PROVIDENCE – The trust factor between the Providence College basketball players and the training staff is quite evident.
In separate interviews, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton didn’t refer to athletic trainer Bryn VanPatten by his first name or his last. Truncated in such a fashion that you can just feel the cool factor, VanPatten simply goes by “VP.”
“(Wednesday), we had the day off. VP said that if we needed anything to just come in, no matter what it is,” Henton explained earlier this week. “It’s the type of thing that makes us feel like a family when you can go in and get treatment whenever you need it and know that he would be there for you at any given moment.”
Such a tale from the Friars’ locker room helps to illustrate the open door policy that VanPatten has established. In a season where the same five players have started all 30 games and are averaging 30 or more minutes, the importance of good health cannot be underscored.
To that end, it’s perfectly acceptable to steer a little appreciation in VanPatten’s direction, as well as towards strength coach Ken White. These two men might just be the season’s unsung heroes.
To borrow from VanPatten’s catchy nickname, perhaps bestowing a sign that reads “M-V-P” outside his Alumni Hall office is something that should be taken under advisement.
“I think this is as healthy a team that I’ve coached,” was the stamp of approval provided by head coach Ed Cooley.
Added Cotton, who is averaging a whopping 42.2 minutes per outing thanks to the 10 overtime periods Providence has participated in heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Creighton: “VP has been flexible with his office hours in letting us use the facilities. That’s definitely been a big benefit for us.”
Now in his eighth year working at Providence, VanPatten noted that neither he nor White made wholesale changes to the player’s training regimens once it was learned that the depth that Cooley was counting on back in the fall had been eroded due to injuries and suspensions.
“The credit really goes to the guys. We come up with the ideas – ice tubs and compression pants that keep the soreness down – and they have bought into it. The benefits are on the court right now,” the 37-year-old VanPatten explained. “They always get our maximum effort, but I think there’s been a little more urgency (in wake of PC losing Kris Dunn, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock) and they see what needs to be done. We really didn’t change things. They just bought into it a lot more.”
Naturally, each Friar is on a training program that’s tailor made just for them. What is prescribed for an iron man such as Cotton is not the same one utilized by big men Kadeem Batts and Carson Desrosiers.
“Everything is tailored to the individual needs. Every tape job is individualized because everyone’s foot is different. Sometimes they’ll use the cold or hot tubs before and after practice,” VanPatten stated. “We do a lot and it even stretches into the hotel. On the road, I’ll ask the hotel staff to fill the bathtubs with ice and the players will sit in them.”
Said Cotton, “It’s all based on what the player wants to do with his body. If the player feels fatigue or sore, then go in and get treatment.”
VanPatten provided a recent example of how there’s truly no such thing as lag time in his profession. “One of the guys twisted his ankle with two or three minutes left in practice. We were leaving for a road game in an hour. Instead of taking the tape off, we kept it on. We put him in the cold tub for 15 minutes. A little later we took the tape off. The ankle never swelled up.
“There’s definitely a method to our madness,” he smiles.
Surviving the grind of a long season with limited numbers can perhaps be traced back to the conditioning work that the trainers put the Friars through when they were on-campus last summer.
“Coach White does a great job with the summer program. On Friday mornings, he’ll put every student-athlete through a turf workout,” VanPatten said. “Bodies change. The Big East is a brutal league and not for babies. They come in as kids and leave as young men. I saw a picture of Lee (Goldsbrough, a senior) the other day when he was a freshman. He looked anorexic. Now look at him. He’s a moose.”
PC’s Cotton gives off the aura that he’s never tired. For that matter, neither do Henton (38 minutes per game), Batts (32 minutes), Tyler Harris (33.3 minutes) and Josh Fortune (35.6 minutes). In order for players to handle such heavy lifting, the support staff has to be at the forefront in making sure the slightest bumps and bruises are contained immediately.
Judging by the workloads logged by Providence’s starting five this winter, they are in good hands with VanPatten, White and the rest of the staff responsible for keeping the players fresh as a daisy.
“I don’t want to jinx it because we still have games to play, but they’ve done a great job in keeping us healthy,” said Henton.
RIM RATTLERS: If there’s one thing the Friars’ resume needs, it’s a quality road victory. The final chance to take care of that comes Saturday night against a Creighton outfit that will be looking to send off senior Doug McDermott in style. … With a victory on Saturday, the Friars would clinch third place in the league standings with an 11-7 mark and play the sixth place team (Marquette, St. John's or Georgetown) on Day 2 of the Big East Tournament next Thursday at 9:30 p.m. If the Friars lose, they will finish fourth with a 10-8 mark and play the fifth-place team (the winner of Saturday’s St. John 's at Marquette game) on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03