The Bearcats own an opportunity to turn a Dec. 5 against Louisville into a game with possible BCS implications. In order to do so, they'll need some help from UCF, but also must find a way to win on the road in Houston.
UC used trickeration and physical domination each of the last two weeks as the medium for victory.
This week, the path to victory will be paved in one key stat -- take care of the ball.
No team in college football feasts off turnovers more than Houston. And when we say no team in college football, we mean no team in the recent history of college football.
That's right, no school since 2005 has enjoyed a better turnover margin than the 2013 Houston Cougars. They are winning the turnover battle by an average of 2.2 per game. The next closest in FBS is Buffalo at plus-1.45 per game -- a full six total turnovers created less.
Look no further when analyzing how a Houston team ranked 43rd in offense and 83rd in defense played its way to the conference title discussion in recent weeks. As two quality opponents came calling the last two weeks, the word was out. Hold on to the ball and the Cougars are beatable.
Can the Bearcats do that? In the last two games they lost the turnover battle by an average 1.5 per game.
Houston proved their susceptibility against both UCF and Louisville.
Louisville and UCF only lost the turnover battle by one in their defeats of the Cougars. The Cards won by seven and Knights used a goal-line stand in the final minute to preserve a 19-14 victory.
For Brendon Kay and company, avoiding defeat by turnover will be a test of what has been one of the few concerns amid the offensive resurgence. Despite the surgical nature of the team's offense the penchant for untimely interception and fumble have haunted them in the past. It caused their defeat at South Florida when the Bulls scored 26 points without an offensive touchdown.
A fumble by Tion Green in the red zone nearly allowed SMU to come back two weeks ago at Nippert Stadium.
Houston's three losses this season came by a combined 14 points. All were decided by one possession.
Consider in those losses, their average turnover margin is plus-0.67. In their seven victories they are plus-2.86.
Hold onto the ball, hold onto the win.
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Sean Kilpatrick's first roommate at Cincinnati is
now in his fourth year in the NBA. And
Lance Stephenson is off to a tremendous start averaging 14.3 points, 5.9
rebounds, and a team-leading 5.8 assists for the undefeated Indiana Pacers.
"We spoke the other night after the triple-double
game that he had," Kilpatrick told me. "He's
been telling me how focused he's been on just winning. That's something that's he's been harping on. He's been trying to enhance his game by just putting
the team in the best position to win."
Sean is actually about eight months older than
Stephenson and seriously considered leaving school after his junior year in hopes
of joining Lance in the pro ranks. But
Kilpatrick ultimately decided to return to UC for his senior season.
"It was very tough, but when you have a coaching
staff like we do and you have great parents on top of that, that makes things a
whole lot easier," said Kilpatrick. "It's
every kid's dream to try to go to the NBA and being able to fulfill your
dreams, but I really just focus on trying to get my degree now. That's something that will last forever - the
NBA won't. Coach has really talked to me
about putting things in perspective with my life. That's something that I really have to focus
on the most, and being able to come back here for my degree and being able to
accomplish what I want to accomplish with my teammates and coaches - that's
what means the most to me."
"Hopefully for him, he's going to have a tremendous
season, lead his team to victories, shoot a high percentage, and have an All
American-type season the way Steve Logan did his senior year," said head coach
Mick Cronin. "That was probably the last
great season that was had by a guard here at UC, and that would be a tremendous
way to go out for him. I fully think
that he's capable of doing it."
In Cincinnati's first four games, including two
exhibitions, Kilpatrick has scored 20, 24, 22, and 21 points. But he isn't just scoring. After regular season wins over NC Central and
NC State, Sean leads the team in assists (7) and steals (5), and has drilled
16-of-17 free throws. He's getting to
the free throw line by relentlessly driving to the basket instead of settling
for three-point shots.
"That's been a goal," Kilpatrick told me. "Coach has really been harping a lot on
trying to get to the foul line a lot because the hand-check foul is in play now. I'm so much bigger than the guards that are
going to be guarding me - they're going to have to foul me in some type of
way. Being able to get to that foul line
will put us in a better situation."
After playing for Team USA in the World University
Games in Russia last summer, Kilpatrick is looking to go to the NCAA Tournament
for the fourth straight year as a Bearcat.
But he's going to need help from teammates like Titus Rubles who's
averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in UC's first two games.
"It's funny because he is my roommate now," said
Kilpatrick with a laugh. "He's worked so
hard. He's deserves everything that he's
getting right now. During the summer
when I came back from Team USA, he was walking to the gym at one or two o'clock
in the morning. I would ask where he was
going and he was like, 'I'm going to get some shots up.' He's worked extremely hard and that's
something that I'm proud of him for. He's
one of the guys on the team that always has a chip on his shoulder, and I can
compare myself to him because we look at things the exact same way."
The 'Cats are also counting on Justin Jackson to
provide some offense this year after averaging 3.8 points as a junior.
"He knows how bad we need him," Kilpatrick
said. "The 20 pounds that he put on
helped us tremendously because now we're not afraid to throw the ball down to
him anymore. We know that he can score
at will because he's a lot faster and more athletic than the guys that are
going to be guarding him. Being able to
exploit that mismatch is something that helps us a lot."
If Kilpatrick scores as many points this year as he
did as a junior, he'll finish his career as the second-leading scorer in school
history behind Oscar Robertson. But his
impact on the program can't be measured on the stat sheet.
"I have like a Top 5 or Top 10 list of guys that I've
coached as an assistant that I have a relationship with," said assistant coach
Darren Savino. "He's in that Top 10 in
my mind as far as relationship and dealing with a guy. But as far as a leader? There's not a better leader that I've ever
been around in all of my days as an assistant coach in 19 years of college
basketball. That's Felipe Lopez, Adrian
Griffin who played in the NBA for a long time, different guys from the
different schools that I've worked at.
SK is all about winning and he's all about toughness. For Coach Cronin, that's the best thing that
you can have - a guy who is your best player but he's your hardest worker and
he buys in to everything that you tell him that the program and the team needs
and he's all for it. We're going to miss
his scoring and his basketball stuff, but we can always replace that. You can always get another player that can do
the basketball things, but as a person and a leader, that's going to be the
biggest thing that the program will miss when he's gone."
Fortunately for Bearcats fans, that day is still
more than four months away.
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After catching just three passes in each of the previous
two seasons, junior Shaq Washington has taken off this season with a team-high
The Maple Heights product has been an integral part of
the offense under Brendon Kay by catching numerous short passes and extending
them into long gains with his running talent.
At Maple Heights, he was a quarterback that led his team
to the Division II title game twice, losing to Winton Woods in 2009 and
defeating Trotwood Madison in 2010.
He is one of several Bearcats who have made the
transition from high school quarterback to another position successfully. Of the current roster, tight end Tyler Cogswell
was once a quarterback and Jordan Luallen and Munchie Legaux played other
positions before transitioning back.
From last year's team, Travis Kelce came as a quarterback
and eventually made it as a NFL tight end.
From years gone by, Chad Plummer and Brent Petrus were both quarterbacks
that finished their careers as receivers.
Here's the latest, No. 19 Mr. Washington:
In a season besieged by injuries early on, Brendon Kay found a way to not only be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in UC history but in recent history of FBS football.
CINCINNATI - When Brendon Kay finds a rhythm, he knows a run of completions are happening. The tempo moves, the line protects, the passes connect and the ball rarely touches the ground.
Not until the crowd clears and rubber pellets settle after games does the realization of the gaudy numbers strike him.
Though, to refer to these numbers as gaudy, would be a misnomer. The precision of Kay and the passing game - specifically over the last four games - ranks as nearly unparalleled. Not only in UC history, but major college football history.
Over the last four games the UC senior completed 102 of 128 passes for 1,190 yards. That's a completion percentage of 79.7.
For reference, FBS record for completion percentage in a season is 76.8 by Colt McCoy in 2008.
These aren't just dink and dunk numbers boosters. Over this span he's tossed nine touchdowns to three interceptions with a 9.3 average yards per attempt.
How many players this year compiled at least a 9.3 yards per attempt and even better than 70 percent completions? Two. Johnny Manziel (10.5/73) and Teddy Bridgewater (10.2/71).
The importance of these numbers and how they correlate to success on the field certainly not lost on Kay, who spends his time away from the field completing Capstone projects for his Masters in Business Administration.
"Definitely is (a stat that matters)," he said. "That's the way I am evaluated and grade out after games. I'm definitely worried about that. It's always on my mind but at the same time I have to make smart decisions. As long as we are winning that is all that really matters to me. Go out there and win ballgames."
This four-game run accentuates what quietly surfaced as one of the most efficient seasons by a UC quarterback of all time and by any FBS QB in recent years.
On the year he's thrown for 2,008 yards and completed 74 percent of his passes at 8.7 yards per attempt.
Only Kellen Moore in 2011 (74.3 percent) and McCoy in 2008 top his season rate.
The turning point came in the final moments of a loss at South Florida. Opting for a four-wide spread that runs through the eyes and arm of Kay, the offense flourished. Anthony McClung returned healthy to roam the slot along with emerging junior Shaq Washington breaking open on the other side.
Of Kay's 102 completions over the last four weeks, 61 of them have been completed to his dynamic slot receivers.
"You can't double team both of us," said McClung, who battled a hamstring injury early in the season. "It's just overall gameplan. Coach has been calling great plays and Brendon has been throwing great balls."
Consider how much more proficient Kay has been than any other QB in University of Cincinnati history. Looking at only a minimum of 200 passes thrown, the school leader in completion percentage is Zach Collaros at 62.4 percent.
Kay's current career completion percentage is 69.9.
"He usually doesn't force the ball and he is going to get it to the guy that is more open than anybody else," Tommy Tuberville said. "But I'm proud of Brendon, his percentage of completion is outstanding he usually makes all the good reads."
Precision will be necessary if the Bearcats hope to make a push at the American conference title. The next two weeks play to his strength. This weekend Rutgers will boast the No. 11 rushing defense in the country but a passing defense ranked 119 out of 125.
A week later a trip to Houston will mean confronting a defense that ranks 93rd in completion percentage allowed.
The road to setting up a potential showdown with Louisville to challenge conference undefeated UCF rides on the accuracy of Brendon Kay. The Bearcats - or by the numbers almost any team in FBS history - couldn't ask for a better scenario.
By: Scott Springer
The Kingsgate Marriott was the host to Bearcat royalty
Oct. 28 as the Legion of Excellence had their gathering and inductees into the
James P. Kelly Athletic Hall of Fame were announced.
Among those going in were former Naismith Player of the
Year Kenyon Martin and former UC quarterback Gino Guidugli. I was fortunate to cover the entire careers
As for Martin, I first saw him in an AAU game at UC when
he was a "man among boys" swatting shots down. He grew from a player that was somewhat shy
around the media to a well-spoken senior by the time he left.
Sadly, I was in Memphis the afternoon he broke his leg
and stood next to his locker after UC's conference tournament loss afterward
when he knew his season was over. For a
lesson in heart and soul, search for the UC/DePaul game in Chicago in 2000 and
watch the final 10 minutes. I watched
him live while covering Reds spring training in Sarasota and it still stands as
one of the more improbable finishes ever.
As for Gino Guidugli, he easily is my favorite Bearcat
from doing 14 years of football radio.
From entering the game against Army in the second quarter in 2001 and
pulling it out in his first college action, to walking off the field with him
in Fort Worth in 2004 with his MVP trophy, he provided Bearcat fans with
several memorable games.
Gino Guidugli's accomplishments were the building blocks
for where the program stands now. Given a supporting cast, I would bet the
ranch on him anytime in the final minutes of a game. Had he had access to some of the offenses
that came after his career, it's hard to say what kind of numbers he would've
Gino Guidugli in Brian Kelly's UC offense would probably
have knocked out several lights in the scoreboard. I also was able to cover Ben Guidugli who
continued the tradition of his brother in being a pleasurable interview.
It was a thrill and a half for me again be around guys
that I covered in the peak of my career and it was fun seeing again so many
folks that I don't get to see as much any more.
The anticipated debut of a highly-regarded freshman class came with the standard nerves as Mick Cronin searches for the best ways to utilize his new toys.
Every season presents a new puzzle for college coaches. Mick Cronin is no different. Only, this year's puzzle comes with three unique freshman pieces. Pieces essential for success. The challenge comes in finding the way Jermaine Lawrence, Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson fit into the Bearcats big picture without truly knowing their shape yet.
One method exists to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and how ready they are to help the 2013-14 edition of the Bearcats: Play them, review tape, repeat.
Hence, the conundrum.
"The key is to get them out there without losing," Cronin said following UC's season-opening 64-51 win against North Carolina Central on Friday.
Easier said than done at times. Nervousness and apprehension on the court come as standard in the freshmen adjustment process as learning where class buildings are located. For these 19-year-olds, pulling the trigger on shots or risky passes came without thought in high school. They were rarely challenged. Cronin fuming with arms crossed didn't await during their free and easy days as the superstar.
When games count and lights flip on inside Fifth Third Arena, the pressure changes.
"There's a great deal of pressure when first coming out," said junior Jermaine Sanders, who scored a career high 13 points Friday. "You have to be ready and focused. I remember being nervous, and not being ready to shoot. Just the adrenaline of the game and the big crowd."
Lawrence, Caupain and Johnson combined for 39 minutes Friday - many of them during tense final stretch as NCC cut a double-digit lead to as little as five. They also combined on 1 of 12 shooting.
Expecting a Dontonio Wingfield debut (30 points, 12 rebounds) would be unrealistic. For Johnson, who grew up dreaming of wearing a Bearcats jersey or Caupain and Lawrence whose high school performance categorizes their debuts as highly anticipated, meshing confidently in an environment filled with seniors and juniors with 60-plus games under their belt will take time.
In Cronin's eyes, all were nervous, all will be fine.
The infusion of these freshmen into the rotation won't happen smoothly in fledgling games of their career, but need to happen fast. North Carolina Central left Friday night, but big brother N.C. State arrives Tuesday in an early impact game on UC's non-conference slate.
Nobody understands the urgency more than senior team leader Sean Kilpatrick, searching for help carrying the offensive load but can only receive assistance from Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker these days via text.
"It's kind of hard to pull them to the senior's levels due to the fact they are new to this," Kilpatrick said. "In order for us to win, we need them to win. There is not a player on this team that we don't need. That's something we actually have to continue to keep working on with these young guys because it's not the exhibition games no more. The running starts now."
Once the rust of the first half chipped away to relaxing, Lawrence found a glimpse of comfort against NCC. After contributing the first freshman points late in the first half he drove with confidence the next play. Thus will be the process in the development. Quality plays grow confidence and another sliver of instinct peels back for all to see.
"When he scored it was a relief because we are not used to seeing that," Kilpatrick said. "When we are able to see when he's not playing like a freshman, playing like an older guy with the rip throughs, that helps us because we need more help on the scoring side."
Caupain tallied 13 minutes in relief of Ge'Lawn Guyn which Cronin dubbed "solid." The coach left happiest with a pull-up jumper he shot in the second half even though it didn't fall, the first show of offensive confidence arrived.
"He's got talent, he's got to play with courage," Cronin said.
Johnson didn't experience such problems. Of the three, he displayed the most confidence. When the Bearcats lead trimmed to single digits late, Johnson caught a pass at the 3-point line and fired off as if a senior on a heat check. For these 19-year-olds feeling the regular season pressure for the first time the moment not being too big for them counts as much as the sound of swish.
Relaxation will develop. Anxiety will fade. For the sake of UC's non-conference success, Cronin hopes sooner rather than later. When it does, these freshmen will be called upon.
"Round here we don't care what grade you are in, that doens't matter," Cronin said."Anybody that's got a jersey, the guys that play the best and give us the most chance to win are going to play the most."
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Quarterback Jordan Luallen emerged as a burst of energy offensively in recent weeks and created a special conclusion to a circuitous college career.
CINCINNATI - Jordan Luallen can easily be spotted on the sideline. Screaming, jumping and trash-talking. Hugging, waving and high-fiving.
His excitement level could only be matched by the mascot, maybe. Coach's attempted to calm him down in the past, but with little effectiveness. Players don't bother.
"I think people try to at first but then realize I am just kind of in my own zone," Luallen said.
After a touchdown run at Memphis Luallen offered a shush to the crowd.
"I don't know what I was thinking," he said. "It just happened."
Luallen's intensity explosion doesn't stem from crushing Five-Hour Energys in the locker room or a last-minute weight-room party pump. Enthusiasm begins the business of affecting the game in any way possible.
"That's just my personality, too," he said. "I want to be very involved in everything. Whether it's me playing or cheering on my teammates I feel a very big part of this team and this program. I put a lot of time and effort into it. Regardless of whether I am going to play or not that's just who I am."
Lately, his sideline persona took on a different feel.
For a player who transferred schools, dropped weight, added weight, evolved as a leader and unselfishly learned five different positions in hopes of an opportunity to help the team win on the field, Luallen treats Saturdays like they have been half a decade of unrecognized labor in the making.
Because that's what they are.
Luallen exited Center Grove High School (Ind.) expecting make an impact as the No. 22 ranked quarterback in the country by ESPN.com. His reputation began with running skills as a quarterback, so he headed to Georgia Tech with their triple-option offense. He'd eventually transfer to UC eventually playing quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, tight end and fullback.
He'd experience brief flashes of opportunity, but for the most part relegated to head cheerleader duty again this year as a tight end/fullback on a spread attack. That is, until the last three weeks.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran inserted a wildcat package into the offense with Luallen at the helm spelling Brendon Kay. Experiment evolved into effectiveness instantaneously. Over the last three games he's rushed 27 times for 151 yards at 5.6 yards per carry. Only Tion Green has rushed for more yards over that span (153).
Luallen also hit 5 of 6 passes for 72 yards. He's contributed a touchdown (one rushing, one passing) in each of the last two games.
"For all the stuff I have gone through, all the position changes, I don't know for everyone else but it means a little bit more to me," Luallen said. "A lot of these guys, some of my teammates, have been able to be successful since Day 1. I've had to work five years to be able to get consistent playing time for three games."
The firebrand off the field assumed the same role on it.
"He's always a spark," linebacker Greg Blair said. "He's always being vocal when we need a spark being a crazy dude on the sideline."
Saturday against SMU Luallen will take the field for Senior Day ceremonies as one of the most under appreciated models of what made Universtiy of Cincinnati football a household name.
The AFCA named Luallen to their 22-member All-Good Works team in September. He was the first Bearcats player to receive the honor. A regular in the community, member of the 2012 Big East All-Academic team and a player whose taken mission trips to Nicaragua and other countries, he's developed a full-circle education beyond football.
You can find Luallen hours before kickoff leading the team prayer at midfield. You'll find him this summer collecting his Masters and - he hopes -- beginning his career as a strength coach. He and his girlfriend even hope to one day adopt a child from Haiti.
There's college athletes who do everything right and then there's Luallen. Only, many role models aren't rewarded with more than a pat on the back and excellence in leadership award. Until three weeks ago Luallen stood in the express lane for the same fate. His time on the field Saturday would end with hugs for his parents following pregame ceremonies.
Instead, Luallen takes on the role of offensive spark in the Bearcats critical final month run toward a possible American title. His path to this moment weaved circuitously and with a pit stop at two schools and five positions but concludes the way he hoped from the beginning: Making plays as a college quarterback.
"It's definitely not anything I expected," Luallen said. "Kind of brought everything full circle, so that has been kind of cool being able to end my career where everything started. It wouldn't feel as good now if I hadn't gone through what I've gone through. Had I done this from the beginning, yeah, it would be cool. But it definitely wouldn't be nearly as satisfying for me to end my football career having some success."
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He may not quite have the following of "Hingle
McCringleberry" or "Fudge" of Key and Peele East/West College
Bowl fame, but UC's Silverberry Mouhon does have many appreciative fans.
The sophomore from Norcross, Georgia is the Bearcats' sack
leader and leads the defensive line in tackles.
No. 92 is a constant presence at 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds from his
defensive end position and hopes to spend considerable time in the SMU
backfield this Saturday.
Mouhon was the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in
his redshirt year of 2011 and will join all of the defensive ends returning
next year as none of them are seniors. (UC will lose defensive tackles Mitch
Meador, Adam Dempsey, Jordan Stepp and Marques Aiken.)
Here is the man with the best name in college football as
we spoke just outside of the Bob Goin Team Room in the Lindner Center.
A run to 6-2 will only be remembered as the appetizer to a meaty four-week main course for the 2013 Bearcats.
CINCINNATI -- Before this season began, little could be predicated about how it would unfurl. New coach, new system, new league, heck, even new turf.
Amid the months of transition and scrambling, one fact could be prognosticated fairly easy. The season would be judged by the month of November.
Non-conference wins against Purdue and Miami were nice for bragging rights and testing who will respond under bright lights. The first four four games of conference play would assure the Bearcats could improve against inferior competition.
The running through the dregs of the new American conference saw the last five games come against teams who currently own a 4-35 record. Only Memphis entered the game with a victory.
Those days are gone.
Beginning Saturday against SMU this final stretch will determine how the 2013 Bearcats are remembered, success or failure. The final four opponents are a combined 22-9 overall and 11-4 in conference.
SMU, Houston, Rutgers and Louisville all hover around the top of the conference standings.
Do the 6-2, 3-1 Bearcats belong alongside them? The record would infer yes, but we really don't know how good the Bearcats are because they've rarely been forced to be.
"I am excited to show the world who we are, what we do," senior Jordan Stepp said. "I feel like the last few weeks we put a few full team games out on the field."
The schedule couldn't break much better for a new year coach installing two new systems and personnel adjusting to them. Eight games in, Tommy Tuberville and his players understand what they do best and learned the hard way twice what they must avoid.
Finding a way to motivate players through a 4-35 proves a challenge. Tuberville can't hide the standings. He can't hide the ESPN bottom line. Kids know the deal, they research the scores. Yet, even a team whose struggled can pull an upset if the energy level doesn't match.
Just ask USF.
"It's going to be tougher," Tuberville said. "I told our team we can't play like we have been playing. We shoot ourselves in the foot we won't win a game the week we do that."
Not against these offenses. Sure, the Bearcats are ranked as the No. 4 defense in the country right now. Those stats can't be argued, but placed against perspective of competition lack bite. Keep in mind, there are only 125 teams in the FBS.
| || |
Three of the final four opponents rank in the Top 25 of national offenses. If the Bearcats defense wants to be recognized as one of the premier groups in the country, the time has come to prove it.
"We always come with that mentality we have to showcase we are the best defense in the nation regardless of what we are ranked," Blair said. "That's why I say that we always have something to prove until we are the No. 1 defense in the nation."
The beauty of this setup, all UC wants is within reach. Conference title, defining win, BCS bowl - a clean sweep of the final four games could likely deliver all three. They'd need only a single loss by UCF to share the title. The Knights still have Houston and SMU on the schedule.
Of course, it would mean a sweep of arguably four of the five best teams in the conference. Turning this closing run into a defining one will assure nobody claims the Bearcats didn't earn the position.
The schedule layout allowed Cincinnati to fade as a forgotten team in this title race, an unfamiliar role for a program who at least shared four of the last five conference titles. All the injuries, upsets and transitions are in the past now.
Time for this season to be judged.
"It's how you finish," Stepp said. "It's one of the strong suits of not only this football team but the players, the teams of the past. It's kind of in our DNA."
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Kenyon Martin was inducted into the UC Hall of Fame Monday. He not only defined an era, but in his induction defines the way Bearcats fans should treat it.
CINCINNATI -- What was the memory for you?
The turnaround jump shot?
The triple-double with 13 blocks against Memphis? Tossing the Bearcats on his back down 10 under four minutes against DePaul?
The absurd 3.5 blocks per game his senior season?
Was it the injury? Witnessing the evolution of a superstar?
Being named consensus National Player of the Year? Selection atop the NBA Draft?
Was it the style?
Was it the shimmy?
Depending on age, appreciation and seat location the specific memory from fan to fan differs dramatically.
For those die-hards who still line the front rows of Fifth Third Arena and refer to it as The Shoe, remembering particular portions of Kenyon Martin fade into a grander picture.
Kenyon Martin more than defined a team, a personality of Bearcats basketball. He defined the Bob Huggins Era. From Corie Blount to Danny Fortson, Bobby Brannen to Pete Mickeal, Steve Logan to Jason Maxiell, many players typified the attitude embodied over a span of 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
All follow in line behind Martin.
His rise from raw to revered over a four-year span illustrated the brilliance, effectiveness of hard work and Huggins philosophy. Martin fittingly for those clubs made his name on defense and did so better than any to wear red and black. Despite the anchor of Conference USA, Martin belonged second to none on the national landscape, exactly like the UC program in those days.
"For me to come from where I was my freshman year to being able to develop my game into becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA is a great honor to the work Coach Huggins put into me and the time that he stayed on me academically and athletically," Martin said. "I didn't have a father figure so without him none of this would be possible."
His senior year tournament run tragically never came, but his place as the face of Huggins brand of Cincinnati basketball remains cemented for ever. His induction into the UC Hall of Fame Monday night assured as much.
A deeper reality follows his return to campus and physical re-connection with the university and basketball program, though.
Kenyon not only defined the Huggins Era, but now in his induction defines the way Bearcats fans should treat it.
Too often a line in the sand had been drawn between those days and today's Bearcats. Fans, coaches, boosters, administration needed to take sides and separate the two. Or just separate from it.
That's what Kenyon did. He picked sides and made disparaging remarks about the school in frustration of the dissolution of a brand he represented. That was then, this is now.
"Things (with the university) over the years have been a little rocky," Martin said at his induction. "I made some statements a few years ago that I couldn't take back, but at the time that's how I felt. But I'm still a Bearcat at heart. Thanks for this honor and this is not the last you will see of me."
Everyone made remarks they couldn't take back in the years since. All felt the need to take a stand in their direction of choice.
But here stands Kenyon Martin, back for the first time since 2000, in the middle of a circle of players wearing the C-Paw holding the same aspirations he once did as a lanky, unsure center from Dallas, Texas in 1997.
To deny the ascension of UC basketball under Mick Cronin - the man who helped bring Martin to Cincinnati - would mean living in a past nobody worries about anymore. Not Huggins, who proudly looked on at Martin's ceremony Monday. Not Martin, who admits he's always watching and will always be a Bearcat.
So should all UC fans who stood at Martin's Senior Day and picked up their jaws after every block Martin snatched out of the air like a rebound.
Perhaps asserting Martin's return and induction connects two eras and officially buries any old dissension could be considered overly philosophical and unnecessary. Maybe. The amped atmospheres at Fifth Third the last few years of conference play and success in the NCAA tournament insist as much. Probably.
But the man who stood as the symbol of all considered great about the Huggins Era should stand now as a symbol of all that is great about this one. And the need to embrace it.
Connecting tradition with a blossoming future like Martin did Monday sets an example. One that could allow a new set of signature moments for fans to choose from.
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