Offseason conversation with Mick Cronin, Part II

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We take a break from the all football, all the time blog standard to interject a little basketball checkup. With this being the final bye week of the season and 10 consecutive weeks of opponent analysis and unearthing of unnecessary, obscure statistics ahead, figured I might take this brief reprieve to take the temperature of UC basketball one month before practice opens.

Plus, sitting down in the offseason with Mick Cronin might be one of the great pasttimes of covering UC athletics. He'll always allow something interesting and give an unfiltered perspective of what's happening around him. And right now -- there's plenty.

Notre Dame defection, release of a brutal schedule, arrival of 7-footers and, of course, learning to live life after sinking a hole-in-one at a prestigious Louisville golf club with a Bearcats logo ball.

In the first part we delved into the wild world of scheduling and how Cronin evaluated this year's as one of the toughest in UC basketball history.

For Part II, we take a retrospective look at the Crosstown Shootout and how it changed daily life for Cronin, working as a single-parent basketball coach, as well as a closer view at the 2012-13 Bearcats and the surprising areas Cronin's not concerned about.

Despite the Sweet 16 and the Big East Tournament final, last season will be known as the year of the Crosstown Shootout brawl to many. It served as the fulcrum of the program's season dramatically shifting from disaster to success amidst the turmoil of suspensions and negative publicity.

Cronin's postgame press conference went down as probably the most memorable media session of the year across college basketball.

The coach says what happened Dec. 10, 2011 and consequential attitude shift among his players didn't change him or his program one bit. Such is not to say there aren't a few differences.

"I get a lot of nice comments from Xavier fans now," he said. "They seem to be a lot nicer to me and complimentary. Other than that, I don't know. At the end of the day in my business you got to win. You can sit there and say did it really help as much as going to the Big East championship and Sweet 16?"

Cronin's never watched the video of his press conference following the game. He has no desire to. Well, that and ...

"My daughter the other day showed me how to do something (online) -- which was quite embarrassing. She's about to turn 6. Someone would have to navigate that for me if I really wanted to. I'd be 50-50 to be able to try to find that."

Sure, Cronin will be approached when he's out to lunch or dinner by folks who tell him they appreciated his post-brawl words. But in the business world, few bring it up. That's perfectly all right with him. Gaining notoriety never fit his agenda.

"I'm in the business of trying to help my kids grow up," he said. "Personally, the thing that pleases me the most, Yancy's got a good job he's already putting money in the bank. Dion's playing. I just talked to friend of mine Jamaal Warren's got a new job, he's got his act together. That's the stuff, for me, I feel like I do for a living. I don't worry about that, though. That's not something I think about. You've been around me enough, I'm not interested in being a celebrity. That's not my M.O."

Cronin went on to state that he's done trying to be everything to everybody. You won't find him at every social gathering in town. He believes he owns two jobs, the UC basketball coach and being a single parent.

He talked about the difficulty of raising his daughter against the backdrop of college athletics. Finding the balance isn't always easy, but he's dedicated to it.

"Imagine being a major college basketball coach and a single parent," he said. "I don't have a nanny 50 percent of the time. Some weeks more some weeks less, depending on my schedule. I have my daughter. I'm doing her hair, I'm giving her a bath. I sit up and read with her. All of the above, me and her, that's it. That's what I do with my free time. If you try to be everything to everybody you are going to end up without your job, in my opinion, or you will run yourself into the ground.

"You read about these coaches, Urban Meyer and others. That's not going to be me. My daughter's not writing me letters about how she wishes I was around more. She actually tells me take me to Aunt Kelly's, I've had enough of you. That's what she tells me. Yeah, I get that a lot."

As anybody whose been around a 6-year-old can attest, all activities are done strictly for fun. The interesting aspect of these two jobs for Cronin is the one helps carry over to the other. It's amazing the lessons kids can help adults learn instead of vice versa.

All the time with his daughter reminds him how much fun this needs to be for the guys to play college basketball. In stressful times like following the Xavier game, that can be forgotten.

"After the fight, what did I do if anything with the team, yeah, after everybody got done talking with the team, the athletic director, president, all things everybody had to do for me, then we talked. I said, 'All right, it's over and I don't want to hear anybody mention it the rest of the year. We all know we are good guys. We are not going to sneak into arenas. We are going to have fun and we are going to let everybody know we are having fun.'

"So, if you noticed anything different in our team that I'll keep the rest of my career in coaching it's mandatory smiling, mandatory hugging after big plays, high-5ing and all that type of stuff. Making sure ... I'm not letting people take the fun out of this for you."

Shifting more toward on-the-court expectations for next year, the question many outside the program are wondering is how UC will replace Yancy Gates' production in the middle. Remaining to pick up the pieces are Cheikh Mbodj, Kelvin Gaines and 7-foot-1 David Nyarsuk.

Would it be fair to call interior presence Cronin's biggest concern entering the season? Nope. He doesn't see it as an issue at all.

"No, not with David. Cheikh is a different player. Kelvin is a different player. We got to do individuals until late May because we were on quarters. Then we got the new rules of eight weeks in the summer, then we started early in August. Nobody has had more time than us. We have had our teams longer than other people. We've been in the gym and with our guys, because we had a lot of returning guys around. And younger guys to get better. It's been a big advantage. My biggest concern is backup point guard. Definitely not the five spot. I know we are three-deep there"

Mbodj has been the beneficiary of Cronin's offseason focus. This year the primary objective has been trimming body fat with new strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt.

"Everybody is becoming more dedicated, body fat down on everybody," Cronin said. "I can guarantee you when people come out to see us, the first time they come out to see us they will think Cheikh Mbodj is a transfer."

Mbodj is down 20 pounds.

"But his body fat is more importantly down 10. Jermaine Sanders is taking off dunking on people."

The entire team will need to be in better shape to handle the run-and-gun style Cronin plans to employ, rotating 10 players in and out of the lineup to wear down opponents.

"The key is to be two-deep at every position where you will have no fall off and you can maintain the pace of play. And you can take care of the ball and you can defend playing 10 into your bench and there is no fall off. Where our 10 or 11 are better than your 6 or 7."

Back to that mention of the backup point guard spot as his biggest concern. He says he focuses much of his time on Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Davis III. Cashmere Wright continues to put himself in great shape, but with the increased full-court pressure and stress on his knees, securing a capable backup must happen fast.

"Keeping Cash healthy my main thing and developing G. Last year Dion was security blanket for me. I tell our guys, do you want to play or do you want to really play? I got to be able to put you in the game on the road with seven minutes left in a tie game, Pittsburgh. If I can do that and you are going to take care of the ball, play D and be in the right spot, that's a lot for a point guard. In that scenario you got to be able to take care of the ball."

The smile running across his face when discussing this group was hard to miss. With Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker leading the fitness standard by example he knows work ethic and focus won't be a problem with this group. Makes life easy.

"It's cool on our team to get in better shape and work on your game because that's how our veteran players are. Our team right now our best players are about winning and becoming better players. If you are one of them other guys they are pulling you in the right direction. If I could coach this group of guys I'd coach forever."

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