular season championship in program history and a historic run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, the Providence College men’s basketball team and head coach Ed Cooley had high expectations entering this season. However, coach Cooley had a difficult task during the offseason. Despite the high expectations, coach Cooley would have to rebuild a large part of his team. The Friars suffered key departures in the graduation of Justin Minaya, Al Durham, Noah Horchler, AJ Reeves, and Nate Watson. All five of these players were massive contributors to last season’s squad, and the departures of Reeves and Watson especially hurt considering their experience within Cooley’s system and culture. So, coach Cooley set his eyes on the transfer portal and decided to retool the roster with highly talented players from across the country, who shared his main goal of wanting to bring a national championship to Friartown.
Coach Cooley brought in many big-name transfers from big-time schools, but unquestionably the biggest and most hyped-up prospect Cooley landed was sophomore forward Bryce Hopkins ’25. Hopkins, listed at 6’7”, was a four-star recruit and ranked top 50 in his recruiting class. The Friars attempted to initially recruit Hopkins out of high school, even offering the top recruit in August 2020. Hopkins eventually ended up at the University of Kentucky, where he saw minimal opportunity during his freshman season. The lack of time on the court ultimately led him to the transfer portal, and Ed Cooley would not lose his man this time. Hopkins immediately went from a rotational bench role at Kentucky to the opening night starting lineup for the Friars and was expected to make an early impact. And boy, did he make a splash.
The Friars won both of their games this week to open the season 2–0, making the newly named Amica Mutual Pavilion undefeated in its first two games. Hopkins was a big reason for this success. In their first game of the season, the Friars faced the Rider University Broncs and narrowly won by a score of 66–65. Hopkins was the leading scorer in that game with 18 points. He was also tied for second on the team with six rebounds and added in an assist as well. Hopkins also played the most minutes on the team with 36, which is very telling. Hopkins shot the ball the second most on the team and went 3–10 from the field and 1–3 from three. This fact, combined with the minutes, shows very early what the coaches think Hopkins’ role could be this season. He is going to be a primary weapon for the season to come on both ends of the floor. He is active on the glass, which will help with the rebounding production lost when Noah Horchler left. He showed a very clean jump shot, which could become a lethal weapon considering his height, again filling the stretch forward role that opened when Horchler departed. The difference between Hopkins and Horchler, however, is the versatility of Hopkins. Hopkins is a better ball handler than Horchler and the staff seems to trust his ability to create his own shots. His size and strength also allow him to be a stout defender in the low post, a threat to post, and to finish in the paint offensively. But arguably the most intriguing aspect of his game that he showed was his ability to run. Hopkins is very athletic and showed speed and athleticism that may allow him to also be a constant perimeter threat and fast-break weapon. The one negative from the game was his shooting efficiency, and even that was negated by his ability to draw fouls and get opportunities at the free throw line. The only issue is that Hopkins looked like he needed to attack the rim more fiercely and strongly. He has the size and athleticism; he just needs to finish the basket.
In their second game, the Friars played Northeastern University and won by a more comfortable score of 89–65. Hopkins still led the team in minutes in that game, but didn’t score nearly as much, only putting up 10 points. Despite fewer trips to the free throw line, Hopkins shot a much more efficient 4–9 from the field and added 11 rebounds, giving him a double-double for the night. Hopkins has had some impressive outings early in his Friars career and looks to continue to be a weapon as this Friars team gears up for a competitive year in a wide-open Big East Conference. The two wins, big stats, and impact are why Bryce Hopkins is this week’s “Athlete of the Week.”