Ricky Council II comes home

RALEIGH — Ricky Council II didn’t record a single minute of playing time in Providence’s buzzer-beating win against USC Thursday night, but the freshman might have had the loudest cheering section in the arena.

A Durham native and Northern Durham product, Council was thrilled that the NCAA selection committee sent the Friars to play the opening rounds of the East Regional in Raleigh.

Council spends most of his time 670 miles away from home, so the prospect of playing 30 minutes away from his family was an unexpected, yet exciting development.

“It’s a blessing actually,” Council said after the 70-69 win. “It’s something I never thought would happen, going away to Providence.

“I went to Providence because they’re a winning team and a winning culture. So coming back here and actually playing in Raleigh right down the street from my house is amazing.”

The large group there to see Council — six family members, Northern Durham assistant basketball coach Thomas McKoy, Northern Durham principal Matt Hunt and a close friend — got more than just a reunion, they also saw history made as Providence earned its first win in the NCAA tournament since 1997.

“I could hear them and see them way before the game started,” he said with a grin. “I knew where they were sitting and I kept looking up there. It’s an amazing experience to get an NCAA win, especially for this school to get the first one in a while.”

McKoy had been planning to travel to New York City for the Big East Tournament final but when Providence (24-10) lost to Villanova in the semifinals, he thought he might have missed his chance to see Council in person.

“The fact that they actually ended up in Raleigh this week was amazing,” McKoy said.

After starring at Northern and nearly helping the team to a state title in his senior season, Council has assumed a new role at Providence as he waits his turn behind a cast of talented and veteran guards. The 6-foot-5 freshman, who spent a year playing at Moravian Prep before going to Providence, has scored 14 points in 13 games off the bench.

“I think what’s really impressive about Ricky to me is that his entire life, he’s typically the best player on the court,” Hunt said. “And he handled that with dignity and grace and was always respectful of teammates and coaches, and if you were to have a conversation with him, you’d have no idea he’s a basketball star in high school because of how humble he is.

“It’s rare to find somebody that was a star and now he’s in a situation where he’s got to wait his turn. They’ve got a guard on the team that’s NBA talent, probably a few of them. He’s not getting a lot of playing time, but he’s handling that as well as he possibly can it handle, with the same characteristics. It’s hard to find somebody that can be a great teammate when they’re a star and a great teammate when they’re not and they’re waiting their turn.”

And after Providence’s thrilling win, Council’s family and friends will get another chance to see the hometown product, this time as No. 9 seed Providence goes up against No. 1 seed North Carolina (9:40 p.m., TBS).

“I actually attended UNC,” McKoy said. “But for tomorrow, I’ll definitely be pulling for Ricky.”

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