Mick Cronin's 2010-11 basketball team begins practice this week.
that's something you don't always hear as the football team is at training camp, these practices are for a rare, sneak preview the basketball Bearcats will have prior to Labor Day in Canada. On September 3rd, 4th and 5th, UC will be in Ottawa taking on some Canadian squads.
"Friday, we'll play McGill University out of Montreal," said Cronin. "We'll play them at Carleton University. Saturday night we'll play Carleton in the arena where the Ottawa Senators play. Carleton has won numerous national championships. Sunday, we'll play Ottawa University. Those are probably three of the four best teams in all of Canada."
Taking a preseason basketball road trip is something the Bearcats haven't done in 14 years.
"Cincinnati's last trip was '96'," said Cronin. "It was actually my first year with the program and Coach Huggins. Summer of '96--went to Italy. You're allowed to go every four years. It's a big advantage for your program because you get 10 extra practice days. Not just 10 practices, 10 practice days. Film sessions, shooting sessions, individual sessions all within those 10 days."
In 1996, the trip improved a team that was already pretty good.
"Danny Fortson's last year," said Cronin. "Preseason number one in the country."
Unfortunately for Mick Cronin, he wasn't able to enjoy pizza and pasta with the rest of the guys. As the "new guy" on staff, Coach Cronin's duty was to hang back in the states with those on the squad that still had class obligations and couldn't make the trip.
Actually, Cronin has taken this particular trip north of the border before and reaped it's rewards.
"Five years ago, my last year at Murray State, I took my team on the same tour," said Cronin. "It was highly beneficial to our team. We went to the NCAA tournament and dominated our conference. It helped our offensive efficiency in being able to slowly put it in your system. We all feel so rushed early in the season trying to get stuff in."
Now, Cronin's plan is to practice three days, take a day off, three more days, another day off, and so on until the magic number of 10 is reached. The upside of these exhibitions is it makes the installation process much easier in mid-October when practices traditionally start.
"It's going to be a big advantage for cohesiveness and to put our offensive stuff in," said Cronin. "As you know, it's a big disadvantage when you start school so late, compared to those that start in August. I'm very excited about it and it should definitely help us early in the season."
Certainly, winning is always on Cronin's mind, but the prime goal with these exhibitions is to get vital experience for the players on the floor running UC's plays. Two seasons ago, UC beat Carleton in a preseason game at Fifth Third Arena. Four years ago, they beat Ottawa. However, these games come two months earlier in the year than those did.
"We will have scripted line-ups," acknowledged Cronin. "We're making sure we're playing guys a certain amount of minutes. We're going to make sure we get a chance to look at everybody and everybody gets a chance to play. It's an exhibition for them. We play to win, but we're also going to monitoring guys' minutes."
The plan for the Bearcats is to take some time off after the Canadian trip to rest up for the following month's debut. When that finally starts, UC will be featuring a couple of new big guys to complement the ones they have. Those players are Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson.
Gaines is the bigger of the two at 6-11, but he wasn't seen as much this summer because of an injury to his jaw. Then, it didn't help when he arrived on campus and took a Yancy Gates elbow to the already-injured mouth.
"Kelvin's had a lot of issues with his mouth--he had to get his jaw reset," said Cronin. "He had to have some major oral surgery. He's a big guy. For us, it's important that Kelvin develop and have good developmental years. You lose Thomas, Biggy McClain and Darnell Wilks. They all graduate."
Along with Gaines, you have wiry Justin Jackson at 6-7 with some pretty incredible reach. Watching him in the Deveroes league, I'd compare his arm length with Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks.
While he doesn't have their body weight (yet) he's long and active defensively as they were.
"He's going to be a great player," said Cronin. "Justin Jackson's got tremendous energy. He's a good rebounder and very active. He can also make open shots and finish around the basket. He can defend probably five positions."
Jackson's defense should help UC in running a more pressing defense. The Cronin staff has always kept statistics on "deflections" in games and Jackson should be among the team leaders in that category if he gets the playing time. When he's in, look for for UC to apply the pressure.
"With Deonta Vaughn gone, you'll see us be a much more consistent team with our defensive pressure," said Cronin. "Justin's only going to help us with that."
Adding Jackson and Gaines down under with Gates, Thomas, McClain, and Wilks gives UC some much needed depth and should enhance their numbers in rebounding and "points in the paint".
"We have a chance to have a
great, if not the best, front line in the Big East," said Cronin.
"Our perimeter play and our guard play's probably going to be the biggest question."
Speaking of guard play, Cronin brought up Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick as being guys that could make or break UC's season. Wright played last season, but had his ups and downs.
"I think Cashmere Wright is a guy that needs to develop more consistency," said Cronin. "He and I had a lot of talks about him maturing off the floor--that'll translate to maturity on the floor. Oscar Robertson's always talking about how the consistency in your life will translate into consistency in your game. He (Wright) probably miscalculated how tough it was going to be coming back from a knee injury."
Should Wright play to his potential, and if Sean Kilpatrick can turn it on like some of us have seen in summer games, UC should have nothing to worry about. However, Kilpatrick needs "channeled" a bit after spending a season on the bench observing and not playing.
"The biggest thing with a guy that sat out and redshirted is slowing him down," said Cronin. "Sean Kilpatrick's going to have to take his time. You're not going to be able to go out in your first game and make up for a whole year sat out. He's so excited to play this season, which is understandable."
If this were October, the concerns of Mick Cronin on Gaines, Jackson, Wright and Kilpatrick would be even more urgent. But, having the ability to ease into this college season with the extra practices and three exhibitions could prove to be a crucial dress rehearsal to what Cronin hopes is a long run (and hopefully, this engagement goes beyond Broadway).