I decided to remain seated after the final buzzer sounded, as fans in black and silver rejoiced and their counterparts in Keaney blue were perplexed as to why Kris Dunn wasn’t called for a foul in the closing moments.
As the Ryan Center began to empty on that night in 2015, I finally left my seat on press row and walked around the concourse for a while to kill time. Not long after looking out of the second-story window I could see what awaited me: a sea of brake lights and an on-going stream of traffic.
Once I finally made it home and cracked open my notebook to review my game notes, my friend Mike had sent me a text asking if I was at a certain bar in town and how there had been a fight that broke out between Providence and Rhode Island fans.
I wasn’t surprised. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation but holds four Division I teams and one monumental rivalry.
Memories Back Then
For those on the outside looking in, the Rhode Island-Providence game might not resonate, but it’s a different story for those who have been in the trenches.
Will Daniels, who played at Rhode Island from 2004-08, spoke with me about what the Rams/Friars winter showdown means to those involved.
“Leading up to the game, it became life-consuming,” Daniels said. “I couldn’t go in-or-around campus without the game being mentioned.”
For the players, the weight of the annual meeting is engrained right away early in their freshman year.
“My first experience playing in the game was that it wasn’t a regular game once warm-ups began,” Daniels said. “The level of focus from the players and fans was unbelievably intense. As a player, you’re excited yet anxious and excited all at the same time. I just remember wanting the game to begin after so much preparation and anticipation.”
For Daniels and the rest of the respective rosters alike, it was also more than just a clash of two teams vying for the win. At its essence, sports are competitive and there’s something to be said about stepping into or onto the field of battle to test your skills among your counterparts.
“Finally competing against the Providences players who always seemed to have a lot of hype circulating them,” is what Daniels points to as one of his favorite things about the series of games. “I wanted to see if they would live up to it.”
For The City
Harrison Grigsby, also known as Jon Hope, is a man of many skills. A rapper, an educator, clothing line creator, an author...there’s a lot of ways you can describe him.
And during the basketball season, when thousands pack the Dunkin Donuts Center to cheer on their beloved Friars, he’s the one who controls the crowd.
“I have a deep affinity for Friartown because I’ve been connected to the program since I was a kid during the Pete Gillen era,” Hope said. “I had the pleasure of watching the evolution of the program from an intimate perspective. To be able to be the voice of Friartown and have a presence is something I am extremely proud of and take seriously.”
For a state as small as Rhode Island, the crammed borders make the yearly clash that much more meaningful.
“Every year the rivalry intensifies and it’s one of the few times that feels like every member of the state is tuned in,” Hope said. “From die-hards to casual fans, everyone is glued to the game waiting for the outcome, to partake in bragging rights.”
“If you’re from the state,” he said, “then you know the magnitude the game takes on. It’s really hard to describe, you just have to be there.”
When Hope takes the court in front of thousands on any given night the feeling is electric for him, but he knows that every other year when URI makes the drive up I-95, it’s different.
“I love it,” Jon says of the ambiance that engulfs the Dunkin Donuts Center. “I think that as a native Rhode Islander, I just know the intensity and make it my duty to ensure that there’s a true distinction between us and them and build upon the existing energy that’s already there. Friar Fanatics are like no other.”
The More Things Change...
Change can’t be avoided, especially in college basketball. Every year, the in-state feud rages on, as it has done every season since 1957. And with each year a senior class departs and a freshman class replaces them, and the tradition carries on.
And yet not much changes.
“The PC game was taught to be personal for the players,” Daniels said of the importance of the rivalry. “The winner of the game would not only be the best in the state but essentially be crowned the better team until the next rivalry game.”
11 years removed from the rivalry doesn’t change much for Daniels.
“All these years later, the URI vs PC rivalry game means even more than it did when I was playing because the players are part of history,” he said. “I want to see that the current players are taking the rivalry as important and serious as we were. I want to see the hard work and preparation of the game translate into a victory over PC. Playing overseas makes it very difficult to attend the games, but I still try to watch the game while rooting for Rhody from afar.”
For Daniels, who has sustained a healthy 10-plus year career overseas, it’s important to know the state of Rhode Island still cares for the game. And that same sentiment isn’t lost on Hope either.
“Everyone has a connection to both institutions in some way, shape, or form,” Hope said. “These are our unofficial pro teams,” Hope shares.
40 minutes separate the Ryan Center where the Rams play and the Dunkin Donuts Center, home of the Friars. The animosity may lie dormant or simmer for months on end, but come December, things change.
There’s silver and black, then there’s Keaney blue and white.
Names such as Dave Gavitt, Lenny Wilkens, Marvin Barnes, Ryan Gomes, Marshon Brooks, or Kris Dunn may make you smile. Or, if you’d prefer, Frank Keaney, Sly Williams, Tommy Garick, Tyson Wheeler, Cuttino Mobley, or Lamar Odom.
But ultimately, it’s rather simple: this game is different than the rest.
Hope summed it up best.
”Either you’re a Friar or a Ram.”