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justin jackson.jpegsean kilpatrick.jpeg

(Justin Jackson and Sean Kilpatrick)      

     While the only way to see or hear the game was on and only 3,426 witnessed it in person, UC's first basketball exhibition had some interesting subplots that have yet to be developed. UC beat Carleton University (Canada) 89-57 with 11 players getting double-figure minutes.

      Junior Yancy Gates led the way with 23 points and five rebounds playing 25 of the 40 minutes, followed by fellow junior Dion Dixon with 19 points in 27 minutes. Dixon played the most minutes in a game where Coach Mick Cronin liberally substituted.

      That might turn out to be a good thing as this team appears to want to press and "get after it" from one end of the court to the other. Sure, it's just one exhibition, but there was a style of defense being played that borrows heavily from the videos/films of older Bearcat teams.

      One stat that Mick Cronin repeatedly brings up is never ever recognized in the post-game box score.

      The Bearcat staff counts deflections--getting a hand on the ball. Usually when that happens, a play is changed.

      Monday night against Carleton, the Bearcats recorded 42 deflections and that was the first number Cronin mentioned upon taking the mike in the Fifth Third Arena interview room.

      One guy that's going to go a long way in helping in that category is incoming freshman Justin Jackson--he of the wingspan that might be close to that of ex-Bearcat Jason Maxiell. blogger Paul Dehner Jr. posted on Twitter during the game that Jackson looked like he was playing in a Final Four game, and I have to agree.

      Jackson was guarding the inbound pass after baskets with arms flailing, tongue wagging and "D-ing up" as if post-game sprints had been threatened. This is not new. The one thing I noticed watching him this summer in the Deveroes league at Woodward High School was how hard he played in the most insignificant of games.

      Jackson's efforts didn't go unnoticed. Upon exiting the game, he was given the loudest round of applause of the night. Sure, a crowd at about one-quarter capacity is only so loud, but some stood.

      "People appreciate hustle and hard work," said Cronin. "This is Cincinnati. It's a blue collar town. People appreciate hard work and hustle."

      Looking at Jackson's final numbers won't wow you. Four points and five rebounds. But, he also had an assist, a block and FOUR steals (leading in that category). When you consider that was all done in 17 minutes, it's even more impressive. That's a double-double pace and possibly a triple-double.

      Now, it's unlikely that Jackson will get 40 minutes at this early stage. First off, his aggressiveness leads to rebounds, but also to fouling.

      "He's a guy that's going to rebound, he's going to effect the game in different ways," said Cronin. "We've just got to teach him to play hard without fouling."

      The one thing noticeable about Jackson is that his style, and the style Cronin's men appear to be going to, is contagious. When it works, bodies are flying everywhere and usually Justin Jackson is in the center of it if he's in the game.

      "Justin's going to have a great career here as time goes by and he learns how to play college basketball," said Cronin. "He does a lot of things for us. Rarely do you find a big guy who passes as well as him."

      Another guy that played a very effective 17 minutes that will also impact this team is Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is a redshirt freshman who "observed" a year rather than come off the bench as Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn competed for shots.

      Kilpatrick is also a scorer, but not quite as demanding as his teammates from last year. As Coach Cronin has noticed, Kilpatrick has a way of getting to the hoop "under the radar".

      "He's got 16, I don't know how he got them," said Cronin. "You look down and he's got 16 in 17 minutes. He can score the basketball, he's just got a knack for putting the ball in the basket."

      Kilpatrick made one of UC's four treys and most importantly made all five of his free throws. He was a considered a "pretty good get" at the time for UC out of New York, until Lance Stephenson (also of New York) was signed. Suddenly, Kilpatrick had to take a back seat and come to grips with sitting out a season to make the most of his college career.

Kilpatrick suited up and traveled with the Bearcats but did not play. Now, he's relying on his coach to get him through his freshman season--part II.

      "Stay focused and just keep level-headed," said Kilpatrick of Cronin's advice. "I haven't played in like a year and a half, it's been a good experience."

      Kilpatrick is a very likable guy. Those that watched him prior to Lance "Born Ready To Shoot Below 30 Percent" Stephenson, know that he can "light it up" with anyone. He also can see the floor and had an awesome lob pass to Yancy Gates against Carleton that Gates thunder-dunked one-handed.

      "I do what I need to do and that's help my team win," said Kilpatrick.

      That could be the difference this season. Doing what's needed to be done to help the team win.

      If I could take anything away from an exhibition (and you usually can't) it would be a bigger emphasis on team. This is the 50th anniversary of the UC's first NCAA championship team. Talk to anyone from that era and they will explain to you that their brand of "team ball" was what led to them hoisting banners.

      Watching UC's defensive effort and the use of so many interchangeable parts, I can see a new emphasis. Whether or not it sticks for a season remains to be seen, but for one night it was truly enjoyable to watch intensity from a school once known for such play.

      "Our guys are extremely bought in to trying to wear our opponents out," said Cronin.

      That's just one quote, but it says a lot. It mentions no individual accolades and no offensive statistics.

      Defense isn't glamorous, but if you want to make a tournament run, you'd better have it.

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