June 2012 Archives

Speedy WR Joins Bearcats After Switching Sports

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In 1995 as one of the broadcasters for the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, NY, I got to know a young man who had chosen to play pro baseball even though he had been one of the most highly-recruited high school quarterbacks in the country.  After batting .248 in six minor league seasons, the kid decided to give football a try and enrolled in college at the age of 25.

It turned out to be a wise decision as Chris Weinke won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State, led the Seminoles to a National Championship, and spent seven years in the NFL.

Which leads us to UC newcomer Braxton Lane.

Braxton Lane (440x295).jpg

After spending three years as a minor league outfielder, the speedy wide receiver has made the switch to football and recently enrolled at Cincinnati.

"He's got a confidence about himself and an aura," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He's very intense, focused, and goal-oriented.  He knows what he wants and I see that hunger and drive.  I'm excited because when you have an individual that has those characteristics, he is going to have great success."

After catching 55 passes for 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school junior, Scout.com ranked Lane as the #20 wide receiver recruit in the country.  After taking visits to Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, Braxton signed a letter of intent to play college football at Oregon. 

But after being selected in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, Lane received a six-figure signing bonus and elected to pursue a baseball career.

"Getting selected in the baseball draft was great for me and getting a chance to play professionally was definitely a dream of mine," Lane told me.  "But I don't know if I would say that baseball was my first love.  I always thought that I was a better football player.  Baseball was a sport that I enjoyed playing, but one that I really had to work on to get better.  Football was more of a natural sport for me." 

Lane excelled in both sports at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA - the same school that fellow Bearcat receiver Alex Chisum attended.  That connection proved to be significant when Braxton decided to drop baseball for football.   

"I talked to Alex when I came out here about the environment and the family atmosphere," said Lane.  "He loves every bit of it and shared all of his experiences with me.  He was just as big of a recruiter with me as Coach Jones and (wide receivers) Coach T.J. Weist.  He was definitely a big part of me coming here."

"We have a great relationship with Chip Walker, the head football coach at Sandy Creek, and Alex Chisum is having a great experience here -- not only in football but socially and academically as well," said Coach Jones.  "They are big supporters of our program so when Braxton started thinking about making the switch from baseball to football, we were contacted by them.  We had known of him from back in the day when he had originally signed with Oregon." 

Coming out of high school, Lane was considered one of the fastest receivers in the country after reportedly being timed at 4.31 in the 40-yard dash.  Braxton says that he hasn't lost any speed.     

"The main thing about football is using your hips more," Lane told me.  "Baseball is really a straight line sport, so now I'm really working on loosening up my hips and getting my side-to-side motion back.  But I definitely still have my speed."

After spending last summer playing for the Class A Hickory Crawdads and Spokane Indians, Lane is excited to be a Cincinnati Bearcat.

"Playing in the minor leagues for three years with the Texas Rangers was definitely a great time, but coming here there's a sense of family - Coach Jones and the whole staff really made me feel at home on my visit," said Lane.  "Once I got on campus I knew that this was the place for me."

"I know this - he is of the utmost character and I love his maturity," said Coach Jones.  "He may be the oldest freshman in America.  I think when you look at his previous experiences and the maturity level that he brings, it's a great fit and we're really excited about him."

"I'm 21, so if I hadn't played pro baseball I'd be going into my senior season right now," said Lane.  "I think it definitely helps with the maturity aspect.  Me being on my own and learning to manage my finances, finding a place to live, meshing with people of different backgrounds...I think that helps me coming to a big school like UC where I'll have to juggle classes and different football activities."

How quickly could he have an impact on the field?

"We'll know more when we go to training camp, but from a maturity standpoint, we would anticipate him competing for playing time this year," said Coach Jones.  "Just based off of his character, his competitive drive, and his makeup, we anticipate him playing this year."

"My goal is to come in and work hard every day and do anything that I can to help the team this fall," said Lane.  "Whether that's special teams or offense - whatever I can do to help is my goal.

"He seems like he's going to work really hard," said freshman receiver Chris Moore.  "He's an athlete and had offers from everywhere.  I can't wait to see him on the field in pads."

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One year ago, former UC swimmer Nate Kramer was diagnosed with Leukemia months following his final race for the Bearcats. Now, the relentless swimmer fights for his life with the same tenacity with which he attacked the pool.

CINCINNATI - When toeing the edge of the pool, Nate Kramer always held the same race philosophy.

Whether before his first race as a seventh grader, in high school with the Anderson Barracudas club team or at the Big East championships for the University of Cincinnati, Kramer understood his strength.

"There's guys that will hang back and really push it at the end," he said. "I always had trouble with that because I went out very fast. I go out and just try to hang on. I knew it was going to hurt at the end, so may as well go fast when it doesn't hurt."

The prospect of pain never deterred this quiet, lanky kid from the East side of Cincinnati. During a surprising rise to prominence and a scholarship to swim at UC, this philosophy morphed into a reputation. Among his teammates. Among his parents. Among his coaches.

No matter the position in the race, no matter the significance of the event, Nate never relented. He never gave an inch. Until the final moment his outstretched 6-foot frame touched the wall he left no doubt how he would be defined in the race.

"He saw himself as the fight to the bitter end no matter what - in practice, in races," UC swim coach Monty Hopkins said. "I've seen people get in races, get behind and give up. He never gave up on anything. He was just always that way."

Nate Kramer is defined as a fighter.

"There were definitely times when it just hurt the entire race," he said. "You do it, because, well, you want to win."

One year following his final race for the Bearcats, the mentality and reputation of Nate as the fearless fighter hasn't disappeared.

Not at all. In fact, it's what those closest to him believe is saving his life.

Exactly one year ago -- June 28, 2011 - Nate Kramer was diagnosed with Leukemia.

In the year since, he underwent 30 procedures, six rounds of chemo, lost his spleen along with 31 pounds and spent the majority of his days buried in the bowels of Children's Hospital. His father, Vince, referred to the last 365 days as "a difficult journey." The polite, tactful father of three polite, tactful boys gently phrased his headline. In reality, enduring I-75 at rush hour would be considered a difficult journey. Nate faced a daily, year-long grind with his life hanging in the balance.

"He's going against the house here as far as odds on coming out of this," Vince said. "But he's beaten a lot of other odds along the way here. He seems to be an odds-beater. It's what is driving the family. He's just one of these kids that doesn't want to give up."

Nate's soft smile and even-keeled demeanor shadowed him since his childhood, rubbing off onto all those he met. Yet, even the most light-hearted, affable of young men felt the drain of this tidal wave of pills, procedures and prayers. Next to his bedside, however, have been friends, family and a fighting spirit.

Nurses and doctors come and go, will and optimism never leave.

"You have bad days, of course," Nate said. "Generally I was always a positive person no matter what. There's no reason to sulk around about it. It happened. You kind of have to get over it. It sucks, but you still have a life to live."


Kramer entered his senior year with expectations to cap off his UC swimming career with a memorable farewell tour. All signs pointed to that happening. The high point of his career to that point came the year before when during his junior season he qualified to swim in the Big East championship final.

He was swimming the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle at the time and even volunteered to swim the mile when the team needed an extra distance swimmer. Kramer didn't finish at the top of any races at the conference championships, but did reach his goal of breaking 1:40 in the 200 meters.


"He's a guy you could put on a relay and he'd give you 100 percent no matter what it was," Hopkins said. "His role grew as the team needed and as his capabilities improved. He was just a guy that you could count on. He was that way in everything he did. Nate's the guy that if he says he's got your back, he's got your back. You can count on it."

Midway through his senior season, however, Nate's times mysteriously began to drop. Nobody owned an explanation. Not coaches, teammates nor his parents. The disappointment continued through the end of his senior year when Nate failed to qualify for the Big East tournament finals he thrived in the year prior.

Nate enjoyed his final season despite the sluggish times. The friends, trips and camaraderie made it all worth while. Life went on. He was working to pay for the final quarter he needed to complete his accounting degree.

"Then June 28th happened," Nate said.

The date locks into the brain like a birthdate. Probably will forever for the Vice and De Ann Kramer, along with Nate's brothers Zach, 25, and Mitch, 20. A trip to the doctor sparked unusual results and consequential trip to the ER. On the way over, Nate made a joke in passing about the problem probably being Leukemia. In retrospect, the quip was ill-timed, but that's exposes how unfathomable being diagnosed with the disease seemed at the time.

Until it became a reality.

For Vince, the moment shocks him.

"Remember my wife telling me that in the hallway of the emergency room," he said. "It was literally devastating. I felt like I couldn't talk."


For three years the UC swim team took part in the Ted Mullins Hour of Power charity swim event with proceeds benefiting the university's Barrett Center for cancer research. In the years prior to being diagnosed with Leukemia, Nate took part along with the rest of his team.

The cause was worthy and it always seemed the right thing to do. Suddenly, after June 28th, the event took on a fresh layer of importance and urgency.

Hopkins witnessed the broken hearts that filled his swim team when Nate returned to inform them of his news. It only made sense to switch the December charity event to benefit the Nate Kramer Medical Fund. And did the swim team ever respond.

"People were very upset," Hopkins said of when they originally heard of Nate's diagnosis. "We raised two to three times more money (than previous years)."

Not only did the team dedicate time and money, they made up and sold "Fight for Nate" T-shirts and wristbands.

"They have school, they have swimming, some of them have a job," Nate said. "Then they still are willing to help someone out. It is crazy. College kids, putting down $20? There's a weekend. Kids that don't have a lot of money still donating and the team has been so supportive, just knowing that they are with me and care how I do is probably the biggest thing."

The family consensus suggests the response of the UC swim team made all the difference in remaining positive through the darkest days.

"I say this with absolute, total conviction," Vince said. "His teammates absolutely renewed my faith in the younger generation. We are going to be OK once these folks get out into the working world and become the next leaders of our country; they are amazing. I've had somewhat of a cynical spin on a lot of folks, but after this last year now really has softened that in me."


Despite the support of his teammates, the last year has provided one trying roller-coaster ride with hopes of ending in a bone-marrow transplant that could deliver a cure.

A fungal, sinus infection suffocated the process from the beginning and was the reason Nate needed procedure after procedure. He spent approximately four straight months in the hospital as the infection stagnated the process. Eventually, he left for a little more than a week. Then it was back in the hospital for month after month.

During the most intensive two-week stretch, Nate estimated he endured a procedure every other day.

"That wears on you," Nate said. "You always hurt. You wake up from the surgery and you feel like you got hit with a baseball bat in the face."

The sinus infection was followed by a lung condition and Leukemia mutating into MDS - the same complication that recently struck Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.

His swimming weight his senior year was 170 pounds. His already skinny frame eroded to 139. The closest association he could find to a workout was sitting up for 15 minutes. For someone who was used to awaking at 5 a.m for swim practice many mornings, the routine strayed as far from normalcy as imaginable.

These days his primary job is to gain weight. And he's already packing on the pounds while enjoying his longest stint at home since beginning of the process. Being able to wake in the morning walk to the refrigerator instead of ordering hospital food has become a rediscovered joy of life.

Through all the adversity, though, Nate met the setbacks with little more than a shrug and knowing nod. In fact, he felt guilty even considering it while soaking in his surroundings at Children's.

"Hard to complain as a 23-year-old when there is a 3-year-old going through the same thing," Nate said.


Any response other than head down, fight forward wouldn't make sense. Never has. The road to a bone-marrow transplant had certain steps that needed to be taken and he wasn't about to complain. He would swim the race and fight through whatever pain it took to finish.

Two days shy of Thursday's one-year anniversary, the finish line approaches the horizon. Turns out Nate fortunately is a perfect marrow match with his older brother, Zach. The 25-year-old who spent the last six years in the marines and served in Iraq will continue his role of hero.

Finally, Nate's been cleared as fungus free and able to move forward.

On July 9, he's scheduled to be admitted for a bone-marrow transplant and his blood will eventually become Zach's exact DNA.

There are no certainties the procedure will work. For almost a year after, Nate's immune system will be compromised as it regenerates with new marrow.

"As the doctor put it, there can only be one of two possible outcomes," Vince said. "It's either we strikeout or hit a home run. We are also well aware this is Nate's only hope for a cure."

The lane to recovery sits wide open, will be far from easy and most definitely painful. Don't expect Nate to worry about such issues. Wouldn't be his way. Instead, he'll do all he knows - all he has ever known. He'll do what's defined him as a swimmer, patient and person. What brings all those around him hope and optimism.

He'll ignore the pain and he'll fight.

"I want to win," he said. "You do anything to get that."


If anybody would like to donate to help out Nate and the Kramer's, The Nate Kramer Medical Fund has been set up through US Bank. Any and all donations are welcome.

Also, anyone can visit Nate's carepage set up at this link. Dropping him a message and offering support goes a long way and has played a major role in keeping everyone's spirits lifted through the process.

This week I spent time sitting down with football coach Butch Jones to discuss the offseason topics surrounding the Bearcats football team coming off its third Big East title in four years and fourth 10-win season in the last five.

Jones spoke about the pluses/minuses of the proposed new postseason structure, whether he felt personally validated by last year's 10-3 season and personnel philosophies as a young team enters the 2012 season without four NFL draft picks.

Part I of the interview tackled the broader spectrum of the program with Part II today looking more at recruiting and the specifics of next year's team.

ButchHelmets.jpgBefore I dive into the comments of Butch Jones talking about recruiting and next year's team, I want to update a few recent comings and goings Jones confirmed to me while we sat down.

While roaming through the halls to his office, I came across new Florida State transfer LB Jeff Luc. Dude is big. Coming out of high school in 2010 he was rated as the No. 1 ILB prospect in the country by Rivals. A combination of injury and being lost in the shuffle landed him looking for another school. He'll have to sit out this season, but will be a prime candidate for playing time when eligible next year.

Committed OL Caleb Stacey will not be playing for UC next year as many already reported elsewhere. Apparently, his heart wasn't into football. Sounds like the Oak Hills product won't be playing anywhere. Tough break for Jones and co., they were extremely high on him, as many were.

Committed DB Alex Dale did not qualify academically and will likely attend a junior college.

--- Moving forward, the topic
of recruiting will always be on the tongue of Butch Jones. It drives most every decision off the football field. Thus far, the focus paid off. His recruiting classes have been ranked among the best in the history of UC football. They are competing for players with some of the marquee programs in the country. Multiple players from last year's class passed on SEC tradition for Nippert Stadium.

And that was coming off a 4-8 season. With 10-3/Big East champs/Liberty Bowl champs draped across his chest this offseason, the difference in the response from recruits was palpable.

"Was very noticeable, I think it was evidenced in our camps and in recruiting in the number of unofficial visits prospective student-athletes have made to our campus from across the country. But still, you look at our first year didn't' go the way we wanted to but we still were able to assemble a great recruiting class. Recruiting is still based on relationships and people. People make a place. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded great people."

Jones pulls from across the country better than any coach in the recent history of UC football. Of the current 108 players on the UC roster, 34 are from outside the typical Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania breeding grounds of Bearcats football. That includes 17 from the great recruiting battleground of Florida. Clearly, selling the program is coming easier than ever before on the national stage. 

"Nothing is ever easy. I think we have a great product to sell. We talked about it, our academic success. Our academic programs, you look at our campus, you look at the direction and vision we have not only for the football program but what our administration has. You look at campus life. You look at our facilities as we continue to upgrade our facilities and winning. But again people, as well."

Great email question from David S. fit into this area perfectly: If I gave you a blank check and you could have practice facilities upgrade, Nippert renovation, recruiting budget, etc., where would you start?

"Can I say all of the above? I think it's a combination. In order to win you have to develop your players. We have a recruiting profile. We have to be able to attract the best and the highest caliber of student-athlete you need for your program, so recruiting is part of it. As we continue to put this program on a national stage we definitely have to do some things with Nippert, that is our home, we are very proud of it but as far as amenities for our fans to being able to income everything, it's dollar driven, to continue to improve Nippert is critical, too."

--- For those of you who live
and die by the big-picture, offseason semantics, sorry, it's time to talk football. Speaking about the 2012 Bearcats, the first topic addressed almost unanimiously is the quarterback position. Can Munchie Legaux -- or possibly challenger Brendon Kay -- take the reigns and lead this offense to the success it experienced in 2011? If not, will the returning starters on defense be able to overcome the loss of JK Schaffer, Derek Wolfe and John Hughes and compensate for any offensive inexperience?
Wolfe.jpgHere's how I posed the question to Butch Jones:
Rather Munchie emerge as leader and Team MVP or have No. 1 defensive in the Big East?

"We really believe you win championships on a consistent basis with playing great defense. I think we have enough weapons on offense where our quarterback, whoever it is, doesn't have to win the game for you. They got to do a great job of managing it where it's all about scoring defense. If I had to pick one, I would say No. 1 on defense."

The response surfaces a deeper understanding into the mindset of Butch Jones we may not have known. He's always enjoyed the luxury of a dynamic, leading quarterback. The string of Dan LeFevour at Central Michigan and Zach Collaros at UC came to an end against West Virginia last season.

If the certainty taking snaps doesn't exist, Jones doesn't appear desperate to force an inexperienced QB to fill the role. The reference to "managing" the game stuck out to me here. While overused in my areas of football coverage, the phrase applies here implying he's easing his quarterbacks into the job. While Isaiah Pead won't be around to take the pressure off, the combination of remaining RBs along with last year's top two receivers joining the mix could add up to enough to light the scoreboard.

Of course, that question of what to do in replacing Pead will be an intriguing storyline to monitor as the UC head to Higher Ground for almost three weeks in August.

UC served as the exception rather than the rule when it came to RB carries last season. Isaiah Pead averaged 18 rushes a game with George Winn's three the next closest. Of the top 10 rushing attacks in the country, seven came from teams featuring two ball carriers earning double-digit carries. More than half of the teams that finished the year in the AP Top 10 used a similar model.

Winn.jpgAll signs point to UC transitioning to the national norm as the most dynamic back in its history breaks LBs ankles in St. Louis. At least with Jameel Poteat, George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy leading the conversation, multi-headed monster will be the attack according to Jones.

"We want to even have more than two. The nature of the position is such a physical position. A very demanding position with the amount of contact. My philosophy is you can never have enough running backs."

Is three the number? Or will you want to whittle it down to two?

"The big thing with our running back situation right now is each player has a different skill set and they all compliment each other. It's doing what they can do and where they can excel and not asking them to be something they are not. We are not asking them to be Isaiah Pead, because they are not Isaiah Pead, but we have to capitalize on what they do well. If that means playing five backs, we'll play five. If that means one guy comes in like Isaiah did and asserts himself, we'll play one. But, really, I see us playing a lot of running backs this year."

--- One last point before I'll wrap this up. Last year, UC's flip in turnover margin made for one of the more amazing statistical 180s in recent memory. Remember, in 2010 the team finished minus-15 in the category, 119th out of 120 teams in the country. Then, in 2011, they finished tied for 9th nationally at plus-12.


The change resulting from a relentless offseason point of emphasis. Every workout, every practice, every meeting revolved around creating and avoiding turnovers. The question becomes, what has been the point of emphasis this year because I'd love to see what Jones has in store for an encore.

"The same thing, especially with being a youthful team like we are our margin for error is extremely small. It goes back to turnover margin, we can't turn the football over, we need to score touchdowns in the red zone, our special teams have to be extremely solid because we have no margin of error. If we do that and can keep perspective week in and week out. That's the thing, going back to the trip to Miami, seven-game playoff series challenge your mental conditioning and your mindset, I think keeping things in perspective of being able to move on whether from a loss or victory. That was one of the biggest things I took from studying the Heat is keeping things in perspective and moving on."

--- Returning to the Miami trip brings us full circle in the two-part conversation. Optimism owns the offseason in college football and there's plenty of it emanating from the Lindner Center. Three Big East titles in four years will do that. As will four 10-win seasons in the last five.

Jones sees Cincinnati becoming a destination school for prospective student-athletes and points to a growing list of accomplishments that make him difficult to argue with. Only 72 days remain until UC and Pittsburgh kick off on Thursday night at Nippert Stadium. For Jones, that means 72 opportunities to take on his bunker mentality and focus on improving. One day at a time. That's how he operates and why this program serves as the most successful in the Big East the last five years.

This week I spent time sitting down with football coach Butch Jones to discuss the offseason topics surrounding the Bearcats football team coming off its third Big East title in four years and fourth 10-win season in the last five.

Jones spoke about the pluses/minuses of the proposed new postseason structure, whether he felt personally validated by last year's 10-3 season and personnel philosophies as a young team enters the 2012 season without four NFL draft picks.

Part I of the interview is here today as we tackle the broader spectrum of the program with Part II looking more at the specifics of next year's team.

Jones recently became the media darling with his trip to Miami and time spent with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as they won the NBA Championship. In fact, Spoelstra even adopted Butch Jones' Sign Your Name concept.

Pictures and accounts of the trip are in the process of being posted around Jones' office. Make no mistake, a trip that also included observation of Miami Dolphins practices and meetings, benefited UC on multiple fronts. The recruiting image sits atop that list. It all comes back to recruiting and this recent exposure was no different.

ButchSpoelstra.jpgYet, as far as learning ways to improve by picking the brain of Spoelstra and the Heat during a championships run, there were takeaways. Finding a connection between motivating 12 multi-millionaries and pushing 105 broke college kids doesn't necessarily correlate on the surface level; digging deeper Jones filled notebooks with fodder.

"Even though there's differences, there's a lot more similarities than differences. At the end of the day it's all about teamwork, it's about people doing their job, it's about execution. It's about playing hard. It's getting to have each individual on your team, whether it's 12 individuals or 105 individuals, to play to the best of their God-given ability and to get the most out of them. The competitive factor that goes into it, the motivation that goes into it. We covered all those things from A to Z. it's been great for me to sit and watch everything happen over the course of the playoffs."

Jones never allows an opportunity to pass. He's spent the days he's not recruiting utilizing the others in the game for trends and topics to improve on. He spent the final day of Bengals mini-camp at Paul Brown Stadium and time with the Dolphins while in Miami.

Finding coaches who look elsewhere for ideas isn't a new concept, but Jones finds his own unique brand of observations to bring back to Nippert.

"You have a checklist, from practice structure and practice organization to coaching points to little nuances to practice tempo, how they conduct their meetings; it's part of the principle, always continue to grow and get better. You can always take something from everyone and every place that you go. You always try to bring little things back. You always try to gain an edge, you always try to gain an inch in your development."

--- The biggest news of the offseason
in college football has been the playoff changes that appear destined to be approved. The four-team playoff with a selection committee picking the team's that will play with an emphasis on conference champs earned the unanimous approval of the conference commissioners at last week's meetings.

Butch Jones since Day 1 has been focused on maintaining the structure of the bowl system. What does Jones think about these changes in regards to that model? Well, for him and his conference, it's not perfect.

"I think change was inevitable, but I think it's a great start. It keeps the bowl system in tact, that is what college football is all about. I think it's the best of both worlds, maintaining the bowl system and have a four-team playoff. The only thing we were hoping for as a Big East conference was not selected by a committee but more data driven with conference champions and all that. But it's going to be great for college football. We took a step in the right direction."

The selection committee concept wasn't the desire of the Pac-12 or B1G, either, but the emphasis on conference champions compromise won out. Jones' desire was simple: Let's make this about numbers and not perception. In the college landscape caked in Big East bashing, allowing it to seep into national championship selection would jeopardize the facts.

"A lot of us as coaches have spoke up about this, whatever they decide with the committee you hope it keeps all bias out. It's human nature to be biased. That's where more data driven keeps the bias out. So, that's the thing, as a conference, that's why we are pushing more toward that."

--- Of the 108 players currently on the Bearcats roster, 74 percent (by my unofficial calculations) were recruited by Butch Jones. From my angle that's the first time the number has gone north of 50 percent. More than half of the projected starters for next year were Jones guys.

ButchRunOn.jpgIt appears, for the first time in his tenure at UC, he owns a team of his guys. The name Brian Kelly rarely touches conversation questions anymore. The Bearcats are officially his team with his profile.

I expected Butch to admit there's a more gratifying feeling to playing with his guys and coaching players he developed relationships with as high school juniors and seniors. In retrospect, I should have realized that's not Jones' perspective. No, he's worked too hard on and is too proud of the development of the Bearcats from the Kelly days to own that selfish view.

No, I don't think so. We are all Bearcats and we are all working toward the same goals, the same mission of the program. Where is it easier? Familiarity, consistency, continuity, they understand the standard and the expectations. That is the biggest thing and that just comes with time. I think we are an extremely young football team. Still, in our program depth at a number of spots is still a concern and an issue. The only way you continue to develop that is recruiting and time. Positions like the offensive lines and defensive lines you can't really expect too many true freshmen to play. I just like the mentality of our football team, I like our work ethic. We are going to be young, we are going to have to have some people step up in leadership roles that maybe haven't had those situations which for a coach sometimes is concerning but we can continue to educate our players. But you have your Walter Stewarts and your Dan Giordanos, your Austen Bujnochs who have really taken on an active ownership and leadership role."

--- Not often have pieces been written about what should have been viewed as a validating year for Butch Jones. Critics circled Nippert Stadium like vultures following 2010. The Bearcats supposedly finally missed on a hire, they would say. Questioning of tactics and methods filled the offseason. At 4-8, there was little to fight back with other than a belief in his system.

Jones never changed a thing. There were moments he could have. There were moments many would have. One year later, those critical baselines faded and replaced with raises for himself and his staff.

The question I had was, did he personally feel validated by flipping 4-8 to 10-3?

No, because I know it works. I've seen it work other places. I think the big thing is staying the course. Having the plan, sticking to it, not wavering. At the time that 4-8 season was very challenging for everyone but looking back on it there were some benefits. You don't like to say that but there was a lot of things that came about that I think really changed a lot of things. You find out who is with you in times of adversity. We took a lot from that 4-8 season, that really helped set the stage for numerous years to come."

Ever think about, even for a minute, altering some things?

"You got to stay the course.You tweak things based on your personnel, but your fundamental values, the standards, the expectations, the formula for winning never change. Looking back on it we had a team that was very immature, inexperienced and we had a lot of players that had to step up and fill some very big shoes. Lot of times laying a foundation is very tough to do, but once you get that solid foundation, then things take off."

Have those two years changed you as a coach at all?

"Still very grounded, keep things in perspective, praise and blame it's all the same. A bunker mentality, you come to work and you prepare your team mentally and physically. It is that approach every day and that's the way I approach my job. Has it helped recruiting? Absolutely, but as far as myself personally it's all about the people you surround yourself with. The work ethic, the mentality. We'll never lose sight of anything like that."

Prouder of: Turnaround win margin, four guys drafted in first four rounds or top ranked recruiting classes in UC history?

"Thing most proud of is program in general. Look at it, those are all fundamental values of the standard we talk about with having a successful football program. First and foremost the graduation of our players, then the on-the-field success with being Big East conference champions and Liberty Bowl champions and developing players into NFL Ready. You look at all those as we continue to constantly build and grow our football program, the national perception, being able to recruit against marquee programs across the country. People want to come to the University of Cincinnati. So, when you look at it and say biggest thing proud of, it's the whole package, the whole program in general."

I'm cooking up a few special treats for the people this week. One of them is nearly in the tank, only waiting for a bit of news to wrap up tomorrow. Trust me, you'll want to read this one -- I've been working on it for a few weeks now and it's among the most important, special pieces I've had the privilege to write since joining the Bearcats beat two years ago. Keep an eye out.

The other treat this week will be an interview with Butch Jones. I'm headed up to talk to Butch this afternoon for some offseason banter. He's become a bit of a media darling after his injection into the NBA Finals storyline and even spent Sunday bouncing around Great American Ball Park speaking with 700WLW and FSOhio.

As always, I'll allow the readership the chance to offer up any questions they'd like to see answered and I'll do my best to bring them to you.

Just shoot an email to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com and I'll return with the knowledge nuggets.

Moving on, let's eat...

--- The Kevin Youkilis trade
finally went down yesterday. He's headed to the White Sox. But his career in Boston came to a close with a fitting tribute.

Just watch the video of his dramatic final moment with the Saawx.

How good was Youk for Boston?

He racked up three All-Star appearances, two World Series championships, finished in the top six of AL MVP voting twice and added a Gold Glove.

His 162-game average was 84 walks, 41 doubles, 23 home runs, 96 RBI with a .287/.388/.487.

That, folks, is MLB production.

As the Boston Globe penned, the trade, tough as it was to make, had to be done.

Congrats on a great run in Boston for the former Bearcat and best of luck in Chicago. Now, anybody looking to travel for a Bearcats baseball weekend can swing through to see Tony Campana in Wrigleyville and Youk on the South Side.

--- Bearcats 2008 Olympic hero
Mary Wineberg, who had a child since the games, made her run to return to the Olympics this weekend. She came up just short.

She told Kevin Goheen of The Enquirer that she is hanging up the running cleats for good, but leaves with an impressive resume and gold medal clanging around the trophy case.

A fantastic run and journey for Wineberg. Everyone in red and black should be proud she represents UC.

--- Dan Hoard posted this blog on Friday, but wanted to officially post the link in case you missed it. He foresees WR Chris Moore as UC's breakout star this season. The kid came to UC with the most impressive numbers of any recruit but an injury setback forced him to redshirt.

If he can bring an Alex Chisum type contribution this season, UC's receiving corps will be in great hands for the next few years.

--- College Football News offered its in-depth analysis of the 2012 season. Depth, youth top the concerns. Those factors have been known since the moment UC lifted the Liberty Bowl trophy.

--- As mentioned last week, football mini-plans went on sale today and include the Thursday night opener against Pitt. Find a better deal in the BCS. I dare you.

--- Andrea Adelson posted
this response in her Friday mailbag when a fan claimed Brett McMurphy's piece I pointed out last week validated UC to all the other "colossal chokers" in the Big East. She's spot on.

"I don't think you needed that article to feel any sense of validation. Three Big East titles in four years, and two BCS appearances ought to do that for you. I know how incredibly peeved Cincinnati fans get when the Bearcats are not picked to win the league. Just check my Twitter feed. But rather than lament all the disrespect, maybe the best thing to do is to shout "scoreboard" when folks try to argue any other team is better."


--- When did sunscreen become the forbidden fruit of schools? This albino's worst nightmare.

--- Karma.

--- Dan LeBatard not hiding his excitement over the Heat championship.

--- Just announced: Bob Dylan will be coming to the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend on Aug. 26. Should be a great show for the Dylan fans. For the youngsters who don't know him, you probably won't get it. But that's OK.

Here's The Hurricane.

Remember, send your queries for coach Jones to my email and I'll do my best to get them answered for you. Have a great day.

My Pick To Emerge As A Bearcat Standout This Fall

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Looking for a sleeper to emerge as a budding standout on the UC football team this year?

My pick is wide receiver Chris Moore.

Chris Moore (336x440).jpg

OK, maybe "sleeper" is the wrong word.  After all, Moore was a Parade All-American two years ago at Jefferson High School in Tampa, FL.  But after redshirting as a UC freshman due to a shoulder injury, the 19-year-old receiver figures that he is not well-known by Bearcat fans - at least not yet.

"I want this to be a breakout year for me and show the fans that I can make exciting plays for them for the next four years," Moore told me.

Moore's high school stats look like a misprint.  As a senior in 2010, Chris had 49 receptions for 1,572 yards - an incredible average of 32.1 yards per catch.  After receiving scholarship offers from numerous BCS programs, Moore did his homework before electing to attend Cincinnati.

"My mom told me that I needed to make a spreadsheet," said Moore.  "She said she wasn't going to help me because she didn't want to persuade me to go to certain places - she wanted the decision to be mine.  So she told me to make a spreadsheet and figure out the best school.

"I did a lot of research:  Passing yards, the quarterbacks, the receivers, what the coaches did at other schools, whether they had indoor facilities.  I had a spreadsheet of stuff about every school that recruited me and everything seemed to fit at UC."

Now Chris is looking to prove that he's a good fit in Cincinnati's offense.  In the spring practices that I attended this year, Moore made several long touchdown catches from Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay. 

"You can see the ability," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He can play the ball exceptionally well in the air.  It's a great knack that he has and he runs extremely well.  Now it's just refining the little nuances that go into playing receiver on every down." 

"I'm trying to get better at my route running and I'm trying to get bigger and stronger so that I can take hits without getting hurt again," said Moore.  "Right now I'm 192 pounds which is a big improvement.  When I came in I was 170, so they've put the weight on me, now I just have to keep it on."

Moore broke his collarbone in the state championship game as a high school senior and then had to redshirt last year after suffering the same injury in preseason camp.

"I'm kind of happy that I didn't play because I got to learn from everybody else and I still have four more years," said Moore.  "Now I feel like I have a good chance of getting on the field and making plays for this team."

"Don't forget; he was a true freshman this year so there is a lot of room for growth - physically, mentally, and from a technique standpoint," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.  "What is obvious is his ability to catch the ball and his athleticism.  For him, it's the little things and the mental part of the game - the mental toughness of overcoming adversity and the challenges that you face on a play-to-play basis."

Chris admits that he had some growing up to do after arriving at UC.

"At first, it was a little bumpy but I'm getting there," Moore told me.  "Just being on your own is a different experience.  I'm used to my mom waking me up and stuff like that, and you have to learn to do things yourself.  I'm getting better at it every day."

And that's an exciting prospect for the Bearcat coaching staff.

"The natural ability is there," said Bajakian.  "He could be as good as he wants to be.  It's truly one of those situations where if he puts his mind to it, he can be an outstanding weapon."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Is there a contractual obligation if you publish a blog inside the state of Ohio that you must mention LeBron James winning the championship today? If there's not, it won't matter because everyone will weigh in, followed by an 'I told you so' or some sort or a crack about how his hometown still hates him. Regardless, I just filled my quota. Let's move on.

ButchSpoelstra.jpg--- Of course, I can't completely move on because look who showed up behind the Heat's bench and taking pictures with Miami championship coach Erik Spoelstra last night? Yep, that's right, Butch Jones.

With most of my info and this photo coming via Tommy G, it appears CBJ and Spoelstra have the same agent and the when the shot to take in Game 5 and enjoy the evening with his buddy came across his desk, well, he did what any one of us would do. Except maybe Tommy G, who still owns a deep disdain for LBJ.

Not to always bring the discussion back to this, but in the recruiting game of being the coolest guy in the lunchroom to woo the top players, associating directly with the Miami Heat the night they won the title doesn't hurt.

--- Moving forward, the college football
news the last couple days revolved around the recommendation by the commissioners for a four-team playoff. Most importantly around these parts, the proposal states the top four teams in the country will participate and none of the conference champion models survived.

What does that mean for you?

If UC turns out a 2009 undefeated season again they won't be locked out of the national semifinals for lacking a championship in one of the big four conferences. At the end of the day, a shot to win the national championship in a year you win every game is all UC can ask for.

This model still must be approved by the school presidents, but that's more a formality.

UC and the Big East can thank the SEC, who led the charge for best four teams realizing they could make the LSU/Bama argument most years and squeeze two teams in.

--- It's sad to think back to what could have been had the administrators come to their senses long, long ago as they should have -- *Cough-2009-Cough* -- but as Matt Hinton points out let's all be happy we finally have a championship more appropriately decided on the field that doesn't sacrifice the regular season or bowl system.

--- A selection committee, similar to college basketball, will be organized to select the four playoff teams. Despite the criticism the committee takes every year, they do an incredible job with the task they're confronted with. I don't see selecting four teams being an issue, though will ultimately come with controversy.

Something must keep sports talk radio alive!

--- Perfect segue. Do we really care OSU is bringing its spring game to Paul Brown Stadium in 2013 while Ohio Stadium undergoes renovations? Apparently, many do judging by the message boards and sports talk fodder.

Forget the OSU debate, I'll follow the lead of at Mo Egger and use this as an opportunity to promote the Bearcat Bowl. All this outrage over OSU coming to town -- how about everyone whose upset by this respond by attending the UC spring game? Weather dampened the event in recent years, but attendance has never been in the same area code of the school to the North. Since they are coming South, this seems the perfect opportunity to flip the script.

There's no better way to show UC owns this city in football than purchasing tickets for the 2012 season and filling Nippert Stadium.

--- By the way, mini-packs go on sale Monday.

The mini-plans involve games against Pitt, Miami and Syracuse. The Miami homecoming game time is now set for 7 p.m. at Nippert.

You can pay $55 for a ticket to the Thursday night opener against Pitt and homecoming night game against Miami. There aren't many better deals than that in major college football. Period.

--- The landscape changes regularly around UC in the summer, but the athletic facilities are at the forefront right now. Varsity Village's facelift continues with construction at the bubble field and Gettler Stadium's turf being ripped up and replaced.

Also, the new basketball floor is coming into shape. Now with time lapse technology!

--- Andrea Adelson spoke with Jordan Luallen about his move to receiver.

--- Late on this, but Bill Koch weighed with the facts on Yancy Gates' draft prospects. The Big East will certainly be well represented in this draft. What happened to all the foreign-born draft picks? SI only has one non-college player going in the first round of its mock draft -- and that's a Frenchman going No. 29 to Chicago.

--- There aren't many more accomplished student-athletes than Eric Finan, who continues to rack up the awards. This time he was named a Capital One First Team Academic All American in Track and Field.

--- A Baylor blogger believes Big 12 expansion is imminent. Well then it must be true.

--- The men's soccer team released its schedule for next season.

--- Randomness...

--- Deniz Kilicli shaved his beard. A nation mourns.

--- Ken Anderson should be in the Hall of Fame. The Big Lead becomes the latest to make the obvious argument.

--- What it must feel like
to buy a Hawaiian island.

--- Kevin Durant continues to
be the epitome of what being an NBA player should be.

--- I know they aren't for everyone, but Phish puts on the best show for their crowds in music today. And they will be at Riverbend tonight. For those going, enjoy and best of luck avoiding the spinners. For those not going or stuck working like me, take in Run Like An Antelope and pretend you are there.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Want to point out an interesting statistic that Brett McMurphy at CBSSports.com posted recently. He broke down the top teams in the BCS standings over the last five years. McMurphy gave each team a point ranking depending on where they finished: 25 for 1st, 24, for 2nd, etc.

The usual suspects littered the top: Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma.

Where did UC end up? No. 16.

Here is the Bearcats breakdown:

2007: 22nd
2008: 12th
2009: 3rd
2010: NA
2011: NA

That's right, the program constantly doubted and picked in the middle of the Big East pack every year ranks among the top 20 in the country.

Big, bad SEC powers Auburn (25th) and Arkansas (19th)? Not quite. Big Ten big shots Penn State (20th) and Michigan State (22nd)? Just short. 

In the college football world of what have you done for me lately, UC had done plenty. Three Big East titles, two BCS bowl games and four 10-win seasons.

On the national scale, however, those other schools will always be mentioned before UC. The numbers prove otherwise. As McMurphy states, looking at the numbers could mean money for UC and the Big East. A proposal with dividing money over a postseason four-team playoff could use final BCS standings as a means to divide the projected $400 million in revenue.

As for the Louisville program everyone seems to be so enamored with? Not one final BCS vote. West Virginia? The school too big for the Big East? Tied for 20th.

The issue of reputation has improved dramatically over the years in Clifton, but the Bearcats are overlooked compared to the nation's traditional powers because they are still the new kid on the block. Only one way to fight that: Winning. This latest statistical analysis proves few teams do that as well as UC. Another 3-5 year period like the previous and nobody will be underestimating the program anymore.

--- Andrea Adelson asks fans to rank the QBs in the Big East. Munchie Legaux finished sixth. Munchie fights an uphill battle. In a league returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks, Legaux lacks the reps to place himself above the others.

--- Drew Frey and Walter Stewart
are two of the three most experienced players in the conference entering this season.

--- Numbers on revenues stemming from conference changes. These take a look at those from 2004-05. That includes the finances of UC and how well they've done since joining the Big East. No secret there. Why they've championed the future of the conference throughout this process.

--- Big East offseason basketball rundown
in case you haven't been paying attention.

--- Much love for LeBron's postseason numbers. The stat wizards at UC sports info were quick to point out the numbers from the Big O in the 1963 postseason: 31.8 pts, 13.0 rebs, and 9.0 assists.

--- Randomness...

--- Memorable nerds of the 90s. Thankfully, I'm not on the list.

--- Stay classy, Indians fans.

--- To be honest, the technical glitch is the only watchable part of this awful sportscast.

--- John Goodman turns 60 today. I would have included a clip from Big Lebowski, except it's impossible to find one without excessive cursing. So here he is talking to Peter Travers about his time on the movie.

Payne looks to gain another Olympic shot

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(This story will also appear in an upcoming edition of the Tri County Press/cincinnati.com as my day (and night) job entails covering high school and community sports. David Payne is a former Wyoming High School Cowboy.)

WYOMING Like his former University of Cincinnati and 2008 Olympic teammate Mary Wineberg, David Payne is making another run at a medal.

The former Wyoming Cowboy turns 30 in July, but is training in the Orlando area at Disney's Wide World of Sports where "Mickey" brings out the youth in all.

"I'm a little bit older, but I'm more mentally strong," Payne said.

Payne already owns a proclamation from Cincinnati, the key to Wyoming, UC track records, a Conference USA (2004) athlete of the year award and a silver in Beijing (13.17), but still thirsts to drink from the proverbial "fountain of youth".
david payne.jpg
(Courtesy of iaaf.org--David Payne, far right, wins silver in Beijing)

Four years after his last Olympic taste, he feels his chances are as good as any.

"I think it's always tough because you have the top athletes in the U.S.," Payne said. "I don't think it's any more competitive than it was in '08. I think guys are running really well right now, but it'll still be the exact same as it was in '08, which is don't get in my own way and just handle my business."

His first preliminary race in Eugene, Oregon, is June 29. The altitude and conditions are a little different than Florida, but Payne is a veteran of such changes.

"It's not that bad, but a lot of people go out about four days before the race so they can get on the track and get used to the weather," Payne said.

With a medal in hand already and countless trips over numerous hurdles on and off the track, Payne still has the swagger of a younger man.

"Hurdlers don't really hit their peak 'til about 28 to 30," Payne said. "Every time you run them (the hurdles) you learn new things and you run better every year. Some of the best hurdlers didn't finish running 'til they were 35-36 like Allen Johnson, Renaldo Nehemiah, Gail Devers. We have a little longer lifespan than the average sprinter."

A lot of Payne's demeanor and presence comes from his time around UC coach Bill Schnier. Payne's 2004 marks of 13.42 in the 110 hurdles and 51.16 in the 400 hurdles still stand and are posted on the Gettler Stadium walls.

"It was a confirmation of what's going on right now," Payne said of his time as a Bearcat. "I had everything I needed at that place and it molded me into the person I am now."

Payne's track exploits started at Wyoming where he ran the 110 hurdles and was in the 4x100 and 4x400 relay. A cautious mother kept him from exploring other athletic options.

"I played soccer for a short period of time, but I started to injure my leg so my mom didn't want me to play anymore," Payne said. "Who knows what would've happened if I had played football. They were like, 'Come out for two-a-days and see how you like it. We could use you for special teams, kickoff returns and wide receiver.' It was so hot and I couldn't deal with the two-a-days. I just couldn't do it."

His travels since have extended long beyond Wyoming and Pendery Avenue and plans to continue as long as he can.

"I've been to like 30 countries more than once," Payne said. "I've been to Rome like four times, Paris four times, Japan three times, I can't even name a lot of the countries I've been to more than once. It's a greaty way to get around the world and I'm very blessed to be more intelligent internationally since I've been running track."

All of those places are a long way from Tri-County and from his training digs in Florida. Still, the former co-feature of the UC Homecoming parade (with Mary Wineberg) and Oktoberfest Chicken Dance leader (again with Wineberg) looks forward to a triumphant return to the Queen City.

"I love Cincinnati," Payne said. "Hopefully, when I do come home, I'll be bringing back another medal."

Hope everyone enjoyed the weekend. Happy to say I kicked it off hitting the links with Dan Hoard. I can only say we both spoke to our clubs as much as we did to each other and that's no knock on the conversation. Great times, though.

While I'm tangential on golf, let's quickly point out that anybody calling Webb Simpson a nobody or wondering if he'll be here to stay pays zero attention to the game. The dude made $6.35 million last year and was second on the money list only to Luke Donald. He nearly won the FedEx Cup. Number of players in the last five years to make more money than Simpson did in 2011? Four.

Now he adds a major. This is not a golfer coming out of nowhere for his first major. He's been one of the elite golfers in the world for the last 18 months. (*Wipes brow, steps off soapbox*)

All right, in case you are still reading, I'll jump into Bearcats stuff to reward you.

Let's eat...

--- Quick note:
Congrats to former UC golfer Jim Herman, who qualified for the US Open. He ended up falling two shots shy of making the cut after shooting a 10-over par 150 the first two days.

--- Wanted to lead by pointing out Tony Campana is officially the top base stealer in MLB this season. He overtook the season lead with 23 swipes in 26 attempts. Dee Gordon of the Dodgers is second with 21.

Campana's 23 steals have come in 132 at-bats.

Of the 21 MLB players with more than 11 steals, only Rajai Davis of Toronto has done so with fewer at-bats (16 in 109).

Also, of those with more than 11 steals, how many have been more efficient than Campana? Only three and Alcides Escobar only attempted 13 steals.

Player        Stl  CS   Stl%
Bonafacio    20  1     95.2%
Kipinis        17   1    94.4%
Escobar      12   1    92.3%
Campana   23   3    88.5%
Victorino     15   2     88.2%
Pierre         14   2     87.5%

Campana's steals lead is not just a matter of attempts, folks. He's one of the three scariest players in baseball to see on first base. Not bad for the kid whose constantly dinged for being too small.

--- Jon Rothstein could never be considered an enemy of the Bearcats (So much Mike DeCourcy in John Rothstein). He's one of the few national pundits who don't forget about UC and their contributions on the national stage. With his list of the top 10 glue guys for next season, he broke out the UC love again.

He ranked JaQuon Parker No. 2, calling him pound-for-pound the toughest player in college basketball. Rothstein also called this the best backcourt Mick Cronin's had with Cash, SK and Park around the outside.

Zero debate about the latter and I'll push hard for the former.

--- Jason Maxiell reaching a contractual crossroads on June 30, as the Detroit News points out. Interesting to see where he ends up. Hopefully he finds a way out of the exposure abyss of Detroit and into the rotation of a contender. Would love to see his beastiness in the playoffs.

--- Hey look,
another publication doubts UC will contend for a championship. Again. This time it's Athlon following the trend seen every year in Clifton. Remarkable how little credence these magazines deserve considering how consistently wrong they've been the last five years.

For the record, last year Athlon picked UC to finish fifth, as well. Oh, and Louisville was selected dead last. Proceed with caution.

Also, for the record, Athlon placed Derek Wolfe on the third-team All-Big East last year ranking eight defensive linemen in the conference ahead of him. 

--- Randomness...

--- Ordering 20 kindergartners to
hit a classmate probably isn't the key to job security.

--- Less and less people are going to movies. Probably because not everyone wants to see comic book remakes over and over again. Or, I don't know, the lack of EVEN ONE original idea.

--- Joey Votto is putting together one of the great months this franchise has ever seen. And his season is headed in the same direction. CBSSports even calls it underrated considering the lack of pub it's receiving.

--- The heat wave coming through this week has me singing this song by Sublime. Great jam and under-appreciated band.

Made my way over to the UC-XU joint presser yesterday at The Freedom Center. The rebranding of the event, now known as The Crosstown Classic, has officially been completed.

The basics can be found here. As for the Cliff's Notes version. The game will be Dec. 19 at US Bank Arena and benefit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This will go on for a two-year trial period with annual assessment.

In the eyes of many, the Crosstown Classic will always be the Crosstown Shootout and that's fine. Regardless, yesterday officially opened a new era of the game. Plus, a new logo!

If you are looking for a full transcript of the press conference, you can go here to GoBearcats.com.

One of the more interesting sections of the dialogue came from Chris Mack and Mick Cronin discussing the neutral site move from the angle of their players.

Mack: "I think No. 1, the atmosphere. If you're a player, how can you not want to play in that type of environment? Whit (Babcock) has mentioned the Missouri-Illinois game, which is a game I've watched, whether as a fan or college coach for a long time. Boy, those teams really compete at a high level. It's a super-charged environment. The game itself has always been a very hard-fought, a very worthwhile game for the city. Whether the floor is over at U.S. Bank Arena, the University of Cincinnati, or Xavier, it's going to be a great game. I think both games will really enjoy playing in the atmosphere."

Cronin: "Two things, first of all our games loves these games, so they don't care where they play, to be honest about it. For Chris and I, a neutral site is great because we both hope to play in the NCAA Tournament every March. Any time you get a chance to play a big-time game at a neutral site is an advantage for your team. Also, we've played games at U.S. Bank Arena historically at UC and we haven't lost down there in awhile, so I was all for this. That will be put to the test now."

Of course, in true Crosstown mode, Mack offered a final word on the topic:

"We haven't lost there in a while either."

--- In speaking with AD Whit Babcock after the press conference a few pieces of information came out of it of specific importance to the fans. He said UC's half of the ticket allotment will first be offered to its season ticket holders (Xavier doing the same). Odds are that will soak up all of them.

Consequently, that ticket will not be part of the season ticket package. Though, it was discussed, the specifics were a little too hairy.

"We wanted to keep our season ticket prices as low as we could. We thought about wrapping it in, but there are five different price points that we'll come out with and it's just, 'Where would we set the pricing?' The season ticket holders at UC will have the first and maybe the only opportunity to buy it, but we wanted to somehow reward our season ticket holders, but I bet it will be a hot ticket."

--- The onus now moves to the fans of both schools and residents of this city. Can't we all just get along? They'll have the chance to prove it Dec. 19. Father Michael Graham and Babcock both spoke about familiarity with neutral-site matchups. Babcock comes from the Missouri-Kansas football rivalry played at the Edward Jones Dome.

"Not to make light of it at all, if Kansas and Missouri with 70,000 football fans playing for No. 1 in the country at 9 o'clock at night can do it, we can do it with 17,000. It's got to come off in the right way, but I'm confident it will."

This will be far from the only neutral site rivalry game. Here are some others:

Missouri-Illinois (Scottrade Center)
West Virginia-Marshall (Charleston Civic Center)
Indiana-Notre Dame-Purdue-Butler (Crossroads Classic Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
Kentucky-Indiana (1991-2006 RCA Dome/Freedom Hall)

The move to neutral sites is gaining momentum as teams attempt to create NCAA tournament atmospheres. Though, there will be few quite like this in March, the concept will provide a welcome preview.

One of the most consistent arguments I hear about this is those other games don't involve such fierce rivals. Well, that's true. I'd argue right back, outside of maybe Duke-UNC, NO GAME involves more fierce rivals. To use that as a reason not to conduct a game at a neutral site doesn't make much sense.

Plus, at the end of the day, if the concept doesn't work, then it can be changed.

As for expectations of the two contentious fan bases in the same building? Babcock expressed belief in this city's ability to act like rational adults.

"We absolutely talked about (the crowd issue)," Babcock said. "You have to have a security presence but I don't think there's Marshall Law. There were a lot of people embarrassed with what happened. We have confidence in the people that want to put Cincinnati's best foot forward."

--- One final quote from Whit on the liklihood of players interacting in the community with each other to help spread the Kumbaya feel.

"We've had a lot of talks on that and there absolutely will be a community component," he said. "Sometimes we've talked about pairing up the teams or the players and doing something. We on our side want to do a lot down here whether that is elementary school tours that our players go along with if NCAA allows it autograph sessions, other things. We are looking at a lot of things in the community, we know that is a key piece of it, absoultely. Nobody on Xavier's side or our side hasn't acknowledged that is important.

"We got to engage the community and do more than just play a basketball game."

--- Some national reaction:

CBSSports.com on the news.

Andy Katz at ESPN weighs in and favors eventually ditching the neutral site.

Shannon Russell with all her details at The Enquirer.

Friend of the blog Rob Dauster at NBC talks about the Classic and then rips on Skyline Chili. Rob lingering on becoming a former friend of the blog.

Rush the Court wonders if we are seeing an end of home-and-home rivalry games.

--- Happy Friday everyone and hope you enjoy what should be another beautiful weekend. The Cure said it best.

We are officially in the dead of summer for news around these parts. The only real news this time of year surrounds recruiting and here at GoBearcats.com, that's off limits due to recruiting rules.

But, I'm here nonetheless, rambling and filling space so you can put off the latest bit of TCB on your desk down at Brant Leland. Just be sure to share those crackers in your briefcase with others.

As for UC, the Big East blog added this post regarding money spent on recruiting. It pairs with the story on college football budgets by Andrea Adelson heavily featuring UC that I mentioned yesterday.

UC ranked third last in money spent on recruiting in the Big East, according to the numbers, but that's more testimony to the classes Butch Jones has been able to put together than it does lack of prioritizing it. Since these rating systems represent the only way to measure recruiting classes -- as inaccurate as they are -- by these numbers his classes have been as good as any at UC.

How much money spent on recruiting means little. The talent that money garnered does. And there's little arguing with who Jones has been able to bring in to Clifton.

As Butch astutely said to Andrea:

"We are going to do things in a first-class manner," Jones said. "If we don't have the proper resources, I'm going to find them. I will never let lack of finances hinder our recruitment process."

--- Jeff Goodman tossed together his list of the top 55 non-conference games for next season. UC made the list twice. Obviously, the Crosstown Shootout whenever that ends up being and also the home Big East/SEC Challenge against Alabama.

I think I'd place New Mexico-UC ahead of Tide-Bearcats, but that's my personal opinion. Bama will be young while the Lobos come in an experienced group, much as UC will be. Makes for higher quality hoops early in the year.

Both, however, reasons to be jacked about the season.

--- Scott Springer caught up with the fantastic story that is Mary Wineberg making another run (Attn: Play on Words!) at the Olympics.

Some women worry about dropping baby weight after having a kid, Wineberg worries about making the Olympics. A different level of competitiveness, people.

--- Like I said, not much going on right now. How about some randomness...

--- I don't know if any of you watch the new show Girls on HBO, but it's a quality, forward-thinking comedy. Great stuff. Here's a piece from the NYT on the enduring nature of lead actress/creator Lena Dunham.

--- Nothing funnier than
mascots caught in real-world conundrums. Please force the Phillie Phanatic to show up in court in full Phanatic garb. Only speaking in honks and performing an outlandish impersonation of the prosecutor behind his back.

--- Don't give your waitress permission to kick you. Have you never seen these kickboxing boot camp workouts?

--- New Smashing Pumpkins album Oceania streaming on iTunes today. Can't say I'm expecting greatness, but I'm intrigued.

--- Burger King offering The Bacon Sundae. And the world gets fatter.

--- Two things: 1) Kickball is this serious? 2) A kickball play is this awesome?

--- If people still pay to see you do anything 50 years after you started doing so you deserve serious respect. The Beach Boys played Riverbend last night and I'm sure the folks left happy. I'll always be a Good Vibrations guy.


Wineberg pointing toward royal dash

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I caught up with UC gold medal winner Mary Wineberg at the Gettler Stadium track June 12 before a family training session.  With husband and coach, Chris and daughter, Brooklyn, Wineberg took to the track in the midday sun to work on shaving a second off of her 400 meter time.

In 2008, Mary Wineberg qualified for the Beijing Olympics in the 400 and was the opening leg of the women's gold-medal winning 4x400 relay.  Now a mother, she hopes to punch her ticket to London at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Here's a clip with the Queen of UC track around lunch time.  Me?  I took my kids to Five Guys after such a grueling interview....

I want to use today to look at UC basketball's interior. The loss of Yancy Gates leaves a 6-foot-9, 260-pound hole in the middle of the Bearcats offense.

Who will fill it? What are the realistic expectations? How outsized will they be in the Big East?

First off, here are the in-house candidates to play the middle:

Cheikh Mbodj: 6-10, 245, 9.7 min., 1.7 pts, 2.1 rebs
Justin Jackson: 6-8, 210, 21.1 min., 5.1 pts, 4.2 rebs
Kelvin Gaines: 6-10, 225, 17 GP, 0.8 pts, 2.2 rebs
Titus Rubles: 6-7, 220, JC transfer

Of these four, only Jackson owns the experience Mick Cronin is looking for out of the middle. Unfortunately, at 6-8, 210, he's much more built in the mold of a forward than stacking up against the centers of the league.

The closest to fit the needed size would be Mbodj. While he showed flashes last year, he for the most part served as the temporary breather for Gates. In the final 13 games of the season he never played more than 10 minutes nor scored more than two points. He showed flashes of the player he could be against St. John's where he contributed four points, five blocks and five rebounds in just 16 minutes.

Can he develop into enough of a force to hold down the center? Cronin said Mbodj never truly recovered from his early season injury. He never showed the same explosive lift Mick recruited. A healthy offseason could recoup that.

Kelvin Gaines remains the developmental question mark in all this. The athletic freak can block shots and guard the rim with the best of them but his knowledge of the game is still raw. When playing during the early portions of the schedule he showed both. His dynamic play made for moments that left your jaw on the floor (7 blocks, 7 rebounds vs. Chicago State) but breakdowns left Cronin's jaw on the court (he never touched the floor in the final 12 games).

He will never be an offensive dynamo, but with a perimeter packed with them he doesn't need to be. If Gaines can bring enough offensively to occasionally take advantage of mismatches and be the incredible athlete guarding the rim he showed last year, he could be a contributor in a rotation with others. More than anyone, he's capable of physically matching up with the biggest of Big East bigs.

Rubles is thrown in here only because he can rebound (9.8 per game at Blinn), but there's almost no chance he would play the middle. He's more of a Ruben Patterson type that would more than likely play the four alongside one of the other three.

Through the early portions of the schedule a steady rotation of the three will see someone emerge and earn Cronin's trust. Of course, if he follows through on installing the 10-man rotation running up and down the floor, all will see minutes. Also, in that high-octane style, the need for a halfcourt interior presence lessens. Necessary, but lessened.

--- This league isn't chock full of the overpowering centers like once was the case. Patrick Ewing and Emeka Okafor aren't walking through the entrance to Fifth Third Arena.

While size is necessary, teams like Marquette and UC showed last year winning without it can absolutely be done.

How many teams even return more than one F/C that averaged 10 minutes per game, five points and five rebounds?



N/A (CJ Fair did, but he's not an interior player)

Davante Gardner: 6-8, 290, 19.1 min, 9.5 pts, 5.5 rebs

Notre Dame
Jack Cooley: 6-9, 248, 28.7 min., 12.5 pts, 8.9 rebs

Toarlyn Fitzpatrick: 6-8, 243, 25.5 min, 8.0 pts, 6.6 rebs.

Gogui Dieng: 6-11, 235, 32.8 min., 9.1 pts, 9.1 rebs
Chane Behanan: 6-6, 250, 26 min, 9.5 pts, 7.5 rebs

Seton Hall
Fuquan Edwin did, but is a G/F

Gilvydas Biruta: 6-8, 240, 25.5 min., 9.7 pts, 5.3 rebs
(Dane Miller, but another G/F)

St. John's
God's Gift Achiuwa: 6-8, 236, 29.9 min., 9.0 pts, 5.6 rebs
Moe Harkless (G/F)

Talib Zanna: 6-9, 230, 19.3 min., 5.3 pts, 5.2 rebs
Nasier Robinson and Lamar Patterson (G/F)

Mouphtaou Yarou: 6-10, 250, 27.5 min., 11.3 pts, 8.2 rebs.
JayVaughn Pinkston: 6-7, 260, 25.9 min., 9.6 pts., 5.2 rebs.

LaDontae Henton: 6-6, 220, 37.2 min., 14.3 pts., 8.6 rebs.

Cleveland Melvin: 6-8, 208, 32.1 min., 17.5 pts, 7.4 rebs

Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson: 6-6, 210, 33.9 min, 9.2 pts, 6.5 rebs
Anthony Lee: 6-9, 210, 17.0 min, 5.2 pts, 5.3 rebs.

--- Of the 15 teams listed, I'd place five of them on the list that would concern me UC would struggle to match up with. That's Yarou, Dieng, Cooley, Gardner and maybe Achiuwa.

That's right, five of the 15 teams UC will face in conference even have a player UC's lack of size would be significantly punished by. After that, you count on the scrap and heart of JaQuon Parker along with Justin Jackson and the combination of the three above players to offset any size concerns.

Many of the other top points/rebounders come of the Chane Behanan/LaDontae Henton variety. Smaller guys that play big. That's a mold UC already owns plenty of.

--- Sure, an influx of freshmen and transfers will add height to many opponents and UC would love to own more depth inside, but other team's unknown quantities own the same chance to succeed as UC's unknown quantities in the middle.

And few other teams possess the perimeter talent of the Bearcats, which represents this team's calling card.

--- Moral of the story: The luxury of Yancy Gates filling space inside may be gone, but that doesn't mean UC will be consistently outsized. Do they need development of interior players? Yes. But they are far from alone in the Big East.
Hope everyone enjoyed the weekend. Trying to figure out who endured a worse one: NBC Sports execs who had to be on the ledge over the I'll Have Another scratch or everyone who paid for the latest black eye for the sport of boxing.

One of the great sports of the last century has truly devolved into a cesspool of greed, frustration and unfulfilled expectations.

Let's eat...
--- News on facilities upgrades came out Friday afternoon. The most noticeable of the lot for fans will be the new Fifth Third Arena court. Nothing crazy but adding to the aesthetic appeal. I like the two-tone court but am mainly thankful they didn't go for the Oregon hardwood explosion look.

For those now trying to fire neurons remembering what the old court looked like here is a photo.

--- Here is the full story from Jeff Geiser on the facilities.

Of course, when it comes to facilities all the average fan wants to hear about is Nippert Stadium and Fifth Third. Whit Babcock pointed out he's still focused on making upgrades to both. Here was his main quote which follows the lines of what he's been saying for months.

"We've got to continue to look at what we're going to do with Nippert Stadium," said Babcock. "Right now we're focusing on studying the west side of the stadium and our options there. We don't have anything set firmly on that, just working on what options we may have there for new premium seating. I don't want to put a time frame on it, but hopefully not in the incredibly distant future, we can really do some work to bring the west side of Nippert Stadium up to speed, as well as Fifth Third Arena.

The Sheakley Athletic Complex is beginning to look like the full model proposed from Day 1 as the stands and press box all go up around the football practice facility. As bang for your buck goes in college athletics, it's hard to hold anything against the impressive spread surrounding The Nipp and Fifth Third.

--- Big weekend for the real reason
these student-athletes are playing sports. UC football graduated 11 current and former players. Among them was Armon Binns who worked to finish off his degree intermittently during his first NFL season with the Bengals.

He told me earlier this year the only reason he was able to graduate this summer was because the Bengals were the team that picked him up after being cut by Jacksonville. Funny how well life works sometimes. Congrats to Armon for sticking with it and finishing off what he started despite his professional obligations.

--- Here's complete list of 49 student-athletes who graduated this weekend. Standing O and slow clap headed their way:


Jamell Cervantez
Nic Spence

Women's Basketball
Chanel Chisholm
Bjonee Reaves

Alex Apyan
Dominique Battle
Armon Binns
T.J. Franklin
Reuben Haley
Brendon Kay
Danny Milligan
Jared Rains
Wesley Richardson
J.K. Schaffer
George Winn

Men's Golf
Kurt Harris

Lori Banky
Gwen Branscome
Jenn Doran
Cathy Hebert
Ali Mattingly
Rachel Mercier
MacKenzie Parsons
Kylie Ramsland
Katherine Russo
Laura Simanski
Gabby Sinmaz

Men's Soccer
Sam Klosterman

Women's Soccer
Sydney Barker
Erin Kaufman
Kelli Pawelko

Men's Swimming & Diving
Matt Hargrove
Haywood Miller

Women's Swimming & Diving
Anna Bersani
Stephanie Conklin
Liz Hansson
Josefin Wede

Safiyya Ismail
Elise Woulfe

Women's Track & Field
Hauna Dawkins
Jenna Heaton
Aricka Rhodes
Cortney Staruch

Men's Track & Field
Mario Cannon
Matthew Collmar
Eric Finan
Kyle Lang
Richard Lupp
Michael Rutherford

--- The congratulations are flying around fast and furious this morning and track and field athlete Kathy Klump receives the latest.

She finished as the lone UC All-American at the NCAA Track and Field Championships this weekend. She ended up sixth in the nation in the 800 meters, finishing in a time of 2:03.56. She was two seconds behind the winner.

--- The 2008 gold medalist in the 4x400 and new mother Mary Wineberg is training for the Olympics again and hoping to land a sport. The Enquirer posted a note on her aspirations.

--- Sights and sounds from the women's football clinic held last Thursday.

--- Randomness...

--- This eighth grader has
posterized a sea of scarred 13-year-olds.

--- Joaquin Phoenix
, no longer cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, apparently.

--- All these Dream Team Anniversary pieces are bringing out the 12-year-old Michael Jordan addict in me.

--- Stony Brook. If you aren't rooting for this team at the CWS you are probably a communist or too busy kicking puppies.

--- The Heavy doing their thing. Good luck with Monday everybody.

This year, members of the UC football family will wear wristbands that feature the words "Sign Your Name."

Sign your name band.jpg

"That's a thing that we've adopted going into 2012," said head coach Butch Jones.  "What does your name stand for?  Every time that we have a workout, they sign their name to it.  It's about all of our names coming together as one.  The kids have really adopted that and bought into signing their name to excellence on a day-to-day basis."

Coach Jones is always looking for unique ways to motivate his players.  The "Sign Your Name" theme is a simple reminder that every member of the team is accountable for his actions on-and-off the field.

"Every team is different and forms a new identity," Coach Jones told me.  "We have a lot of players that are going to be in roles that they've never had before and everyone is accountable for their day-to-day progress.  All you have is your name, and what does your name stand for?  At the end of the day, you are judged by that in your productivity and your life." 

Last year's theme was "Be A Champion" as Coach Jones constantly reminded the players that in order to win a championship, they had to had to be champions on the practice field, in the classroom, and in the community.  The season ended with a share of the Big East title and a victory in the Liberty Bowl.  As a result, the phrase "Be A Champion" is inscribed on one side of their championship rings.   

"Before we could dream about being a championship football team, our team had to be comprised of individual champions," said Jones.  "The way we conducted ourselves, the way we won in the classroom, our practice habits, our personal habits - everything.  Our players really bought into that and I think it speaks volumes that that team was a championship football team."

With the school year ending and graduation ceremonies set for this weekend, the Bearcats will get a short break from training before returning to campus for summer workouts.  The coaching staff, on the other hand, started The Butch Jones Football Camps this week which are a critical part of the recruiting process.

"We'll probably bring about 5,000 prospective student-athletes to Cincinnati and to our campus over the next couple of weeks," said Coach Jones.  "It can go anywhere from three to five thousand.  From unofficial visits to one-day campers to three-day campers to quarterback camp to specialist camp...it will be non-stop.

"Out of all of (last year's) signees, all of them had visited our campus prior to their official visit.  The next couple of weeks through the month of June will be critical for evaluating prospective student-athletes and getting them here on campus and selling them on the many things we have to offer."

The coaches will finally get a brief break in July before gearing up for the start of training camp at Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana on August 7th.  The season begins with a Big East home game against Pittsburgh on Thursday, September 6th.     

"We have to be able to start fast," said Jones.  "That's why the sense of urgency was at an all-time high in spring football.  When we go to Camp Higher Ground, we have to have a great foundation and a great base of what we were able to do in the summer.  Our players understand what's at stake.  As a coach, I'm already worried about the little nuances of playing your first game.  When you look at starting the season off with a talented Big East opponent in Pittsburgh and then Virginia Tech (in week three), we have to have a great level of consistency day-in and day-out, starting in the summer."

The Bearcats have signed up for the challenge.

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Eventful day in UC-related sports yesterday. I'll only mention Russell Westbrook's latest ensemble from the Stephen Urkel collection and move forward.

Let's eat...

--- Congrats to Isaiah Pead, who signed his rookie contract yesterday. Liked his tweet following the John Hancock:

@iPead It's official. I got my 1st job today. #TeamEmployed

Pead returned to Rams Park for the first time since rookie mini-camp due to NFL graduation rules. According to CBSSports.com, Pead's first interaction with Stephen Jackson went like this. "Nice to meet you. Let's get to work."

That's why you love Isaiah Pead.

I haven't been more excited to see how a college player performs at the next level in a long time. Really feel like he will be an instant star.

--- More Class of 2012 news, Zach Collaros inked a deal with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. The largest adjustment for ZC is that in Canada, he will be playing "offence."

--- In case you missed it, three Bearcats were selected during the draft yesterday.

RHP Zach Isler - 8th round - 261 overall - Chicago White Sox
OF Jake Proctor -14th round - 430 overall - Minnesota Twins
RHP Christian McElroy - 32nd round - 982 overall - Cincinnati Reds

Just for fun, I looked up (on baseball-reference.com) how many 8th round picks from the 2004-2008 drafts made an appearance in the minor leagues to give an accurate representation of Isler's percentage chance of making it to the show. I included the best player from that draft by total WAR with their current team in parenthesis.

Here were the results:

2004 - 5/30 - 16.6% - Best: Jim Miller (Oakland)
2005 - 5/30 - 16.6% - Best: Austin Jackson (Tigers)
2006 - 4/30 - 13% - Best: Allen Craig (Cardinals)
2007 - 2/30 - 6% - Best: Matt Moore (Rays)
2008 - 4/30 - 13% - Best: Andy Dirks (Tigers)
Overall - 20/150 - 13%

-- About a 13 percent chance to make it to The Show? Yeah, rising through the minors comes with zero certainties. Of course, it's never impossible and a line of those before him prove it can be done.

Most notably, who was the best eighth-round draft pick by WAR since 2000? Kevin Youkilis (2001).

--- Some basketball news yesterday as Mick Cronin spoke to Bill Koch about the two open scholarships. Yes, Cronin is working tirelessly to fill them. No, he will not add a player for the sake of adding a player.

The Bearcats could use those two scholarships the next few years, obviously, but there's no sense forcing a player in now if a better one could be added with the class of 2013.

In theory, UC will only lose Cashmere Wright, Cheikh Mbodj, JaQuon Parker and walk-on Alex Eppensteiner from this year's team.

Ge'Lawn Guyn appears the heir apparent to Wright at guard, with Shaq Thomas/Jermaine Sanders playing the wing behind Parker. Adding a big man has been a top priority since Cronin was searching the JuCo ranks to notch Mbodj last year. It continues to be.

But outside of that, jumping after a player who might not be at the same talent level wouldn't be necessary when that player would still likely have a year or two behind the incumbent starter. 

With the now five-player class acquired last year, the coach is afforded the luxury of being patient with his open spots.

--- In case you didn't see the highlights of Tuesday's Football Open House, here you go. A great success and unique event for the program.

--- The Dagger at Yahoo! is breaking down a top 10 list of untouchable records and UC's seven-OT game against Bradley from 1981 came in at No. 8.

They have a pdf of the box score. I'd prefer to see the beat writer's notebook and game story rewrites.

--- Because this is the
listing time of year in sports media, ESPN ranked the Big East basketball coaching jobs. UC came in at No. 10 and the WWL bashes the Cats for anonymity within the conference. Flyover bias streams out of Bristol on this one. Ask the coaches across the league, JT3 and Jim Boeheim in particular, if they found UC to be a memorable opponent last year.

--- Lance Stephenson could be sixth man for Indiana next year?

--- In case you missed it, I wrote about Josh Harrison's homecoming yesterday. Good dude you have to root for. Funny how Harrison and Tony Campana rose to the majors and made an impact being these gritty, undersized, hustle types.

Maybe that's becoming the UC mold. Harrison said he talks to Campana when they play the Cubs but it's tough to keep up during the season.

"Two guys that love to play the game," Harrison said. "You know, speed is a part of our game. Anytime we get on base we know we can make something happen."

--- Randomness...

--- Joey Votto has one pulled foul ball into the stands his career and three infield pop ups in over 2,000 at bats. #Machine

--- If you decide to move, don't forget to pack your $250,000 worth of gold bars.

--- Shin-kicking!

-- A full video of Bruce Springsteen's
1978 concert now up on YouTube. I can almost see a baby Mo Egger complaining about the Knicks in the background.

--- I want to be the lone regular-sized person in the 100-Midget March. #ConfidenceBuilder

Question: What percentage of little people are employed by the entertainment industry? A fraction less then 30 would shock me.

--- Have U2 on the brain this morning. Going with Even Better Than The Real Thing. Always a crowd favorite.


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The passing of Jack Twyman was indeed a loss for the University of Cincinnati and he will long be remembered for contributing to the success of its basketball and athletic programs. But by now you know he is being remembered, revered and celebrated for the humanitarian that he was and rightfully so.

I was fortunate to meet him in the 70's when I coached a basketball team in a city league and we played against a team on which his son played. He was there not as an NBA player but a dad rooting on his son and their team. I nervously but with some confidence walked up to him and said hello after the game and he was very gracious. It was the classic brush with a star but left the right and lasting impression on me.

It wasn't until later in life I knew and truly understood what he did by becoming the legal guardian for fellow teammate Maurice Stokes that elevated my respect for him. Not just that he did it but, at the age he made this life changing decision; 23 years old and in the prime of your life as a young man. I can't think of many, if any, who would give up that prime time in their life to the degree that Jack did. Those kind of friends are rare and as Jesse Jackson said should be the basis for an award that epitomizes those qualities in an athlete who understands there is more to life than the game; Jack wasn't just a ball player, he was a humanitarian. He was a giver; unselfish, caring, compassionate and kind. Not perfect mind you, as none of us are, but a step above most absolutely.

Years later we conversed again and this time for quite a while. He was a guest on my radio show thanks to his son in law, Josh, who I worked with at that time. We not only talked about the NBA and Maurice Stokes but also his comparison to a similar physically and talented player named LeBron James. We talked a little about life and it was just as enjoyable as I thought it would be. It was filled with candor, laughter and a joy that makes you glad you had the chance to interview such a special person.

With his passing I found myself, as I'm sure many of you have, asking that hard question: Could I have done the same thing, at the same age with the same set of circumstances including giving up the prime of my life to take full custody of a friend who needed around the clock care? I want to say yes and I want to say I'd do it now if I had to.

We don't have to ask WWJD. We don't have to ask what would Jack do either.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat.

Harrison comes home

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Former UC standout Josh Harrison made his hometown debut on Tuesday night with the Pittsburgh Pirates and felt the love of a city he's made proud.

CINCINNATI - During the slow drip of a Tuesday night game long since decided, a rare roar unexpectedly pierced the chilly air at Great American Ballpark.

The burst originated behind the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout. Josh Harrison knew it was coming.

The former University of Cincinnati and Princeton High School product predicted it weeks before the game when the ticket requests and text messages inundated his phone. Remarkably, despite being called up May 30 of last year, Harrison never played a game in his hometown. A schedule quirk created 15 games against the Reds at PNC Park, but never a trip miles from where he became a pro prospect at Marge Schott Stadium.

"It is going to be wild," Harrison said prior to the game. "It is too many people to even keep count of. In the hundreds, maybe three."

Indeed, the hundreds stuck around as Harrison came off the bench to pinch-hit in the eighth inning. The moment No. 5 slipped into view at the on-deck circle, the hometown hero finally received his raucous welcome.

Harrison would make a loud out to deep centerfield. Drew Stubbs would reel it in, but that wouldn't matter to his friends and family, most donning shirts with his name on it. Of those there to honor him, the cheers only grew louder.

Of course, by now, more than a year into his MLB career, Harrison's no stranger to the support from folks in this city.

"Even when (the Reds) come to Pittsburgh, I feel it," he said. "It's crazy."

The support is rooted in respect for a player that rose through the ranks with a lunch pale in his hand and hustle in his legs. The 2008 Co-Big East Player of the Year at UC only took three years to move from sixth-round draft pick to MLB debut.

Naming the position he didn't play since arriving in Pittsburgh last season slips off the tongue easier than the ones he did. He's manned the outfield, second base, shortstop and third. He's pinch-hit, pinch-run and double-switched. In the process, Harrison batted .260 with 19 doubles, 5 triples and 2 home runs.

On a Pirates team two games out of first place despite one of the most anemic offense in baseball, he provided a spark at the plate. He played so well in his utility role, Harrison rose to a regular starter over the last three weeks. He started 13 consecutive games from May 16-June 1 which included a 10-game hit streak.

Harrison developed a routine to expect the unexpected during a year of wondering what he'd see when viewing the lineup card everyday, Now, as his role expands, he's learning how to be a ballplayer all over again.

"It's definitely an adjustment," he said. "You playing everyday, you have a routine, you stick with it. It doesn't change. When you are not an everyday player, your routine changes from when you are playing to when you are not playing. It's something you got to learn to deal with and I'm still learning."

Finding a consistent routine doesn't come easy when still being occasionally spelled, as he was Monday, and not knowing which of the many gloves he'll be wearing that night. Moving around the field like a pinball may not be the glamorous life of a superstar, but it's one a guy who proudly carries the proverbial lunch pale embraces.

"If it's going to get me in the lineup, who wouldn't like it?" he said. "I'd much rather be bouncing around and playing, then not playing."

Thumbnail image for harrisonwalkoff.jpg

It delivered his most memorable moment as a pro. He stepped to the plate in the 12th inning of a tie game against Houston and roped a walk-off base hit for a 3-2 win. Though, this wasn't just any hit. It came on Mother's Day. And his mother and grandmother were both in attendance.

"After the game, I saw them on the field," Harrison said. "They came right down by the dugout. They were there, they got interviewed and everything."

Harrison can't hide the smile on his face talking about that day. He couldn't before Tuesday's game, either. As members of Princeton's 2005 State Final Four team lined on the field he pointed and later shared hugs with his former teammates.

There will be no complaining from Harrison these days. He claims it feels like only yesterday he was celebrating breaking the school record for wins his junior year in Clifton. Standing only a few long home runs from where he played college ball, he'd clearly come a long way. And the lasting impression he left on a high school, college and city could be heard from every corner of the 43,000-seat stadium.

"It's good to be back home," he said. "There's no place like home."

Big week during a slow season for UC football. Tonight will be the big UC Football Open House event. I've been speaking about the event for weeks now and it's as good an opportunity as you'll get for one-on-one time with the top administrators involved with UC football.

Butch Jones and Whit Babcock will be in the building along with many other UC reps to talk Bearcats football and give you an opportunity to become a new season ticket holder.

Again, that's tonight at the Lindner Center -- all the information you need for the event can be found here.

This is the first time UC has attempted a personal attention event like this and I think its one of the coolest ideas for the fans they've come up with.

Also, the Women's Football Clinic will take place Thursday with check-in beginning at 7 p.m. at the Lindner Center. Another cool event to interact with fans.

Jones spoke with Lance McAlister about these events and more last Friday. Here's the podcast.

--- Let's eat...

--- The tributes keep rolling in for Jack Twyman. Bill Koch has done a fantastic job along with the rest of the Enquirer with a series of pieces and remembrances of the UC legend. The latest comes on Jesse Jackson suggesting the NBA institute an award with Twyman's name to honor those who use the game to help their fellow man.

Here's the piece.

Can't think of a more appropriate idea.

--- UC held its All-Sports Banquet on Saturday. In case you missed it, Tommy G knocked it out of the park with his two video montages. The first a six-minute season highlight video that could make the hair stand up on a cadaver. The second was a collection of bloopers and joke reels that led into the ceremony.

Secret star of the show? Women's soccer coach Michelle Salmon. If this soccer thing doesn't work out, she may have a future in improv.

--- The Male Athlete of the Year, Jimmy Nippert Award and TopCAT Scholar went to XC/T&F runner Eric Finan. And deservedly so. Finan. He was the Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year, currently on the ballot for Academic All-American. He already owns an undergrad degree in mechanical engineering with a 3.9 GPA and is completing his business admin masters.

Oh, and he has been Cincinnati's top cross country finisher in every race since the start of the 2009 season. So there's that. Toss in the school record in the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 events and outdoor records in the 5,000 and 10,000 and you have a no-brainer decision.

Congrats to Eric who set the standard for what a UC student-athlete should be.

--- In non-Finan related awards, Mick Cronin was named Coach of the Year. Cronin could have been named COY in all of college basketball considering what he did with this team over the past seven months. Nobody could question that decision.

Butch Jones and the football team took the Team of the Year awards for their shared Big East championship and 10-win season.

--- The Female Athlete of the Year was Jasmine Cotten. Cotten was the Big East Indoor champion as well as an NCAA Indoor All-American in the pentathlon. Cotten was named the most outstanding field performer at this year's Big East Indoor Championship and was the Outdoor champion in the heptathlon. She was also named the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Women's Sports Association Track & Field Sports Woman of the Year, and was the regional Athlete of the Year for indoor track.

What did you do this year?

--- ICYMI on Friday,
I wrote this about the addition of Alabama and this year's non-conference schedule. There should be zero reason for criticism of the non-con slate this season. It is packed.

--- The Dagger at Yahoo! doesn't view UC-Bama as a premier portion of the Challenge.

--- This Syracuse-Pittsburgh divorce is going about how we all expected, isn't it? To be fair, after jilting the conference, pretty sure SU and Pitt should understand their concerns don't exactly get fast-tracked to the top of the priority list.

--- The new UConn
AD fully expects Jim Calhoun back next season. All his players on the other hand...

--- ESPN's Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson debate the future of the Big East and ACC. Moral of the story: Nobody knows what's going to happen.

--- The MLB Draft continues and UC could see players selected, chief among them LHP Zach Isler, OF Jake Proctor and RHP Christian McElroy. Keep it locked to the Draft Central page to see who goes first.

--- Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison returns to Cincinnati the next three days to play the Reds. In fact, his 2005 state championship Princeton team will be honored prior to tonight's game. Look for more on Josh later this week.

--- By the way, Tony Campana on the verge of overtaking the MLB lead for steals this year. With leader Emilio Bonafacio (20) on the DL, Campana (18) is only a few games away from jumping in front.

He's only been caught three times and owns the second-most steals in baseball with 46 fewer plate appearances than anyone else in the top 10.

--- Former UC golfer
Jim Herman qualified for next week's US Open. Congrats.

--- Randomness...

--- The New York Times had a 22-year-old intern working the Mets first no-hitter in their 51 years. He nailed it.

Not sure what my 22-year-old gamer would have looked like, but pretty sure my notebook would have been covered in sweat and vomit.

--- I've left a bookbag on top of my car and driven off before. Even a precious Chick-fil-a sandwich. But pretty sure I'd remember a baby up there.

--- Former Enquirer columnist,
who had been at the San Diego Union-Tribune for nearly 20 years was axed without any true notice this weekend. Sad, sad times.

Even crazier sign of the times in our industry, longtime Louisville Courier-Journal sports columnists Rich Bozich and Eric Crawford bolted for the local TV station. Sad state of affairs in the newspaper industry.

--- Interested in seeing The Dark Knight Rises? You may want to save up extra money for the sitter. It runs nearly three hours.

--- Cool color footage of Yankee Stadium during the Reds-Yankees World Series in 1939.

--- Donovan McNabb didn't find
anything wrong with the sportscast from a Portland, Maine TV station that reported the Celtics-Heat Game 4 ended in a tie.

--- Radiohead will take the stage tonight
at Riverbend. Should be a fantastic show. Enjoy it if you go. If not, I expect all of you to attend the UC Football Open House. Have a great day.

It's now official, UC will play Alabama in the SEC-Big East Challenge at Fifth Third Arena on Dec. 1.

Here is the full slate of games.

Snap analysis: The Bearcats added a top team out of the available SEC bucket. It's yet another 2012 tournament team added to the non-conference schedule. Toss in the New Mexico game and you have a nice little non-con season ticket package to go with your strong Big East slate.

--- Let's take a deeper look at Alabama. The Tide finished last year 21-12 and a 9 seed in the Big Dance. The lost by one to Creighton in the first round. Anthony Grant dealt with an avalanche of dissension and eventually suspended leading scorer JaMychal Green for four games in the middle of conference play. Green decided to transfer this offseason.

In fact, they lose Green (14.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) to graduation and Tony Mitchell (13.1, 7.0) was kicked off the team.

The only returner to average double figures was G Trevor Releford, who averaged 12.3 points a game as a sophomore. Top recruit Trevor Lacey will be back for his sophomore season. He averaged 7.3 points, but comes with piles of potential as a five-star top recruit. Also, G Levi Randolph will be back for a sophomore season. He was ranked as the 30 best recruit in the country by Rivals and averaged 6.5 points a game last season.

Point being, their strength will be on the perimeter. Considering the same exists with the Bearcats, this should be a fun backcourt matchup to watch.

They'll be young and developing on the interior, of course, you could say similar things about UC who will still be trying to find the answer to replace Yancy Gates.

--- How did Alabama rank
among the possible SEC draws? Here were the options:

Kentucky (38-2, National Champs)
Alabama (21-12, NCAA, first round)
South Carolina (10-21, no post)
Tennessee (19-15, NIT)
Georgia (15-17, no post)
Mississippi State (21-12, NIT)

Kentucky, who went to Notre Dame, an interesting choice and possibly a sign of the times, the event recognizing quality teams for the coming year and not just the traditional names.
And the Irish are feeling pretty good since Scott Martin gained his sixth-year of eligibility.

If you weren't going to gain the Holy Grail of the event in the Wildcats, Bama was the clear second choice as far as pedigree. It shouldn't have taken the trip to the BE title game and back-to-back years with tourney wins to make the conference understand the quality of play and national relevance of UC, but if that's the case, so be it. At least they see it now.

--- So, here's where we stand on the highlights of the much discussed non-conference schedule (2012 NCAA tournament seed):

Home: Alabama (9), New Mexico (5)
Neutral: Iowa St. (8), Oregon (3NIT) or UNLV (6), Xavier (10)
Road: Marshall (5NIT)

UC will play a minimum of four teams in last year's Dance and possibly five depending on the UNLV-Oregon result.

How many at-large tournament teams did UC play the last few years in non-con?

2011-12: 1 (Xavier)
2010-11: 1 (Xavier)
2009-10: 4 (Vanderbilt, Gonzaga, Maryland, Xavier)
2008-09: 4 (Florida State, Memphis, Xavier, Mississippi State)

Additionally, Mississippi State is the lone non-Xavier game played at home against an NCAA tournament team.

Of course, there are no guarantees the teams on this year's schedules will turn out to make the tournament, but early projections insist they will (Iowa State maybe an exception) and that's about all you can measure it by.

Mick and Whit set out to improve the non-conference schedule, specifically at home, and there's no denying they've done just that on both planes.

--- As for how many tournament teams do some of the so-called top non-conference schedulers play? Here's a peak at some from last year from each top conference: 

Kentucky - 4 (Kansas, UNC, Indiana, Louisville)
Ohio State - 3 (Florida, Duke Kansas)
Kansas - 5 (UK, Georgetown, Duke, USF, Ohio State)
Duke - 5 (Temple, Ohio State, Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State)
Cal - 3 (Missouri, San Diego State, UNLV)
Georgetown - 4 (Kansas, Alabama, Memphisx2)

Clearly, UC sits on the same level as the heaviest of hitters from coast to coast. If you find a reason to complain this year, you need to spend your money on a therapist instead of basketball tickets. 
A tweet from AD Whit Babcock last night suggests the SEC-Big East Challenge pairings are going to be announced today.

Sounds like UC landed one of the top SEC opponents. For my preliminary predictions, I'd ballpark it at 60 percent shot Bama, 25 percent Tennessee, 5 percent Kentucky and 5 percent wildcard.

This particular Breakfast won't be much since I'm planning a in-depth post looking at the pairing as soon as they are announced. Now, I refuse to go through a Friday without bringing the people their randomness, so I'll fast forward to that and leave the nuts and bolts for later.

Oh, and don't forget the Football Open House on Tuesday with an opportunity to meet and chat with Butch Jones, Whit Babcock and many others. Really will be a cool night for prospective season ticket holders.

All your details are here. Not slinging any PR at you here, really will be a fun event.


--- Wait, let me get this straight, ANOTHER zombie-like attack? Time to start watching The Walking Dead for survival techniques.

--- Speaking of...preview of Season 3 during weekend marathon.

--- People complaining about PDiddy's kid receiving a scholarship to UCLA need to can it. You know how many rich kids receive scholarships every year? Just because you've heard of his parents doesn't mean he's the only well-to-do kid who earned a free education.

--- Driving 193 mph ... on the highway ... on a motorcycle ... in the rain. Should be treated in the courts as the equivalent of shooting a bullet into a crowd, IMO.

--- Not only are the Chili Peppers here next week, but they will be releasing 18 new songs in the next six months.

--- This video made the rounds yesterday, but I have to post this wild video of a car slamming into a bar.

--- Can you really hold out two years after holding out? C'mon Revis.

--- Happy Friday to everyone, few better ways to open a weekend than with some Journey. I'll talk to everyone later today when the Challenge pairings are released.