How many times when you were a kid did an adult forbid you to do something before saying, "You'll thank me later."
Cashmere Wright is thanking Mick Cronin now.
When the senior point guard sprained his right knee early in the second half of the DePaul game on January 15th, he wanted to return to the court minutes later. Coach Cronin not only ruled that out since Wright could not have an MRI performed until the next day, but refused to let Cashmere play several days later against Marquette when he still felt some stiffness in his knee.
"If it was my choice, I would have played at the end of the DePaul game which would have probably made it worse," Wright told me. "I tell him all the time that I appreciate him as a coach and like a father. I feel like he's helped me grow up as a person and he showed me that it isn't all about basketball. It's all about life after basketball and he wants what's best for me beyond being a Bearcat."
Wright was able to play six days after the injury, but struggled in a 57-55 loss at Syracuse going 2-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three-point range.
"He wasn't able to practice and his conditioning affected his game and his shooting - he wasn't himself," said Coach Cronin. "But his leadership was tremendous as usual."
The last minute of the game was especially difficult for Wright. With the score tied at 55, the Bearcats grabbed an offensive rebound with 52 seconds remaining and could have worked the shot clock, but Cashmere drove toward the basket and committed a costly turnover. Then after Syracuse scored to take a two-point lead, Wright missed a game-winning three-point attempt with eight seconds to go.
"He's a confident guy and I have no problem with his confidence and him shooting the basketball," said Cronin.
"The shot was the shot, but I feel like my turnover
before that was the main reason why we lost," said Wright. "I made a mental mistake basically, and like
I texted my teammates when we got back to town, it will never happen again. We felt like we had that game and I feel like
I let them down as a leader. I told them
if you all just bear with me, we're going to do good things."
While Wright did not have a good game against Syracuse, he's having an exceptional senior year, averaging 14.5 points while leading the team in assists, steals, and three-point shooting percentage.
"He has a calming effect on our team and there's a confidence level when he has the ball in his hands," said assistant coach Darren Savino. "He knows what Coach wants him to do, he knows the other guys on the team and what they can and cannot do, and it's not an easy job. Coach Cronin is demanding on that position, and for us to be good, Cashmere has to be really good. He's accepted that and understands that he can't come in lackadaisical because it affects everybody - not just himself."
"I've come to realize that when we win, (Coach Cronin) still finds a reason to blame me for something," said Wright with a laugh. "And when we lose it's definitely my fault. But you know what else I've come to realize? I wouldn't change it. To get this opportunity where somebody looks at you and says, 'You are the difference maker.' That's a big achievement for me and that's why I'm striving to get better every day."
The daily grind is not easy for Wright. He's had three surgical procedures on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, and has also had to battle recurring pain in his left shoulder.
"I can't complain," said Wright. "I'm well enough to run around and do all of the other stuff so it's fine. It always could be better, but I can't complain."
"Nobody is allowed to get hurt in our practices is what we say, because if Cashmere can practice after all of the surgeries that he's had - he might not even realize it but he really does inspire the other guys," said Coach Savino. "Whether they get little nicks or their wrist or ankle hurts, they get through it because they see what Cash goes through on a daily basis. It makes us a tougher team."
Now that his most recent injury is fully healed, Cashmere has a simple goal for the remainder of his senior season.
"I really want to get to Atlanta and end my career as a Bearcat in my home state," said Wright.
Atlanta is the sight of this year's Final Four, but even if Cashmere is not able to lead UC that far in the NCAA Tournament, he's already earned the admiration of Bearcat Nation.
"When you play in Cincinnati the fans just want you to play hard," said Wright. "Every time that you're out there, as long as you're not hurt and can walk, they just want you to play hard and give everything that you've got."
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