Not an obituary, but a celebration

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celebrationAIR.jpgThe Bearcats ran into a great team playing great on Thursday night. Consequently, the best run of the Mick Cronin era and as good as this program witnessed in 16 years came to an end.

Mick said he'd been warned by some of his friends that he was setting himself up for failure by his comments saying that he was trying to win the national championship.

"First of all, I believe we can or I wouldn't say it," Cronin said. "Second of all, I am so worried about these guys on TV saying you have no chance."

Very few gave this team a chance. As the bubble lingered into February and brawl hung over this team every step of the way, they were nothing but a fight and an empty non-conference schedule.

By the time the final horn blew Thursday night in Boston, UC racked up as many wins against Top 25 foes as anybody in the country, earned their first double bye, advanced to the championship game of the Big East tournament for the first time in history and out of the first weekend for the first time in 11 years.

SKGeorgia.jpgThe few non-believers still watching the bandwagon from the outside looking in jumped on with a smile on their face as Cronin improved the program for the sixth consecutive year and performed one of the greatest coaching jobs amid adversity in the recent history of the sport.

The fan base created "the toughest home court advantage" Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he'd faced all year. Once again, Fifth Third Arena didn't feel like the "good ole days."

It felt better.

Sean Kilpatrick showed a glimpse of a career that by the time it finishes could go down as one of the greatest in the history of UC basketball. A group of six freshmen moved from the reason for losing to contributors to winning.
Parker flex.jpgJustin Jackson's mean face become one of the most beloved expressions of anger since the days of D'Juan Baker. Cashmere Wright morphed into the point guard and leader capable of winning championships in March. JaQuon Parker taught a lesson to kids everywhere in how far hard work and toughness can take somebody.

Simultaneously, those four built expectations for a 2012-13 season where reality now suggests they should be back at this same stage in 365 days.

Dion Dixon crossed the 1,000-point scoring mark during a career some were unsure would survive 2009 at Madison Square Garden.

Yancy Gates concluded a four-year career spent in the spotlight delivering on his potential. He exposed his soul to us two days after the brawl in December and allowed us all to embrace his smile in March.

YancyMickLaugh.jpgThe highlights of this season could double as a training video for the proper way to play basketball: With heart, hustle, confidence and a refusal to lose.

And the coach responsible for leading it all wants to be this university's version of Jim Boeheim.

On Thursday night, DeShaun Thomas hit shots for a team with a reputation for occasionally missing them and Aaron Craft showed why he's the best defensive player in basketball. A great team playing great made for a bad night in Clifton, but the invigorated fan base and prominent rise of the program continued their winning streak.

There's no way to look back on this season with any feeling other than a sense of accomplishment. They earned it. And brought all of us along for the ride.

The University of Cincinnati basketball program fully regained notoriety, respect and admiration in a season featuring its lowest moment.

Yeah, the end was disappointing, but the journey celebrated all the things that make college sports great. And those memories of the 2011-12 UC Bearcats will always elicit a smile. 

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