With the football season sadly over and an open week until Saturday's basketball game, I've got some space to fill and I'm going to try to fill it wisely.
(Translated, that means I have some back-up material that hasn't been used and now's just as good a time as any.)
While I've written for UC via the now-departed "Bearcat Sports Digest" and here, I've also written UC articles and previews for other publications and sites. At my last stop, there's one that was submitted but never ran for non-specific reasons.
I thought it was a good topic and still do. If you've been a UC basketball fan for a number of years and appreciate pertinent history, perhaps you will too.
This is from an interview I did with Steve Sanders, who played both football and basketball at UC. For those that don't recognize him right away, he went from the gridiron to the starting line-up for a certain new coach as the then-Shoemaker Center was christened in 1989.
Since an important part of Bearcat history should never be ignored, here's a reprint of my article on Steve Sanders with a few updates as the interview was conducted over the summer.
He is far from a "one-shot wonder" in terms of what he's accomplished in his life, but Steve Sanders is best known in Cincinnati for one shot.
Over 20 years ago, Sanders christened the then-Shoemaker Center by hitting a three-point shot with eight-tenths of a second left off a pass from Andre Tate to defeat #20 Minnesota in the first game there.
Prior to that, no games had been played on campus since 1976.
All of this from a guy who game from East Cleveland to play football at UC and found himself in preseason conditioning for basketball thanks to some intramural "scouting" by Bob Huggins assistant Larry Harrison (who is still with Coach Huggins in West Virginia).
"It's funny, some people don't even know that I played football," Sanders told me of his basketball fame. "Right after that shot, I was talking to Coach Huggins and I told him everybody would forget about it in two weeks. They're still talking about it--so that's a good thing."
Actually, many Bearcat fans since then have swore they were in attendance that night, but the truth is, the game was about 4,000 shy of a sell-out.
"There was probably about 8800 people there, but I know 20,000 people have told me over the years that they were there," said Sanders.
Sanders is another Bearcat who has stayed in the area and done well for himself, working as a senior program director at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA. He also founded and is president of a girls AAU basketball organization that has turned out some pretty good talent. Namely, Brianna Sanders, Steve's daughter, a redshirt freshman for Ohio State.
He still gets back for basketball games and the occasional football game though at facilities that are now targeted for repair/renovation. It's further evidence of the speed of time as Sanders played football at Riverfront Stadium while Nippert was pinpointed for renovation (and at one point, condemnation) and he's forever linked with the opening of the current gym.
"It's amazing to see what they've done with Nippert Stadium, it's absolutely amazing," said the former Bearcat receiver. "Sometimes I have to go back and look at old pictures of me playing because it's amazing to me what they've done at UC. Of course, I wish they could keep Fifth Third Arena, but once they build it--it's no longer modern. I wish they could keep it and rehab it sort of like they did with Nippert, but everybody needs to have their big state-of-the-art building, so I understand."
Truthfully, more Bearcat backsides need to slip into some plastic chairs to make redoing Fifth Third a viable option. Regardless of the venue, empty seats look bad on TV. However, if early results by Mick Cronin's men are an indication of possible increased attendance, that could be remedied soon.
Naturally, any demolition of "The Shoe" would have to involve removal of a certain piece of the court where Sanders' famous shot was delivered.
"If they ever take it apart, I need that block of wood," said Sanders. "I'll put that in the basement, in my 'man cave'."
No doubt it's a "man cave" that includes the picture of the Minnesota buzzer-beater from 1989, as well as some football artifacts. Sanders, like many former Bearcat gridiron greats has enjoyed the renewed popularity and and notoriety of the UC football program.
"It's amazing--things go in cycles," said Sanders. "When I played football. We had a heck of a schedule. It was hard to compete with those Top 10 schools. Last year, UC was one of those Top 10 schools. It was just so exciting--the buzz the football team created."
In Sanders' time, UC played Penn State, the Miami Hurricanes, Auburn and West Virginia (playing seven Top 10 games overall). Now, he watches in mild jealousy (as someone who used to catch the ball) as his alma mater has competed with such ranked opponents.
Not only do they compete with them, they've done it THROUGH THE AIR!
"I would have loved it," said Sanders about playing in UC's most recent offensive schemes. "I'm sitting there saying, 'Oh my God, they're just throwing the ball around!' It's a shock when they run the ball. We threw it a little bit, but now it seems like every down they're throwing the ball. I would've loved to have played (in that) absolutely!"
Sanders now hopes that basketball catches the spark that football had and that both programs thrive. Late last year, both teams were ranked, but the hoopsters were unable to sustain it. If they do, Sanders feels the city will enjoy and embrace it.
"I think they're close, I think they're extremely close," said Sanders. "They play in the Big East. In the Big East, you just can't show up. I think once they get over the hump--they've got to string together like two or three big wins in a row--and I think they'll take off. I think Mick's doing a great job."
While supporting the current Bearcat program, you can't fault alumni such as Sanders and their support for their old coach who returned to the Final Four in 2010. It had been 18 years, perhaps longer that some would have imagined, but Bob Huggins returned to college basketball's showcase with a few local fans, including Sanders.
"Well, you knew it was going to happen," said Sanders. "He's a winner. That's what he does. He wins and that's it. Wherever he goes he's going to win. He did it at Akron, at UC, at Kansas State he was turning that around and you knew it was going to happen at West Virginia."
Thanks to Bob Huggins liking tough guys and often employing football players on his roster (Brad Jackson, Brent Petrus, Antwan Peek, Jarrett Brown at WVU) Steve Sanders will forever remain a historical name in Bearcat history.
"He's an aggressive, competitive person and you generally see that in football players," said Sanders. "You have to be that way to be successful in football. I tell people all the time that all the yelling and the screaming and the choice words that he used, it never bothered me one bit."
To a man, most of that era's players will say that and most will tell you that the Bob Huggins you saw kneeling next to an injured Da'Sean Butler in West Virginia's semi-final against Duke was the other side that many of you never saw.