When living outside the elite world of blue chip magnets like Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, schools hoping to build national title contenders must rely on more than handpicking McDonald's All-Americans.
In the case of Cincinnati, the key to ascending from one scholarship player to the verge of three consecutive NCAA tournaments revolves around recruiting to a specific profile. For Mick Cronin, that means finding players owning the intangible of toughness.
The only thing more difficult than defining toughness would be finding it.
Books have been written searching for the answers. This may not be the most talented player on the court, but will be the one who relentlessly fights when a deficit grows. This may be from refusing to give in to size disadvantages or quickness deficiencies. This may be from never allowing an injury to provide an excuse.
No player in the Mick Cronin Era more defines the intangible at the core of Cronin's rebuilding profile more than JaQuon Parker.
"What happens at this level, it becomes hard to do the things you did in high school," Cronin said. "You got to have a toughness about you. You can win games with JaQuon Parker because he can get it done against any opponent. He can raise his level of play, his focus, his toughness and when it gets tough you can count on him."
One final time Saturday, the fans at Fifth Third Arena will count on him as the Bearcats take on USF on Senior Day. That means a list of statistics and numbers will be wheeled out in an attempt to put into words what Parker meant to the basketball program.
He's averaging 11.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season. He's contributed 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds each of the past two seasons. He stands 6-foot-4 but tied for the team lead in offensive rebounds (62) despite giving half a foot to most big men in the lane.
Those numbers sound great, but don't tell the Parker story. Turn on the film of Cincinnati against Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Watch Parker grab 11 rebounds, five offensive, over the top of an FSU front line standing 6-10 across the board. The extra possessions he added in a defensive slugfest as physical as any in the tournament showed Parker's immeasurable value.
That wasn't the first time he'd found away to pull off the improbable to alter the outcome of a game. Saturday won't be the last.
"There's two types of players: guys that help you win games and guys that don't," Cronin said. "Guys that help you win games they can do it in a multitude of ways. But if you can't get stuff done that's hard to get done, you are not going to make it as a player."
Parker almost didn't. A conversation about his options - including transferring -- came after a disappointing sophomore season. Fittingly, as times got tough, Parker rose above. Challenged by Cronin to improve, Parker became the difference as the team was able to play a four-guard offense without being bludgeoned on the glass because he could battle anyone on the interior.
Over four years he's played four positions and if they needed him to play center he'd happily step in and make it all five spots. Cronin constantly compliments Parker's conscientious nature and relentless desire to execute his teachings. That can be viewed as a blessing and a curse at times as his unselfishness could inhibit his natural ability to rack up points. Following an urge from Cronin to pick up scoring slack down the stretch he's averaged 13 points per game over the last six.
Again, as he's escorted to center court before Saturday's game, reciting those numbers won't tell the story. For all those who spent four years looking on at Fifth Third, they won't need to hear them.
"It will be kind of bittersweet," Parker said of his expectations for Saturday, "but at the end of the day I will feel OK because I gave my all while I was here."
Nobody can deny that. Toughness may be hard to define, but easy to recognize in motion. It looks exactly like JaQuon Parker.
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