NEW YORK — When the Big East Conference conducts its annual pre-season gathering Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, one of the prominent players to be representing the Providence College Friars at the “world’s most famous arena” as a contender for the title will be fifth-year senior Emmitt Holt.
It’s almost as if Holt has to re-introduce himself to his Big East brethren and the PC basketball family, having not played since the 2016-17 season (other than a single Nov. 2018 contest) due to abdominal surgery.
The Friars need the Holt of that season — averaging 27 minutes, 12.5 points and five rebounds per game — on the floor this season. With the status of junior center Nate Watson (right knee) a question mark for the early going, at least through the non-league portion of the schedule, a healthy Holt could be a trump card.
“I still have my inside game, when I have to move down to the 5 (post player),” Holt, a power forward, said of his presence in the possible absence of Watson. “I’m not going to do something that I’m not comfortable with, but I know the system and I know the work that I’ve put in.”
The Friars tied for eighth place in the Big East during the regular season, then lost to Villanova in the Big East Tournament quarterfinal round. This season, PC remains in the bottom five of the preseason projections. Villanova, Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, Creighton and Xavier all are expected to be playing in the NCAA Tournament, and dominating the top tier of the Big East membership.
“It’s building chemistry,” Holt said of his teammates, with only senior swingman Alpha Diallo being a consistent presence from three seasons ago. “We have so many pieces that you can move around — we’ve got big guards (David Duke, A.J. Reeves, Diallo), we’ve got bigs. It’s a chess game,” and he hopes to be one of the pieces.
PC also has Kalif Young upfront, a definite defensive force, but he lacks the mobility and potential for points that exists in Holt, if he is finally healthy.
“When I look back, it was like, ‘Where would I be right now if I didn’t take that redshirt year,’ knowing that I wasn’t ready to play,” Holt said of being forced to the sidelines for two seasons, but fortunately being granted red-shirt eligibility status for the upcoming season in August.
After transferring to PC from the University of Indiana, the Rochester, N.Y., native started 28 of the 32 games in which he participated in his first season as a Friar. Impressively, Holt reached double-figure scoring in 23 of those games — scoring 14 points against Creighton in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals and then scoring 18 points and taking in 11 rebounds against USC in PC’s NCAA Tournament game.
His impact and leadership earned him the Lenny Wilkens Hustle Award and acclaim from rival Big East coaches as one of the most improved players in the conference.
“I’m an improved version of what I was,” Holt said. “I’m quicker on my feet, I’m better at looking at the game. I’ve improved at everything — I worked on my shot, worked a lot on ball-handling,” said the 6-foot-7, 223-pound Holt.
“I’m looking to play the 4 (power forward) and move down to the 5 if they need me. I know that I’m going to have to be able to bring the ball up sometimes and knock down the 3-point shot.”
There are a lot of moving parts to the Friars, and coach Ed Cooley likes the versatility and depth of his frontcourt with 6-foot-8 Jimmy Nichols, 6-foot-8 Kris Monroe and 6-foot-8 freshman Greg Gantt.
PC is coming off an 18-win season and an NIT berth after five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
“It’s a matter of where you want to move the pieces,” Holt said of different looks PC can present on offense to pose matchup problems, and just what might be Cooley’s best options for a defensive unit in late-game situations.
“It all started with my confidence, then everything on the court came naturally,” Holt said of getting acclimated to practice every day. “Just my aggression, how I approach things, it’s all because my confidence was up.
“I wasn’t hanging my head (last season), but not having played for two seasons was frustrating. Me and Coach Cooley had conversations about sitting out. Honestly, on a day-to-day basis, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”