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UC-Rutgers preview

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Some interesting comments emerged from the basketball team's Big East tournament news conference on Monday, and none of them had much to do with the opponent the Bearcats will face tonight at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in the first round.

 

First, Rufus over at Fox 19 asked Mick Cronin about Mike Thomas saying Cronin would be back to coach UC next year. Rufus asked about negative recruiting, which Cronin basically glossed over, but Cronin did respond to Thomas' public declaration of support.

 

"Mike always has been supportive of me," Cronin said. "When we started, we've always been on the same page with how hard it was going to be. That being said, I need to deliver. The only thing I'd like to say is just because you hear me say we lost a close game or this or that, nobody wants to deliver more than me. We've made progress, but we're not over the hill. Mike and I are trying to get the program back to the NCAA tournament and back among the top-25."

 

There are those that complain that Cronin never seems to take responsibility for his mistakes or shortcomings, and sometimes, that criticism is not hard to dispute. But I thought it was telling that he said, "I need to deliver." Probably won't be enough for Cronin's critics, but there you go.

 

Then, George over at Channel 5 asked about the criticism that some have given when they say UC's players don't seem to be progressing. Full disclosure, I was asked about this Monday on the Eddie and Tracy radio show, and I said I agreed with that criticism. Here's what Cronin had to say when asked specifically about Yancy Gates. I thought it was a very interesting answer, and depending on whether you love or hate Cronin, you'll either love or hate this answer.

 

"I don't know how fair that is. Who says he's supposed to be a force? Other guys don't have the expectation levels because they don't have the five (recruiting) stars next to their name. Yancy was not a dominant player at Withrow High School. He averaged seven rebounds a game at 6-foot-9, 270. He's a project. He's got talent, but he's a project. He continues to be one.

 

"I don't have the magic wand. Coaching a guy is one thing. You can't make somebody something they're not. You can try to develop them, but there's only so much you can do. You can teach a guy his footwork or work with him on free throws, but you can't make a guy something he's not. The problem with Yancy is that people want him to be somebody he's not. He's got to worry about being the best guy Yancy Gates can be.

 

"As far as playing hard and practice habits and commitment off the floor - dieting and training - they're all learned skills. Yancy is better with his practice habits; he's better with a lot of things. Is he where I want him to be? No. Is he where he wants to be? No. Because of his so-called potential that people have bestowed upon him, it brings stress to his situation. He has to do the best he can do, and I have to live with that. At times, he gives me sophomore effort. There's a difference between sophomore effort and senior effort."

 

--Ibrahima Thomas was pretty funny in the presser, especially when he was talking about one of his best friends, Rutgers senior center Hamady Ndiaye.

 

"Our whole lifetime, we've been together," Thomas said. "Even when we came to the States, we went to the same high school. It's a little tough (to play against him). It's the first time ever we played against each other. Even on the playground, we never played against each other. We were always on the same team."

 

Thomas also admitted Ndiaye is a pretty good trash talker. He called Thomas at 5 a.m. the day the tournament bracket was announced and then later sent him some text messages, saying UC had no shot to beat the Scarlet Knights.

 

--And finally, we get to the matchup with Rutgers - which has won five of its past 10 games (although that includes two victories vs. DePaul and one win against somebody called Caldwell). Senior guard Deonta Vaughn talked Monday about how UC's season was starting over and that the Bearcats were now 0-0. They're not even going to think about how they beat Rutgers 65-58 in early January.

 

"I like where we're at right now," Vaughn said. "We know what we have to do. We've got Rutgers, who we beat once. But Rutgers seems to get better every game. We just have to restart a new season."

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