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TEACHER VS. STUDENT (PART ONE)

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      He's played him once in Cincinnati and twice in Louisville. Mick Cronin is 1-2 against the Cardinals and his one-time boss, Rick Pitino. Sunday, they do battle again in Freedom Hall in the last game ever at the old arena between the 'Cats and Cards.

      "Yeah, Freedom Hall's a great place," said Cronin. "I know the people talk about it, the media doesn't like where they sit and all that stuff and the cramped quarters. Freedom Hall's a neat place. I've been fortunate enough to coach there in a lot of games. Glad I'm going to get a chance to coach there this year. It'll be great to know that you coached a game in the last season ever at Freedom Hall."

      Cronin has the rare honor of having coached in Freedom Hall on the Cardinals bench and on the opposing bench with the Bearcats. After five years on the staff of Bob Huggins with UC, Cronin spent two years as Rick Pitino's Associate Head Coach. While Huggins gave him his college start, Cronin's "head coaching stock" took off after his time in "the 'Ville".

      "All I can tell you is what he's done for myself as well as numerous other coaches in this business is probably unparalleled in the history of college coaching," Cronin said of Pitino. "I don't know that anyone other than Dean Smith would compare to Rick Pitino as far as developing college coaches."

      Because of that, Cronin and other Pitino proteges have had a difficult time with the bad press the Louisville coach has received over an extramarital encounter that became public.

      "That's why it's been hard for me to watch what he's had to go through in the last six to eight months," admitted Cronin. "It's been brutal on a lot of us. You sit around and talk to guys like Billy Donovan and Herb Sendek and try to figure out, 'How can we help him?' At the end of the day, what we've all found out is he's alright. If anyone's going to be able to handle the whole situation with class and dignity and deal with a mistake that he had to go through--it's him."

      There's no question, Cronin is a Pitino follower. Except when it comes to flashy suits the Cardinals coach has taken to wearing on occasion.

      "I don't own a white suit, nor do I own a red suit," said Cronin. "I'd look like some sort of elf or cartoon character."

      A lot of Pitino's influence can be seen in Cronin off the court. These days, there's a lot more to coaching than roaming the sidelines.

      "Dealing with media, dealing with fans, fundraising, all of the above--aside from the X's and O's," said Cronin of what he learned from Pitino. "People don't really know his generosity and how he goes out of his way for other people."

      21 former Pitino players and coaches have gone on to become Division I head coaches. Included on the list are Florida's Billy Donovan and Minnesota's Tubby Smith (both winning national championships). Arizona State's Herb Sendek, and of course, Mick Cronin are also on that list and Cronin's lessons from the Louisville master have been priceless.

      "The biggest thing that I noticed when I got with him was understanding that in every game you've got to prepare for that game to be close," said Cronin. "Every team is good at certain things. If the game becomes close, you can't lose your mind and get frustrated with your players. You have to adjust and find a way to get the win. I think he probably got that from the NBA."

      Best case scenario against Louisville is that Cronin gets to put some of Pitino's advice to use. As long as its close, the Bearcats have a chance for a rare Big East road win. Cronin did it two years ago with considerably less talent.

      As they say in another popular sport, "Any Given Sunday".


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