GOBEARCATSDOTCOM

Kilpatrick Aims For Bigger Prize

| No TrackBacks

In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and the 7th best OPS in MLB history (1.2875).  It's been 73 years and no major league player has batted .400 since.

That year he was not the American League MVP.  Some guy named DiMaggio had a pretty good season too, including a 56-game hitting streak.  Furthermore, the Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League standings.

When I attended the AAC awards event on Wednesday in Memphis, I never really considered the possibility that Sean Kilpatrick would not be named Player of the Year.

Kilpatrick finger roll (415x280).jpg

Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, but the mood at our table was subdued because Shabazz Napier of UConn received the league's top individual honor instead of Kilpatrick.

"Shabazz is a great player and had a great year," said Cronin.  "I just thought with us winning the conference it should have been a no-brainer.

"I'd trade Coach of the Year for him to win Player of the Year in a heartbeat."   

"Shabazz Napier is my guy so I'm not really mad, but I feel like SK should have won the award," said Jackson.  "Before the season, we were picked to be the number four team in the league and now we're the number one seed.  SK is the biggest reason."

In fairness to Napier, his all-around stats are worthy of MVP.  While Kilpatrick averaged 20.9 points to Napier's 17.8, Shabazz topped SK in rebounds and assists and had a slight edge in shooting percentage.

"The Player of the Year award is in great hands with him," said Kilpatrick.  "He's a great player."

But like Coach Cronin, I thought that Cincinnati's share of the American Conference title would be the difference in Kilpatrick's favor when voting for MVP.

Kilpatrick did not hide his disappointment or his desire to use it for added fuel.

"It's going to be 20 times harder for other teams now," he told reporters.

"We're very similar - we use any motivation we can get to drive ourselves," said Cronin.  "I think the greatest competitor of all-time Michael Jordan did that.  So in a way, I hope he uses it to push himself even further here in March."

Kemba Walker trophy (440x330).jpg

Ironically, one of Napier's former teammates did that three years ago.  BYU's Jimmer Fredette won the national Player of the Year awards, but UConn's Kemba Walker earned a greater prize by carrying the Huskies to an NCAA title.

"My message to SK is:  With all due respect to these awards, I'd like to be standing on a podium in Dallas in April next to him," said Cronin.  "And if he's MVP of something, he wants it to be the NCAA Tournament.

"You become a legend by what you do in March.  That's been my message to the guys all year.  We have a lot of former players that come around and I said, 'Do you ever notice which guys come around the most?'  I make them name names and after they do and I say, 'You do notice that most of those guys played in the Final Four.'  If you want to be remembered for a lifetime, you play on a Final Four team.  A National Championship team would be even better.  That's what it's all about."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

A Big Step On The Road Back For Legaux

| No TrackBacks

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" - Lao-Tzu

Far be it from me to paraphrase a famous quote from an ancient Chinese philosopher, but for Munchie Legaux, the long journey back began with a single throw.

Thumbnail image for Legaux returns (248x440).jpg

On Tuesday morning, six months and four days after the gruesome knee dislocation he suffered in the second game of last season against Illinois, Legaux took part in passing drills for the first time since the injury as he continues his efforts to return to action in 2014.

"This was a huge day for me," Munchie told me.  "With the injury that I had, I didn't know if I was ever going to play again.  For me to come out here and even practice with my teammates - I mean, I didn't even put a helmet on for six or seven months so it felt kinda weird.  I'm just happy man.  I wouldn't have cared if I got one or two reps, it was just great to be there with these guys."

"Everybody was excited about him coming out here," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "He's been out here taking snaps but they wouldn't let him throw in drills.  It was good to see him a little bit mobile - he's probably about 50% of what he would have to be to be able to come out and practice and have somebody hit him, but he's come a long way in (six) months and I'm proud that he's out here.  He's working hard to get back on the field."

"After witnessing what happened, it's almost a miracle to see him out here smiling and throwing with us," said wide receiver Chris Moore.

(See video of Legaux at practice here)

Legaux dislocated his left knee and tore parts of all four ligaments when he was hit while throwing a pass vs. the Illini.  Fortunately, there was no nerve damage and Munchie began the rehab process as soon as possible with the goal of getting back on the field. 

"He was never really down or sad," said Moore.  "He just kept rehabbing and always had a smile on his face knowing that he would be back."

"He's doing whatever he needs to do to rehab," said Tuberville.  "From six o'clock in the morning to about eight every day and then come back in the afternoon and do it again.  It's hours and hours of painful rehab so I'm proud of him.  He's stood up to the task and he wants to play his last year.  I'm gonna tell ya, he's going to be hard to keep off the field if he keeps working like he's working."

"My next hurdle is to be able to run without a limp," said Legaux.  "We're still trying to get it stronger and there is still a lot of room for improvement.  But my next goal is to be able to run."

Legaux running (440x269).jpg

And while there are no guarantees that Legaux will make it back on the field in the fall, he has already been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches.

"Those guys see the amount of work that I'm putting in when they come in from practice to the training room and see me doing therapy or rehab," said Legaux.  "A lot of times those guys will text me or even send videos they've taken of me working out.  You never know who is watching and you can brighten somebody's day by the amount of effort you put in."

"They're all pulling for him and when you go in the training room he's there," said Tuberville.  "He's Mr. Training Room.  He gets there early and stays late and when you're in this business as a player or coach you see that every day." 

"I think he'll make it back," said Moore.  "He's making strides and I didn't think he'd be this far along.  I'm no doctor, but he looks great and his arm is still there so I hope so."

"Aw man, it felt great," Munchie told me after practice.  "Just to be back out here with my teammates - competing, talking football, running around, throwing the ball - it felt great."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Co-DC Hank Hughes on his Return to UC

| No TrackBacks

Like Eddie Gran, another member of the University of Cincinnati football coach has returned to the Bearcats from an earlier stint.

Co-defensive coordinator Hank Hughes was on Tim Murphy's staff in 1993 when the Bearcats broke a ten-season losing skid with an 8-3 effort. That season included what was then a rare stop by a bowl officer as the "Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl" officer was here for a Bearcats' game against Memphis.

As some may recall, Cincinnati was treated to a rare, late October snowstorm and the desired attendance for the game at Nippert was not reached (even including the snowman someone had made in the Herschede-Shank Pavilion).

UC won that game and eventually finished with a win over East Carolina for the 8-3 season that catapulted Murphy to Harvard and Boston where he was from. Hughes went with Murphy to the Ivy League, then spent three seasons at Memphis before spending the last 14 seasons at Connecticut.

He now returns to a team with a better identity, better facilities and better players. Here's my chat with Coach Hughes at a recent practice.

)

Titus = Toughness

| No TrackBacks

I'm not about to suggest that he pours in jumpers like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, but with God as my witness, Titus Rubles makes a good percentage of his outside shots at UC basketball practices.  Unfortunately, that has rarely carried over to the games in his two years with the Bearcats.

"I don't know why - I wish I had the answer," said UC assistant coach Darren Savino.  "I know in the drills that he doesn't hesitate and he makes a high percentage.  In the games it seems that he's hesitant and that's a tough thing to get over." 

"When you're missing shots you're like, 'Dang, I make these all day in practice,'" Rubles told me.  "But what I keep telling myself is that my day is going to come.  I'm just going to keep working."

Rubles celebration (440x301).jpg

Despite his shooting woes, Rubles has been a major reason why the Bearcats are 46-17 in his two seasons and headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

"Titus Rubles is our heart and soul," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He gives everybody on the team confidence because he's afraid of nothing.  What he may lack in skill level in terms of shooting the basketball, he definitely makes up for it with fortitude, toughness, and in being a fearless competitor."

"He's one of those intangible guys," said Sean Kilpatrick.  "He sets screens that allow me to get open, he rebounds, he dives on the floor - there are a lot of things that he does that don't show up on the stat sheet."

"Titus Rubles gives you everything that coaches talk about that fans really don't understand sometimes," said Cronin.  "They say, 'Coach is always talking about toughness when they need to get some scorers.'  Let me tell you something.  Titus Rubles' toughness is a big reason why we're sitting here at 24-5."

That trait caught Coach Savino's eye from the very beginning.   

"The first time that I saw Titus play was at a JUCO jamboree," said Savino.  "I was watching random games and trying to find guys that we didn't know about and instantly he stood out with his toughness and aggressiveness. He had what I call, 'The look of a Bearcat.'  I watched him the rest of the weekend and he did a lot of things that fit what we do and I thought Coach Cronin would like him and his style of play."

"We will sorely, sorely miss him next year when he is gone because that is stuff that comes from within," said Cronin.  "You can't go into the gym and work on having a fearless attitude every day.  That means wins, although it doesn't show in the box score.  I can't imagine where we would be without him."

Rubles beats Pitt (440x293).jpg

And while Rubles is only averaging 7.0 points a game, he probably scored Cincinnati's most important basket of the year so far - the game-winning bucket with four seconds left to beat Pitt in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

(Listen to the radio call here)

Rubles calls it the highlight of his UC career.

"It is, and the place that it happened made it a highlight too," said Rubles.  "I still have the headband that I was wearing when I hit the shot.  I'll probably never wash it."

"The tougher the game, the bigger the moment, the tougher the environment; the more physical he plays and the more he gets done," said Cronin.

On senior night vs. Memphis, the loudest cheers will undoubtedly be reserved for Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, but Rubles deserves a lengthy ovation as well.   

"Titus has made as much of an impact as any two-year player here in a long, long time," said Cronin.

"I feel like I made a really good decision coming here," Rubles told me.  "I've been on two teams that have been in the Top 10 and that doesn't happen for a lot of JUCO guys.  I really like the city of Cincinnati and this has been a really good experience for me.  It's crazy that it's coming to an end.  It seems like it's gone by so fast."

"To win a war you've got to have some soldiers, and he's a soldier," said Cronin.

**********

I haven't posted a photo of the handsome lad lately.  On Senior Night it seems appropriate to include this picture of Sam wearing one of his favorite Christmas gifts this year.

Sam in SK jersey (330x440).jpg

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Meet Transfer QB Jarred Evans

| No TrackBacks

If you see a young man around campus wearing a Seahawks jersey and looking like Russell Wilson, you're sadly mistaken.

You won't be too far off though as the person you're looking at is also a football player and a quarterback.

Coming to Cincinnati from Queens, by way of Santa Barbara, Calif., Jarred Evans is a dead ringer for the Super Bowl-winning quarterback. A dead ringer, with a live arm.

Wearing No. 12 for the Bearcats, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound signal caller can throw, run and throw on the run. Judging from the direction of Coach Tommy Tuberville's Bearcat offense, he should fit in just fine.

Evans will compete for the job this spring with sophomore Gunner Kiel, senior Michael Colosimo and true freshman Hayden Moore. Also, lurking around practice and waiting to return this summer is Munchie Legaux.

In other words, Coach Tuberville and the 'Cats have some options and some pretty darn good ones.

Here's a snippet of Mr. Evans from a recent practice at the Sheakley Athletic Center:

Luc Hopes To Be Man In Middle

| No TrackBacks

The UC Bearcats will have a new starting quarterback in the fall.

On both sides of the ball.

Greg Blair smile (440x377).jpg

In addition to losing QB Brendon Kay, two-time all-conference middle linebacker Greg Blair - who helped call signals on defense - also exhausted his eligibility last season.

When spring football opened last week, the new man in the middle of the Bearcats defense was Jeff Luc who started at outside linebacker last year.

"Right now Jeff Luc is starting in the middle and we'll see what he's got," said head coach Tommy Tuberville.  "He's a senior, he knows how to play football, he understands it, and he just has to put it all together."

"I adapted better than I thought I would for the first day," Luc told me.  "It felt like it was my natural position.  I'm not just saying that.  The calls went well, I was getting the fronts right, and I feel comfortable.  I feel like everybody on the defense was working with me and when you have amazing athletes around you, everything is a lot easier."

Luc and Tuberville (362x440).jpg

"We're looking at everybody right now and he's a guy that has some physical tools," said defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.  "We'll see how everybody progresses in terms of learning their assignments and techniques.  He's a guy that we're looking forward to being a good player for us."   

"I think we've got good speed at linebacker," said Tuberville.  "I think the whole key for us is to get the right guys in the right spots in spring practice." 

After starring at Treasure Coast HS in Florida, Luc was rated as the nation's top middle linebacker prospect by multiple recruiting services and originally enrolled at Florida State.  Although he transferred to Cincinnati after two seasons, Jeff was excited when his former FSU teammates won the national championship last season.

"I've been keeping up with them since I left," said Luc.  "I still have a lot of boys there and in my mind they're still like my brothers.  That's who I came out of high school with, I was there for two years, and I still speak to those guys like three days a week.  They're still a big part of me and that friendship and brotherhood is not going to change."

In a Sports Illustrated story about Florida State's victory over Auburn in the BCS Championship, Luc is referred as the "Pied Piper of FSU's turnaround," as writer Andy Staples described how Luc's commitment to Florida State helped head coach Jimbo Fisher build a contender:

Fisher, in one of his first acts as head coach, hosted a group of top recruits on official visits. One of them was Jeff Luc, a Bunyanesque linebacker from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Fellow recruits in the class of 2010 treated Luc like a rock star. They delighted in his slobberknocker-heavy highlight video and shared it on social media. They marveled at his 6'1", 240-pound physique, which resembled that of a five-year NFL veteran's. Fisher wanted a grown-ass man, and Luc fit the bill. When he committed to the Seminoles while in Tallahassee on Dec. 5, the other recruits noticed.

"I'm not going to say that it was just because of me," said Luc.  "Lamarcus Joyner and I sat down and said that we should go to school together and see if we could bring some more boys in.  I guess he wanted me to make my move first, so when I committed to Florida State he committed and it started rolling.  It was a whole bunch of great athletes coming together and wanting to play on the same team."

Luc was a leader of that highly-touted recruiting class and is expected to be one of Cincinnati's primary team leaders in 2014.

"I just feel like I have a different role," Luc told me.  "Usually people say that they lead by example, but I think it's time for me to be more vocal and I'm working on that."

Luc new number (330x440).jpg

And in addition to his new role, Jeff has a new number switching from 48 to 1.

"I just wanted something different," said Luc.  "It's a new year, I'm at a new position, and it's a new beginning. 

"It's a whole different point of view for me because I'm in the middle of everything and that's where I want to be."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


I'll never forget the first game I covered after moving back home to Cincinnati leaving my job covering UGA in Georgia. The Bearcats football team had been on quite a run. Even from afar on the other side of college football buried beneath eight layers of crazy inside the SEC I knew this fact. 

But Game 1, Day 1 for me working for CNati.com (thanks again, CTR) came on Dec. 5, 2009: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. 

I sat in the press box at Heinz Field and knew the stakes. I knew the players. I knew the coaches. I knew the brisket buffet was delectable. 

But looking back, I didn't quite understand. I didn't understand the fan base, the love of this place, the blue-collar, underdog persona of a program reflecting its city. 

Then Tony Pike to Armon Binns happened. 


That moment and the ripple effect of the following years began my education of the University of Cincinnati. Sure, I grew up in Cincinnati and even followed UC basketball as a young kid, but from the unbiased adult journalist side didn't quite understand the dynamic at play here. 

As I look at the number next to "On The Bearcats Beat" on the right side of this page it's apparent 1,045 times, I attempted to disseminate what I was learning about this place and its programs. Sometimes the message came across coherently, other times in overwhelming charts still red flagged and studied for clarification by NASA. Occasionally, even I didn't know what I was trying to tell you. 

But I think the broad brush statement of the tens of thousands of words, hundreds of videos, charts, gifs and the one awkward cat photo, was that there's a unique combination of tradition, community and progress at play in Clifton right now. 

I've always loved this city and this University is a proud reflection of it. That will never change and will always mean something bigger than any coach, player, athletic director. 

I'm moving on to cover the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer, working for the hometown newspaper has been my dream job since I was memorizing the stats of the 1992 Final Four team as a 12-year-old kid in Mason. That means I have to leave GoBearcats.com, a place that has allowed me to create a base and write regularly for the past four-plus years. 

I couldn't be more thankful to everyone that commented, emailed, interacted on Twitter or chatted face to face. Except @walkjrw -- thank goodness for the block button. 

But before I move on to The Enquirer, it only seems right to go out with one final trip to the griddle. One last Bearcats Breakfast. 

Let's eat ...

--- I'll start off with the best thing this athletics program has going for it these days: Mick Cronin. I've written time and again about the job he's done. From stating how unfathomable it was to rebuild the program from one scholarship player to the middle of the toughest conference in basketball by 2010 to going off on how rare this type of loyalty and talent were in today's college hoops. 

Time to do so one more time. 

At the beginning of this season, Gary Parrish took a poll of the coaches under 45 most likely to make the Hall of Fame. Here's the list. 

Coach, SchoolW-L%
Shaka Smart, VCU131-4474.8%
Brad Stevens, Celtics166-4977.2%
Sean Miller, Arizona242-9172.6%
Buzz Williams, Marquette152-8265.0%
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State84-4465.6%

OK, Mick Cronin: 228-128 -- 64.0%

Fair enough that he wouldn't reach that list if you look at those numbers, but consider he reached 64 percent wins at Murray State and building a program from scratch in the Big East. 

If you take away just the first three years (2006-09) as he fought an uphill battle to emerge from decimation of the program, the numbers tell a different story. 

He's at 186-76 -- 71.0%. 

Now, take a deeper look at the coaches on that list. How many of those you think are as dedicated to staying at their current school as Mick? Any? Heck, one of them is on the assumption Stevens will eventually return back to college. Miller might be the only one I actually believe could stay for a career at the current place. 

I'm not saying Mick will make the HOF. That's irrelevant here. I'm saying fans need to understand what they have.

Cronin pledges his desire to stay at Cincinnati every year. Over and over and over again. That's as rare a combination as you will find in the sport today. 

The contingent of anti-Mick, pro-Huggs people gradually eroded since I joined the beat and I'm convinced the small fraction that still yells will be there forever. The fact they are holding on to that rather than embracing the electric, fun-to-watch players their "school" brought in means they probably never belonged under the "fan" classification anyway. 

Mick and everyone inside UC sounded more optimistic this year about a solution to the arena issue than I've ever heard. And with the city beginning to address the US Bank Arena issue, a light flickers at the end of the tunnel. 

I know this, for what Mick accomplished at UC he deserves the support -- both financially and verbally -- of everyone whose stepped foot into Fifth Third Arena for a men's basketball game. He saved a program and returned it to heights as relevant as ever. Look around, folks, you have something special going on here. 

--- Mick will probably be there when The Sammi Cronin Show isn't just a gag on the Bearcats Sports Weekly Show with Tommy G, he could still be there when she is legitimately running the show. Of course, that could be sooner than later. Sorry, TG, she's good. 

 
--- Speaking of TG, maybe one of the best things UC has going for them is Tom Gelehrter, Director of New Media and Broadcasting. The episodes of the Inside the Bearcats Podcast we churned out were among some of the most fun times I've had on the beat. And sometimes we even talked about UC sports. 

Other times, we talked about cookie attendants, self-tweeting baby pics, the Harlem Shake, bedazzled mics, taking a trip to Sweden for Midsummer and, of course, Fred Savage. 

Maybe the greatest side-creation of the podcast was the intricate renderings of Assistant Director of Creative Services and Multimedia Shane Harrison. As we talked about who knows what that shifted us off topic, we'd see him rapidly working the photoshops to fit our faces into the topic of the day. Magical. And I had to eventually eliminate his access to my Facebook photos. To this day, the stuff of genius. 

ITBP-MidsommarEdition.jpgPDJ_marchmadness.jpgIBP131Cover.jpg
--- This will be the point in the program where I spend time thanking everyone that helped me during my time at UC. I know some of you will scroll past it. Go ahead, this has to be done. The sports information/PR department is in great hands with Ryan Koslen and his entire staff there. Of course, I never would have known any of them if not for Jeremy Martin believing in the idea of true analysis on a web site. He's in a much better place now (no, not there, he's alive -- allegedly) and deservedly so. 

From Whit Babcock to Desiree Reed-Francois and all the coaches who humored me thoroughly through dumb questions and typically absurd story angles, can't help but say thanks for everything. 

Also big shout outs to Brad Wurthman, Jaime Juenger, Andre Foushee, Katie Botsis, everyone else in the SID office and, of course, Equipment Manager/Motivational Speaker/Dap Giver/Ladies Man Skippy. 

--- When I first arrived at UC and was attempting to prove myself among writers/media members I didn't know, I received an email after a few of my earliest stories. It was from Dan Hoard. He said he enjoyed what I was doing and if I ever needed anything to not hesitate to ask. I never forgot that. In the position I was in, that meant the world to me. Then I proceeded to make him regret the offer as I leaned on him over and over again for help. 

I owe a ton to Dan and am jacked I get to keep working around him on the Bengals beat. 

---  My favorite story in all my time there came after meeting former UC swimmer Nate Kramer. At the time I chatted with him he was fighting a battle with cancer still on the uphill end. The UC athletics community was rallying behind him and helping keep him going. Here's that story I was lucky enough to be able to tell. 

I'm happier to report that of the last post from his family earlier this month, Nate is doing great almost two years since his brother underwent a bone marrow transplant to keep Nate alive. Amazing. And inspiring. 

--- Maybe my favorite game that I covered wasn't one UC fans will want to remember in the scorebook, but for those who sat in the now (thankfully) torn down Nippert Stadium press box they will never forget the 2010 season finale against Pitt. 

Snow poured down that day and covered the field. Playing the game was a challenge and keeping the yard lines clear was even harder. But, right before halftime an interesting comment popped up in my Twitter feed -- the police just took away the Bearcats mascot in handcuffs. Had to be a joke, I thought. Not the first time Twitter broke a comical lie. Then came another tweet. And another. And then, the video. For a man who loves mascots being placed in real world situations, this was the dream scenario -- the video. 


Ryan Koslen had to stand up in the press box and actually make this announcement: "The mascot has been detained, the backup mascot is now in the game." 

Maybe the greatest line uttered in any press box. 

--- Randomness ....

--- Thank you, Ryan Quinn. Thank you. Baseball jousting, still the best in my book. 

--- I could have talked to Marcus Barnett about his tattoos all day. To be fair, I would have needed all day consider he had 87 of them. 

--- Maybe the most underrated watershed win during my time at UC was the 22-point beatdown of Georgetown to close 2011. When the fans seemed to finally embrace the Bearcats again. 

--- Recording a podcast at Montgomery Inn and introducing the Ballin' Is A Habit guys to great ribs was fantastic. Anytime a server can make a legitimately engaging cameo, it's a great pod. 

--- George Winn didn't say much, but his emergence might have been one of my favorite storylines. Plus, he did this. 

--- Still don't know how Cashmere Wright got that shot off. Best single play I saw on the beat. 

--- The 2011-2012 UC basketball team. What a fun run. 

--- Usually in this spot I'd throw some silly Interwebbing viral video, some witty (at least in my mind) comment. Instead, for the last one, which feels a bit like an encore, I thought about the best encore songs I've ever seen. I narrowly estimate Pearl Jam, over Outkast and Phish, was my most highly embedded musical act, I could have gone with something from them. Baba O'Riley? SpottieOttieDopealicious? Tweezer Reprise? End of the Road by Boyz II Men? All lovely. 

But nothing gets across my message like Monty Python. 

Thanks for reading everybody. Trust me, when I say it's impossible that you enjoyed this more than I did.

SK Has Come A Long Way

| No TrackBacks

I will never forget the first time I saw Sean Kilpatrick in action.

He stunk.

Kilpatrick dunk.jpg

It was Sunday, January 18, 2009 and Sean had already signed to play for UC the next fall.  The Bearcats were scheduled to play at Providence the following night and Sean's prep school team took part in a showcase event in Boston that afternoon.  I was living there at the time and Mick and Hep Cronin planned to drive up from Providence to meet me at the game.

Unfortunately, a massive snowstorm made it impossible for the Cronins to make the one-hour drive and I was one of maybe two dozen people who showed up at Chelsea High School for the event.

My timing was as lousy as the road conditions.  The night before, Kilpatrick scored 28 points in a game played in New York City, but his entire team (including Sean's roommate and future Syracuse standout James Southerland) appeared sluggish in the loss I witnessed to Bridgton Academy.

"That was a long day," Sean recalled when I asked if he remembered the game.  "The bus ride up there was hectic because of the snowstorm.  It was crazy.  It was interesting to see you there because I didn't think anybody was going to make it because of that snowstorm.  You weathered the storm.  You've been following me since I was in prep school and that is something that I've always appreciated from you." 

And while I didn't see him have a good game, Kilpatrick's coach assured me I would not be disappointed when he got to Cincinnati.

"You didn't see much of a performance today, but Sean's basketball ability is not a concern," Notre Dame Prep head coach Ryan Hurd told me at the time.  "The kid performs.  We've played 19 games now and this is maybe the second time he didn't play well.  I have no doubt that he's going to go to Cincinnati next year and put up really solid numbers."

Not a bad call huh?



In Saturday's loss to Louisville, Kilpatrick joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in school history to score more than 2000 points.  Sean finished the game with 28, making it the 16th time this year and 33rd time in his career that the fifth-year senior has scored 20-or-more in a game.  In Cincinnati's last eight games, he's averaging 25.3 points.Kilpatrick listening to Mick (440x300).jpg

"We often talk about his leadership and what kind of person he is, but there's not enough talk about his raw ability and what kind of basketball player he is," said Cronin.  "He has evolved into a big-time player.  I've been around some guys that were drafted in the Top 20 and dominated college basketball, but he's as good a guard right now as I've ever coached in my 18 years."

"Coach Cronin's had my back for the five years since I've been here," said Kilpatrick.  "He's never let me down and I've tried my hardest to never let him down."

Kilpatrick's individual brilliance and the team's unanticipated climb into the Top 10 has led to talk in recent weeks - especially from my WLW colleagues Mo Egger and Lance McAlister - that the University of Cincinnati should retire his uniform number.

"I've never thought about that and I don't really know the criteria," said Cronin.  "That's pretty strong because there have been a lot of great players here, but obviously I'm on SK's side at all times."

"I'll leave that up to the President of the school and Coach Cronin if he has anything to do with that," said Kilpatrick.  "At the end of the day, I'm just somebody that goes to school here and tries to help the program.  It's an accomplishment to hear talk like that because I never knew that I would be in this position, but it's something that I'll leave up to them."

UC practice wall.jpg

Oscar Robertson, Kenyon Martin, and Jack Twyman are the only Bearcats to have their numbers retired, but there's a Wall of Honor in the practice gym featuring seven former All-Americans that seems certain to eventually include Kilpatrick.

"Looking up at that wall and seeing the greats that have played here is something that inspired me every day to come in and keep working," said Kilpatrick.


More than his scoring total or helping UC make four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, Kilpatrick's legacy should focus on his work ethic and dramatic improvement over his college career.

"You're talking about a guy that if he took two dribbles as a freshman he lost the ball," said Cronin.  "He literally got it stolen every time.  I asked him if he was trying to make a run for best bakery instead of Servatii's because of his turnovers.  It was unreal.  That's how far he's come.  Through hard work, will, and determination, the guy is one of the best players to ever play here."

"I've worked my tail off for this," said Kilpatrick.  "This hasn't been given to me - I've earned it."

"We came in together and I've seen Sean grow from a boy to a man," said Justin Jackson.  "And from a good player to a phenomenal player.  He's a great guy, a leader on and off the court - he's a leader when he's not even trying to be a leader."

"He accepts the responsibility of showing up every night," said Cronin.  "That's why he's an All-American.  That's why he's going to play in the NBA.  And that's why he's the Player of the Year in this conference.  He shows up every night.  He has tremendous work ethic and character."

I certainly didn't know I was watching one of Cincinnati's all-time greats in a mostly-empty high school gym on that Sunday afternoon more than five years ago.

"I came in here not highly recruited and who knew that I was going to end up being this way?" said Kilpatrick.

"He's the most underrated great player that has ever played here," said Cronin.  "You had better enjoy him while you can."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

 

Sun shines after the rainbow

| No TrackBacks

LouUC.jpg

UC endured a heart-breaking defeat against Louisville, but through the pain a positive picture of March shines through for the Bearcats. 

CINCINNATI -- From the moment the Bearcats took the floor Saturday against Louisville, the day felt different.  And not when they took the floor for opening tip. When the took the floor for warmups. 

The student section caked in white and packing big heads stood shoulder to shoulder filling every inch 20 minutes before tipoff. The upper decks overflowed and roared at levels unheard in the five years I've been on this beat. 

Sean Kilpatrick agreed with my ranking. 

"No. 1," he said. 

As UC bullied its way to a three-point lead, the waning moments trended to a coronation against arch-rival Louisville, booting them to the ACC with a final swift kick. 

Only, with one hanging rainbow, Russ Smith grasped all the white-hot energy of Saturday afternoon and ripped it out of the UC basketball team. 

Those moments leave a mark. They did in the immediate aftermath of a succinct, frustrated press conference from UC players and coach Mick Cronin. 

Losing to Louisville in that fashion stings. It should. But sifting through the smoke and rubble of emotion a clearer picture of future emerges. The Bearcats are 24-4, 13-2 in the American Athletic Conference, tied for first with the Cardinals with the next game on the schedule beginning March Madness. 

The Bearcats didn't play well Saturday. Justin Jackson fouled his way out of the first half, Cronin called the fact UC only trailed by three at the break without him a "modern miracle." 

UC went 8:55 without scoring one point, nobody but Sean Kilpatrick topped eight points, they didn't score a single fast-break bucket and were owned 34-14 in the paint.

Yet, it took a helium-filled, Russdiculous buzzer-beater to bury the Bearcats. 

While many story lines should evolve from Louisville 58, Cincinnati 57, concerns about the Bearcats' potential next month don't fall among them.

"I love (my guys) for how hard we play," Cronin said. "We just didn't play very well today. We didn't play very smart today. Even if we won we would have won because of our toughness."

The moral of my story of Saturday comes two-fold. First, maybe the biggest travesty of the breakup of the Big East from UC's perspective is officials of that level unable to control a game of this magnitude. It's a shame when two teams in the top 11 square off so many leave talking about the guys in stripes. 

Second, these two sides must find a way to continue this rivalry going forward. How can it be better for either of these two schools that this rivalry ends? Take a look at the recent past between these two schools in both football and basketball. Thriller after thriller and passionate crowds in both arenas. 

Logistics on both sides come into play, but if this rivalry takes a permanent hiatus it's not just a loss along the Ohio River, it's a sad defeat for all of college basketball. 

We can delve into those topics around the watering holes Saturday night, but we won't talk about the Bearcats potential when it matters most in four weeks. 

Concern is for those not paying attention beyond the box score. 

UConn, Memphis and Rutgers remain on the schedule as UC races Louisville (22-4, 12-2) to the wire for a regular season American title. The Bearcats resume places them in the cone of probability for a top four seed. 

Losing a February game when you didn't play well on a shot at the horn might make for a swift kick to the coffee table in the living room of a UC fan, but doesn't stub the toe of the big picture. 

A win at UConn next Saturday or home throttling of spiraling Memphis back in Fifth Third will make this a distant memory. 

For the moment, it stole the soul of a special atmosphere and ruined a Saturday afternoon. After the rainbow, however, the sun still shines. 

I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions and suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Two Minutes with Troy

| No TrackBacks

I'm not sure where Midlothian, Virginia is, but anyone from there likely marveled at Troy Caupain at Cosby High School.

I'm also not sure what Cosby High's nickname is.  It probably should be "Kids".  Whatever it is, I'm sure Caupain did it proud as he not only scored 26 points per game, but also averaged an astounding 15 rebounds from his 6-foot-3 frame.

He once hit for 48 in high school and plays with the confidence of someone who wants the ball when a bucket is needed.  Thus far, his UC high is 15 points.  With three years remaining, there's no question he'll surpass that figure easily.

With a large amount of Bearcat memorabilia around my various workplaces,my family noticed a few months ago that Caupain bore a slight resemblance to former Bearcat great Danny Fortson. 

As my wife would say, "He's a babyface!"

At 18-years-old, Caupain might not appreciate the reference, but at some point he will.  If UC were to get a portion of Fortson's production out of No. 10, fans should be pretty satisfied.  It's also encouraging to think of the future backcourt of Caupain, Johnson and Deshaun Morman, based on what we've seen thus far.

This is "Two Minutes With Troy" from UC's practice gym in the Lindner Center.