Sophomore Cashmere Wright will be counted on to take a major step forward this year. His first move in the correct direction during a 76-51 win against FAMU showed it's close to a reality.
The words Mick Cronin chiseled into his brain this week were still fresh.
"Every day after practice," Wright said, "he kept telling me, 'We know you can shoot, I know you can shoot, everybody else knows you can shoot. Why are you not shooting?'"
Wright spent the first week of season playing his role. Or at least, what he felt to be his role. He needed to distribute the ball, involve his teammates and rack up assists.
Once the ball arrived into his hands Monday, it was clear the understanding of his role changed.
Pick. Pop. Buried.
Wright didn't shoot because the shot clock was low. He shot because he wanted to. He shot because he was ready to. That's a noticeable difference for the redshirt sophomore the Bearcats are counting on to carry a portion of the scoring load.
He would move on to knock down 4 of 8 from behind the arc. For a team dogged by poor 3-point shooting through the first two games and tired of watching shot after shot clang off the rim, Wright's opening 3-pointer sent a message: Tonight's going to be a different night.
"It was a big thing," Wright said. "It just helps your confidence. We know we can shoot so once the first one goes in you have that swagger about yourself where you are ready to shoot. You are not hesitant about yourself."
The basics of point guard play determine that you involve your teammates by racking up assists and setting up passes in the ideal spots to score. In his second full college season, Wright's learning the advanced lessons of point guard play. When done properly, you can involve your teammates by looking for your own shot.
Wright's opening salvo struck a chord with his teammates who followed suit, almost scoffing at the 25 percent of 3-pointers made through the first two games. Rashad Bishop knocked down two. Sean Kilpatrick hit one. JaQuon Parker dropped one in. In the second half, Dion Dixon ran his total to four.
By the time it was over, UC connected on 12 of 27 3-point shots. That was good for 44 percent. It's the major reason the Bearcats ran away with their first blowout victory of the season, 76-51, against overmatched FAMU.
Wright would lead the way with 18 points, the second highest point total of his career. Though, that wouldn't be his favorite statistic of the night. It wouldn't be his four rebounds or two steals. Heck, it wasn't even the career high eight assists.
It was zero turnovers.
"He's definitely the star of the game for us tonight," said Cronin, who admitted he needs Wright to be a double-figure scorer if his team wants to accomplish its goals. "If we can continue to get that from him, obviously, he's going to make me a much better coach and we are going to win a lot of games."
If only going for an
The journey in tapping into the potential displayed on Monday night comes with a fair share of resistance. Cronin views Wright in the same light of a line of great point guards to parade through UC. Only, motivation has been absent. Cronin learned quickly he needs to insert it on a daily basis.
"Cash is a guy you have to stay on all the time," Cronin said. "I'm trying to get him to - he's got to want to be one of the better guards in the Big East. The answer is you have to come in every day with a chip on your shoulder trying to prove it. Kenny Satterfield, Steve Logan, Nick Van Exel, all had a chip on their shoulder. They were trying to show people every day how good they are."
When Wright plays with that chip, the Bearcats show how good they are. They did Monday.
Cronin clearly hitched his wagon to the
This season, Wright is the point guard. He's averaging 28 minutes a game. The 2010-11 Cincinnati Bearcats are as much his team as anybody else's -- you could argue even more than anyone else's.
"The guys we rely on this team are the juniors, seniors and Cash," Cronin said.
Defense and rebounding continue to be the calling card. Finding a way to score consistently in this fluid, sum-of-our-parts offense will determine if it dials up the NCAA tournament.
That begins with Wright. It did on Monday -- and Wright buried it with confidence. It established the bar of expectations. The next step is to wash, rinse and repeat.
"It's one game, it's a long year, it's a journey," Cronin said. "It's not even about Wednesday night, it's about what are you going to do tomorrow. You are who you are in practice every day."