Last week, JaQuon Parker scored 39 points in wins over Marquette and Villanova. Last year, Parker scored 35.
JaQuon is one of several players on this year's team who has made huge strides during his UC career.
"That's player development," head coach Mick Cronin told me. "JaQuon is an interesting guy because he only played three years of high school. Then we brought him in and played him at the point out of necessity with Cashmere's injury. He did it because he's such a team guy. It doesn't surprise me now that he's on the wing and attacking the basket that his game is developing. The more minutes he gets the more success he is going to have. His early-season injury is the only reason why you didn't see this earlier. When a player has a groin injury, you have to completely shut him down. He wasn't even practicing during that injury. Playing at this level is so much harder than a lot of people realize, and it takes guys time to develop. For Park, it's taken him some time, but now you are seeing it."
Parker was named to the Big East weekly honor roll for his outstanding performances last week and is averaging 9.2 points and 5 rebounds this season. Of the six Bearcats who have attempted at least 30 three-point shots, Parker has the best 3-point percentage at 42.7. Last year, he was a woeful 3-for-20 (15%) from beyond the arc.
So who is next year's JaQuon Parker? In other words, the most likely candidate to make a quantum leap in offensive production.
"The answer to that is whoever works the hardest," said Coach Cronin. "You've seen different guys improve over their careers. Dion Dixon is a great off-season guy...Sean Kilpatrick is a great practice player...JaQuon had a really good off-season. I like all of our young guys and I think they are all going to get better. I think the key for all of our freshman - including Shaq Thomas and Octavius Ellis who are redshirting - the time that they put in is going to be the most important thing. That's going to be the key for us as a staff. We are a player development program - that's really what we are. One-year guys are an aberration for us. The truth for us is to get four-year guys and develop them into really good players. We have to make sure we're on top of them in the off-season."
Watching JaQuon Parker play a key role on an NCAA tournament team should provide plenty of motivation for his younger teammates.
Kudos to my fellow GoBearcats.com
blogger Paul Dehner Jr. for researching a question that I posed on Twitter
after Saturday's win at Villanova.
While broadcasting the game, it seemed like Cincinnati completely dominated the action while Cashmere Wright was on the floor. In just 27 minutes of playing time, Wright had 9 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 7 steals and no turnovers.
So after the game, I sent out the following tweet:
"I'd like a plus/minus stat for Cashmere Wright today."
Thanks to Paul, I now have one.
The Bearcats outscored the Wildcats by 21 points while Wright was on the floor. A performance that's even more impressive when you consider that the junior guard's knee has been acting up.
"People probably don't appreciate his level of toughness," said Cronin. "I have the same issue of having no cartilage in my knee and there are days where you wake up and for no rhyme or reason you're just sore. We have to manage that with Cash. Some days when he feels fine, he doesn't need to go 110% at practice. But that's easy for me to say when you have a young kid who is chasing a dream. When he feels great he wants to play.
"The double bye in the Big East Tournament will be huge. Cash was playing on one leg (on Saturday). He needs rest - there's no other way around it. That's why not playing until Thursday helps us a lot. It really helps us."
The Bearcats did not practice on Sunday and Wright was given most of Monday off as well.
One of the most positive developments in Cincinnati's
strong regular season finish was the fan support in the 'Cats critical
late-season home games.
The Bearcats averaged 12,498 fans in their final three games at Fifth Third Arena, providing a significant home court advantage in badly-needed wins over Seton Hall, Louisville, and Marquette.
"Our home crowds carried us down the stretch," Coach Cronin told me. "They gave us the lift that we needed to win six of our last eight. It makes the guys feel like they are playing for the fans."
The big crowds could also pay future dividends.
"We had a recruit here for Louisville, and we had recruits here for Marquette and great crowds make a difference," said Cronin. "You want us to recruit great players? Then keep coming to the games because they pay attention. And it affects winning. When you have a guy like Rick Pitino saying that we had the best home court advantage that he has seen in a long time - that affects winning. We sent that quote out to all of our recruits."
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