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Freshmen finding their way

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A group of five freshmen made their Bearcats debut in Tuesday's 71-43 exhibition win against McGill, but none made a significant splash.

CINCINNATI -- There would be no breakout freshman star on this night. The first glimpse of the five future components of the Bearcats basketball program came with all the flair of a sales seminar and pizazz of a plate of meatloaf.

Nobody turned the heads of the 3,484 for No. 22 UC's exhibition opener. And Mick Cronin couldn't be happier about it.

"I kept taking them out because I didn't want that to happen," Cronin said with a smile. "I was really concerned with (the media) blowing some guys head up and telling him how great he was."

No worries about that on this night. Ge'Lawn Guyn made a few nice passes and buried a 3-pointer. Jermaine Sanders knocked down a shot. Kelvin Gaines didn't injure anyone. That's as close to a success as you'll find for a first exhibition. But it's as far from a concern for Cronin as it would be a sign of immediate impact had Jermaine Davis exploded for 22 points.

Cronin rotated the five freshmen into the game together as much as possible by design. He didn't want veterans like Dion Dixon covering for a freshman missed assignment. He wanted the players to be forced to communicate with each other.

Judging performance had little to do with the fact the five freshmen combined for 12 points and nobody scored more than Guyn's five. Cronin knows they can score. He's seen all of them light up an AAU court.

He's not seen them play defense for him. This season, for their purpose on the 2011-12 Bearcats, that will be the deciding factor on how many opportunities any of them have to show off their offensive prowess.

"When you get to a point when you are playing a game you can actually lose -- and they all want to play - they need to learn the answer is I got to learn to not get exploited when I go in," Cronin said.

The coach bombards these players with defensive concepts and assignments unfamiliar in a competitive setting. Tuesday's 75-41 win against McGill was the first opportunity to test them in full speed. Or at least, whatever the Canadian exchange rate is on full speed.

"It's just a whole different world for them," Cronin said. "Just think your whole life all you really worried about was offense. I am not concerned with their offense. I am concerned with their defense."

That might not be 100 percent the case for redshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines, whose elbows are wrapped in knee pads during practice. His 225-pound frame spent most of the night clearing space and connecting body blows.

Gaines will be a powerful inside presence for the Bearcats this year. A fact his teammates who spent all of last season and the first two weeks of this year absorbing shots know all too well.

"
We got too much pride so we are not going to fall," Yancy Gates said. "We are just going to take the elbow in the chest. Better somebody else than us."

For all the intimidation and force he brings on the inside, there will always be the flip side.

"He still found a way to get four fouls in 12 minutes," Cronin said.

Such will be the case with all of these freshmen as the season progresses. There will be mundane nights like this one and nights that prompt the media to project the next Jason Maxiell.

"They had some good moments and they had some freshmen moments," Gates said. "They are going to be all right."

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