It you want to see former UC standout George Winn
flash an ear-to-ear smile, all you have to do is mention a certain
helmet-haired NFL draft expert.
"Mel Kiper," said a grinning Winn."Every time he mentions me it's something
"I get excited every time he gives me a shout-out.I really appreciate it."
The ESPN analyst has been singing Winn's praises in
recent interviews previewing the upcoming NFL draft.
"A guy that I think will be a great 5th or 6th round
pick -- you're always looking for that next Alfred Morris -- is George Winn at
Cincinnati," Kiper told reporters."George
Winn, for me, is a very underrated player who I thought definitely showed the
capability of being a guy who can contribute in the National Football League as
a nice late-round pick."
Morris, who is listed at the exact same size as Winn
(5'10", 218), was selected in the sixth round by Washington last year and had a
sensational rookie season, setting the Redskins' single-season rushing record
with 1,613 yards.
"It's a privilege to be compared to someone who had
that great of a season." said Winn.
The Redskins' rookie - who played college ball at
Florida Atlantic - saw his draft stock dive when he ran the 40-yard dash in
4.67 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.Of the 44 running backs that ran in 2012, 33 posted faster times.
"I had a tight hamstring at the combine," Winn told
me."The couple of weeks I had to
prepare before my Pro Day helped me to improve the strength and health of my
hamstring which really helped me run a better 40."
In his March 13th Pro Timing Day at
Cincinnati, Winn improved his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.53.
"They say it doesn't matter much and you shouldn't
put much emphasis on it, but if it wasn't that important they wouldn't have us
doing it," said Winn."So it's clearly
Winn took part in the Bengals workout for local
prospects on Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium, and since he grew up near Detroit,
George will participate in a similar workout with the Lions on Wednesday.What is he hearing from NFL scouts?
"They like my running style, how I pass protect,
they like my special teams value, so I'm pretty excited," said Winn."I'm excited to get out here and prove what I
One year ago, nobody would have expected NFL teams
to have George Winn on their draft boards.In his first three years with the Bearcats, George never carried the
ball more than 40 times in a season. But following the departure of All-Big
East running back Isaiah Pead, Winn had a monster season in 2012, carrying 243
times for 1,334 yards and 13 TD.
"It's surreal," said Winn."To come from where I came from and to be
where I am now is amazing.It's a
"I always go back to my freshman year when I was
dead last on the depth chart.I started
at the very bottom and worked my way up to the top."
And if you believe Mel Kiper, Winn isn't finished
"You think about what George Winn is physically, and moving forward, I think he can hold up in this league," Kiper told reporters. "He's five-foot-10-and-a-half, almost 220 pounds, and played a lot faster than (his 40-yard dash time). I think he's got a chance to be a guy that could help your football team."
I pointed out to Winn on Tuesday that Mel Kiper is a
great guy to have in your corner at draft time.
"He definitely is," George agreed with a laugh.
Has Winn met the nation's most famous draft analyst?
"I haven't," said Winn."I'm looking forward to it.I'm going to thank him a lot."
If sophomore-to-be Ti'on Green becomes an outstanding running back
for the University of Cincinnati, Bearcats fans have his mother Leticia to
Green verbally committed to Cincinnati in October of
his senior year at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, FL, but by
National Signing Day the following February, Ti'on was wavering.
"My signing day announcement was broadcast live on
Bright House Sports because I won the (Central Florida) Player of the Year
award," said Green."I was about to sign
on the dotted line with USF and my mother moved the paper away and said,
'No.I will not let you ruin your
life.Get out and see something new and
meet new people.Get out of Florida and
get away from home.'She'll try to deny
that she did that.You really can't tell
on TV because you just see her slide her hand, but she moved the USF paper
right out of the way."
"He was teetering and leaning toward South Florida
for a minute, but my heart said Cincinnati," said Leticia Strickland."So I put the Cincinnati paper a little bit
above South Florida and he went from there."
"I had the Cincinnati paper on the left side and USF
was on the right," said Green."As I
went to sign the paper for USF, my mom slipped it out of the way.If you watch it on TV, it looked like we
practiced it, but she moved it and gave me a little smile."
"I just felt like Cincinnati is where he needed to
be," Leticia told me."I didn't have
anything against South Florida; I was just more at peace with Cincinnati."
Although Tommy Tuberville was not UC's head coach
when Green signed with the Bearcats in 2012, he's happy that Ti'on - and
Leticia - chose Cincinnati.
"Eddie Gran is one of the better running backs
coaches in the country and he likes him," said Tuberville."He likes his stamina.This is a tough sport for a running back and
what we're going to ask him to do is be very physical in carrying the ball,
blocking, and protecting the quarterbacks."
UC fans got a limited look at Green as a true
freshman last year as he carried 16 times for 72 yards (4.4 ypc), including a
2-yard touchdown vs. Miami.But
following the graduation of All-Big East running back George Winn, Ti'on will
be in the mix to get significant carries in 2013 along with Ralph David
Abernathy IV, and incoming junior college standouts Rodriquez Moore and Hosey
"I like Ti'on but there's going to be a lot of
competition there," said Tuberville."I
think Ralph probably came out (of spring practice) as the number one running
back, but he's not the type of guy that's going to be able to take on
linebackers on the blitz on every down.So he's not going to be an every-down running back."
"We're going to run the ball under this coaching
staff and I don't know of one back who can do it by himself," said Green."Whatever my role is, I'm just going to step
up and do my best to help the Bearcats be successful."
"I was so proud of him his first year because he
went from being a superstar who carried the ball on pretty much every play to
having a limited role," said Ms. Strickland."He was so positive and had a good spirit.I've always taught him to stay humble and
when your time comes, to handle business.He's carried that attitude and I'm a true believer in what's meant to
As a high school senior, Green showed his talent by
carrying 194 times for 1824 yards (9.4 ypc) and 21 touchdowns.Now he looks forward to learning the finer points
of his position from Coach Gran who has sent numerous running backs to the NFL
including Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown, and Brandon Jacobs.
"He's a phenomenal coach," said Green."He sits you down and breaks down the offense
as simply as possible so that you're able to understand it.His track record is crazy but he doesn't
mention it one time.He treats everybody
equally and gives everyone a fair chance to showcase their talents."
"The biggest thing for Ti'on is consistency," said
Gran."Each day you have to pay
attention to the details and the little things and that's my job as a coach -
to get him to do that.Once he decides
to do that, he's going to make a really big contribution to this football
"He's got to mature a little bit and he knows that,"
said Tuberville."He hasn't played that
much - especially on this level."
But Green will get his chance.Ti'on still has three years remaining to make
an impact at the school - he claims - that his mother ultimately selected.
"Maybe he took it that way, but he still had the
last say," said Strickland.
"I don't regret it at all," Ti'on told me with a
grin."I love it here."
Tommy Tuberville has been the SEC Coach of the Year
at two different schools, has a 7-3 record in bowl games, led Auburn to six
straight victories over archrival Alabama, and coached the Tigers to a perfect
13-0 season in 2004.
That's an impressive resume.
But it you're a golf fan like me and excited for the
start of The Masters, then this might be the most interesting Tuberville
factoid of them all:He's golfed at
"I have some friends who are members and I've had
the chance to play quite a few rounds," Coach Tuberville told me on Wednesday."Just being able to walk around that course
knowing that Jack Nicklaus hit a shot from here...or play Amen Corner...or play the
16th hole and try to hit it in the middle of the green and watch the
ball roll down toward where they always put the pin on Sunday.
"I've had a chance to stay in Butler Cabin, eat in
the clubhouse, and go to the Crow's Nest where the amateurs stay - it's been a
lot of fun just for the history of it."
So inquiring minds want to know:What's his best score at Augusta?
"I've never broken 80," said Tuberville."I've been pretty close to it - probably 81
or 82.The course is wide open - it's
not like some of these courses where you have to hit an iron off the tee to
keep it in the fairway.The biggest
challenges are the undulation in the fairways where you never have a flat lie
and then the slick greens.If you just
hit the ball on the green, there will probably be several times where your
caddy will say, 'You've hit the green but there's no way you can get it in the
hole from there in four putts.'"
Hold on a second.Has Tuberville actually four-putted on one of Augusta's greens?
five-putted," Tommy said with a laugh."The first time I played there, I hit a good drive on the first hole and
my caddy said, 'Whatever you do Coach, keep it below the pin. Don't hit this
shot above the pin.'Well I hit what I
thought was a good shot, but it was a little bit thin and rolled about 15 feet
past the hole.My caddy kind of grunted
and shook his head.I got up to the
green and I had a 15 foot downhill putt and he said, 'You're going to end up in
the sand trap.'I just barely touched the
ball and it rolled right into the trap."
With that story in mind, Tuberville says that the
winner this week will be the person that hits his approach shots to the most
favorable areas on the green to putt.Since Tiger Woods is the popular pick to win, I asked Tommy if he would
choose Tiger or the rest of the field?
"I'd take the field," said Tuberville."Tiger is not the Tiger of old even though
he's won a few times this year.Years
ago I would have taken Tiger over the field, but there are so many good young
golfers now that can hit the ball longer than him and putt.Tiger is putting as well as he's ever putted,
but I still say there are a lot of other guys that are putting just as well."
Allow me to point out that McClung held on to the
ball for a 29-yard gain with a 15-yard penalty tacked on.
I have no idea if UC's new head coach Tommy
Tuberville has seen video of either of those receptions, but he's watched
enough of McClung at practice to know that the Bearcats wide receiver doesn't
"He'll catch the ball across the middle," said
Tuberville."That's what really
separates a good receiver."
"When the ball is in the air, I feel that it's
mine," said McClung."I can't control
what happens after that.All I try to do
is look the ball in and make the catch for my team."
Unlike Tuberville, McClung has definitely seen the video of his gutsy catches after some gruesome
"Sometimes you get goose bumps and say, 'Wow that
really happened,' " McClung told me."But during the game, you have so much adrenaline going that you don't
really feel it."
After having 49 catches for 683 yards and 6
touchdowns as a sophomore, McClung battled a series of injuries last season and
saw his numbers drop to 34 catches for 539 yards and 2 TDs.To his credit, Anthony played with pain and
appeared in 12 of 13 games.
"I pulled my quad, hurt my groin, my knee - there
were a lot of different things," said McClung."But I'm a tough guy.I always
want to play for my team."
Now the senior-to-be is healthy again and it
shows.In Cincinnati's first scrimmage
this spring, McClung finished with 4 catches for 151 yards and 3 touchdowns,
and in Saturday's second scrimmage held at Paul Brown Stadium, Anthony led all
receivers with 7 grabs for 92 yards.
"He's deceptive," said Tuberville."He's one of those guys that doesn't show up,
doesn't show up, and then all of a sudden makes big plays.
"I've been very impressed with him.He works hard and never says anything."
McClung might not say much to his new head coach,
but he's very talkative to the less-experienced receivers that Cincinnati will
be counting on this season.
"He's been a great leader in the room," said
receivers coach Blake Rolan."The kids
listen to him and that makes my job easier.They've been trained well in the past and won a lot of games and he
understands what it takes."
"They ask me a lot of questions," said McClung."When I was younger I used to look up to
great receivers like Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Vidal Hazelton, and Kenbrell
Thompkins.They were leaders to me and
now I have to fill that role and be the leader to the younger guys."
"He's a quick learner," said Rolan."He studies the game and it means a lot to
Following the departures of Thompkins and tight end
Travis Kelce, McClung appears likely to be Cincinnati's number one receiver in
"I trust him to get open, and he trusts me to get
him the ball," said quarterback Brendon Kay."The more reps we get together, the better we'll be as a duo."
"I have a great opportunity with two great
quarterbacks," said McClung."Hopefully
we'll win a lot of games.But even if
I'm not the number one guy, I want to play a role and make plays when my number
is called.The bottom line is that we
want to win the league title outright this year."
Well-stated from a guy who will go over the middle
to get to the top.
After grinding through hundreds of practices over the last several years, Cincinnati's veteran players figured that they had heard every motivational tactic that Mick Cronin had in his bag of tricks. But he surprised them on Monday as they began preparing for Friday's NCAA opener against Creighton.
"I told our guys that we have two goals for this week: Going 2-0 would be goal number two," Coach Cronin told me. "And goal number one, which we can achieve regardless of outcome, is to have more fun that any other team in the tournament. In practice, in our travel, and with each other.
"They need to have fun. They've earned it. I want them to enjoy their accomplishments. It's an accomplishment to make the tournament and I'm structuring things this week so that they can enjoy it."
"What's gotten into him?" said Sean Kilpatrick when I asked for his initial reaction to Coach Cronin's remarks to the team. "We've never heard him say that. It's good because it makes the players comfortable and reminds us that he's with us. Not only does he want us to win, but he wants us to have fun."
"He says a lot of stuff, so we were like, 'I wonder how he's going to act tomorrow,' said Cashmere Wright with a laugh. "But it seems like he meant what he said and he's following through on it."
One way that Coach Cronin showed the players that he meant what he said was by opening Tuesday's practice to the public. It virtually guaranteed a less stressful environment with no tirades from the head coach.
"We knew when the fans were here that practice wasn't going to be crazy," said JaQuon Parker.
"I've thought a lot about the whole event and I'm trying to make it the most memorable for our players," said Cronin. "There's no secrets this time of year anyway with the film and the scouting -- everybody has everybody's play calls and there's nothing that's going to go on at practice that people don't already know about our team.
"We have to make sure that we're fresh on Friday, so you won't see World War III at practice."
Of course, there's a method to his (March) madness. Coach Cronin undoubtedly hopes that a relaxed team will perform well in Philadelphia.
"I think that's been our problem," said Parker. "We've been too uptight around here. Now in our last few practices, we've been loose and having fun. It feels good."
"We're our best when we relax and nobody worries about making mistakes and we're just out there playing basketball," said Wright.
But don't get the mistaken impression that having fun and working hard are mutually exclusive.
"It will not detract from our preparation -- I can assure you that," said Cronin. "Our guys understand how hard you have to play to win games. We play in a league where if you don't play hard you don't even have a chance."
"He's telling you to go out there by any means necessary and get it done," said Parker. "Just win and have fun doing it. That means a lot to us."
"It's my last go-round and I'm just enjoying every day, every practice, and getting ready for the game," said Wright.
Of course, there are limits in the quest to have the most fun of any team in the field of 68. For example, the players do not expect to have their nightly curfew lifted in Philadelphia.
"We've got to have curfew," said Kilpatrick with a grin. "That's mandatory. If you leave some of our guys with no curfew, they might not come back."
And while the players would undoubtedly be able to have fun if given free rein on the road, there's nothing more enjoyable in the NCAA Tournament than advancing.
"At the end of the day, if this is going to be our last hurrah, let's go all-out," said Kilpatrick. "Especially for our seniors. This is their last shot and they deserve to have fun, so we're going to try to make a run in this tournament."
"Once you're in you've got a chance," said Cronin. "Now it's time to win games."
So why would Eddie Gran - one of Florida State's top
assistant coaches and one of the nation's best recruiters - leave such a
storied program to join Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati?
"He was the best man at my wedding," said Gran with
"I knew I had a chance to hire him because nobody
knows him as well as I do," said Tuberville.
The two coaches met in 1989 when Tuberville was a
defensive coach at the University of Miami and Gran was a graduate assistant at
East Carolina under defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano.
"We were at a coaching convention in San Francisco
and Coach Tuberville was getting ready to go ski," Gran told me."They had just won the national championship
at Miami and Coach Pagano introduced me to him.I met him and shook his hand and he said, 'Be there on March the 10th.'That was the beginning."
"I raised Eddie from a pup," said Tuberville."I've seen him grow up from a young man that
wanted to coach to becoming one of the better ones in the country.I'm proud to be his friend."
When Tuberville got his first head coaching job at
Ole Miss, he hired Gran to be his running backs coach.After four years there, it was on to Auburn
where they coached together for another 10 seasons.
"He taught me what work ethic was, he taught me that
technique and fundamentals are the things that win games, and you have to get
kids that are smart and willing to work hard," said Gran."If you get that combination and have a great
work ethic you have a chance.And he
taught me to make sure that you treat people the way you want to be
treated.It's not that hard."
Now Tuberville is giving his long-time assistant his
first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator.
"To be a coordinator has always been a dream of
mine," said Gran.
"I've watched him grow and work at it and it's hard
to become a coordinator when you're the running backs coach," Tuberville told
me."I've always told him that you have
to know more than just the running backs.So over the last six or seven years, he's really made himself learn the
quarterback position, the offensive line position, and all he needed was
somebody to give him a chance.I know
what he can do."
Tuberville's confidence in Gran's ability to make the
step to coordinator was evident in the makeup of Cincinnati's offensive
"I let him hire his coaches," said Tuberville."I interviewed them too, but I said, 'You
know these guys...you know what you want to do.You pick 'em out and we'll sit down and interview as many as we
can.'He did a good job and they're working
well together.This is all new for him,
but he's excited.
"I told him that the number one thing that he had to
do was hire a good quarterback coach and you've got to lean on him.Darin Hinshaw (former QB coach at Tennessee)
is a good guy and he works well with Eddie and I think it's going to be a good
"He allowed me to hire a staff that I think is as good
as any in the country," said Gran."It's
a great unit and we're all on the same page."
In addition to coordinating Cincinnati's offense, Gran
will continue to recruit in South Florida.
"I'm in my 28th season and I have not had
another recruiting area - ever - at any school," said Gran."There are high school head coaches in South
Florida now that I recruited when they were players.
"The coaches here will all have a Cincinnati area -
all nine of us will have 10 schools in this area.Ohio is where we are going first.But everybody will also go out into other
areas, and for me, that will be South Florida."
"I made him stay in South Florida all of his life
and he's developed a lot of relationships," said Tuberville."That goes a long way in recruiting.Eddie has the personality where he can sell,
and recruiting is nothing but selling yourself, your school, and your football
team.He's earned a lot of respect from
high school coaches because when he takes a player, he takes care of them.He makes sure they get an education number
one, treats them fair, and those coaches in South Florida understand that.It's made him one of the best recruiters that
I've ever been around."
Gran is also a man of faith whose life was changed
when the third of his four daughters was born in 1999.
"She had a rare brain disease and was given between
two and four weeks to live, and she lived almost six years," said Gran."It made me a better father, it made me a
better husband, and it made me a better coach.I really understood where my priorities were.She gave me and my family the greatest gift
that a man could ever have:We all know
where we're going when this life ends.We're very blessed for that."
"I remember getting that call from him three or four
days after she was born," said Tuberville."He said, 'I don't know what's going on, but she's not responding.'I tell you, he and his wife Rosemary were two
tough troopers - It's awfully tough to lose a child.All of the players there at Auburn rallied
around him and I think the kids learned a lot from it."
Eddie and his wife started a charity called The
Sydney Gran Foundation to support children's hospitals and other families whose
children are facing serious illness.
"We would like to raise somewhere between 60 and 80
thousand dollars because that would get us up to $500,000 dollars and then it
would be endowed forever," said Gran."Sometime
here, I think we'll have another fundraiser to try to help out the foundation."
But for now, Gran is busy getting to know his
players...and happy to be reunited with his old boss.
"I was away from Coach Tuberville for four years,
and to get back together with him is just fantastic," said Gran.
"He has a lot of enthusiasm and works well with
kids," said Tuberville."He's going to
make a great head coach.He'll be a head
coach in a few years and I think this is the next step.He's interviewed for a lot of head coaching
jobs, but he's been turned down because he's never made his own calls.Well, now he gets that chance.Let's see what he can do."
Brendon Kay has already earned a bachelor's degree
in health education and is working toward a master's degree in business
education.But right now, the Bearcat
quarterback is also studying a foreign language - as in the offense of new head
coach Tommy Tuberville.
"We're teaching them a different language on offense
and defense and when you do that, you have to start from ground zero and work
up," said Tuberville.
"You've got to live it," Kay told me."You've got to be in the office and the film
room.Before you go to bed, you've got
to study and get this terminology down because you're learning a new language."
But the changes on offense aren't strictly limited
"The plays are a little bit different too," said
offensive coordinator Eddie Gran."We're
more of a pro-style, multiple set - but there is a lot of carryover.They have to learn the terminology and understand
where we're coming from and where we're trying to go offensively."
"We've kept as much in common with the past offense
as we could, but obviously there are a lot of different things," said
Tuberville."So when you change just one
or two things it throws everything into a spin."
Tuberville said he was pleased with how the offense
functioned at UC's first spring practice on Friday, and added that it is helpful
to have experienced quarterbacks in Kay and Munchie Legaux.
"You couldn't ask for two better guys," said
Tuberville."They come to my office and
talk, and they ask about the quarterbacks that I've coached before and what
they can learn from their experiences.
"I've had fun talking to both of them about life,
and football, and leadership, and little things that can help them be better."
After starting the final five games last season and
passing for 332 yards and 4 touchdowns to earn MVP honors in the Belk Bowl victory over Duke, Kay
is the odd-on favorite to be the starting quarterback next season, although
Legaux will be given the opportunity to win his old job back.
"It feels good, but at the same time, I have to go
out and compete every day," said Kay."The
big thing about competition is that it keeps you on your toes.You have to stay ready and can never
relax.That's going to help me and
Munchie get better."
Kay didn't know that he would be on the team this
year until December 17th when he was granted a sixth year of eligibility
by the NCAA after suffering multiple injuries that limited his participation in
2008 and 2011.
"I got the news during our bowl prep," said Kay.I talked to (trainer) Bob Mangine beforehand
and he was pretty sure that I would get it.Then (compliance director) Maggie McKinley came down and gave me the
news.I gave her a big hug, celebrated a
little bit, and then told my family.Everything
happens for a reason, and God has a plan for everything."
"He's a sixth-year senior and he's a guy that has all
of the leadership qualities," said Gran."I'm excited about how he comes in and wants to learn.When we first started with him we had to say,
'Hold on, hold on...we still have to install.'I'm excited about it because the guys at that position have bought in to
what we're trying to do."
It's only a matter of time before they're speaking
the same language.
When Sean Kilpatrick watched footage of Sunday's lopsided
loss at Notre Dame, he felt like he was watching the wrong guys in the Cincinnati
"It didn't look like us at all," Sean told me."It didn't even feel right.Honestly, it didn't even feel like I had a
Bearcat jersey on - it just felt like I had a shirt on."
The Bearcats only scored 41 points - their lowest total
in Mick Cronin's seven years as head coach - and JaQuon Parker was the only
Cincinnati player to finish in double digits with 12.Kilpatrick scored a season-low 6 points, and
Cashmere Wright failed to score for only the second time in his last 113 games.
"We've really played one bad game this year," said
Coach Cronin."Our three best players
average 41 points a game and they got 18.When that happens, you're going to be in trouble.
"We need to get our main guys healthy and playing
well because they're the answer.I get a
lot of questions about production from Cheikh Mbodj, or David Nyarsuk, or this
guy or that guy - we have to make sure that we're getting Cash, JaQuon, and SK
open and getting the ball where they can make plays for us.That's the answer.For every team in basketball - high school,
college, or pro - your best players have to play well or you're not going to
win.So that's my focus.I have to do everything that I can to help
them play well."
Kilpatrick's scoring ability is especially vital to
Cincinnati's success.Sean is averaging
19.4 points in the Bearcats' wins this year, but only 13.6 in their
losses.The junior guard is fourth in
the Big East in scoring at 17.6 per game, despite being the focal point of
every opponent's defensive scouting report.
"It can be frustrating but then again, I like it,"
said Kilpatrick."It's making me a
better player and it means that people respect me for what I do on the
court.But it's tough.It's one of the hardest things that I've ever
had to overcome because this is the highest level of basketball that I've ever
played and to have two or three guys guarding you is really difficult."
Despite the constant defensive harassment,
Kilpatrick has managed to deliver.This
week, Sean was named one of 30 candidates for the
2013 Naismith College Player of the Year award and ESPN's Jay Bilas selected
Kilpatrick among his six "most clutch players" in college basketball.
"That's a strong statement coming from someone like
him," Sean told me."I thank my team for
that because they put me in those types of situations where I have the ball at
the end of games. I just try to make the
right plays and whatever is open is open."
After dropping five of their last six games, the
Bearcats are desperately in need of a win on Saturday vs. UConn to solidify
their hold on a NCAA Tournament berth.But Kilpatrick says he is not the least bit concerned with "bubble"
"All we can control is what happens in the next game
and that's what we're focusing on," said Kilpatrick."We're not worrying about the tournament or
anything like that.
"We know exactly what we're capable of.When things aren't going right, a lot of
people aren't going to be behind us, but we have each other and that's the best
thing about this team."
Hopefully, we'll all recognize the guys in the
Cincinnati uniforms on Saturday.
Before hurting his right knee against DePaul on
January 15th, Cashmere Wright was playing as well as any guard in
the Big East.
The senior from Savannah, Georgia had scored
20-or-more points in three of his previous four games and for the season was
averaging 15.1 points on 47% shooting - including 44% from 3-point range.
Since returning from the injury, Wright has been
mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, going 23-for-95 overall (24%)
and 12-for-60 (20%) from 3-point range, while averaging 8.0 points in nine
In Sunday's loss at Notre Dame, Wright did not
attempt a shot in the first half and finished the game 0-for-2 in 23 minutes.
"He's lost his confidence," said Mick Cronin on his weekly
radio show on Monday."If you go five,
six, seven games and shoot 20%, you would lose your confidence too.
"It's a mental thing and I have to do a good job of
making sure that his mind is in the right place.Internal pressure that players put on
themselves and external pressure that players feel from family, friends, and
fans - some let it affect them more than others.He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt
that he lost his confidence."
So how does Cronin plan to help Wright get it
back?By reminding Cashmere that he
doesn't have to make every shot to help the Bearcats win.
"I have to do a better job of making sure that his
mind is on defense and leadership," said Cronin."He's got to lose himself in the game and
give us everything that he can with his steals.He's not the all-time leading scorer at Cincinnati.Or the all-time assists leader.But he is the all-time steals leader and he
can give us that.That's what he has to
focus us because if he doesn't give us that we're in trouble.
"My goal is to get him to realize that he did have a
great game (after the injury).He was
3-for-14 from the field in that game, but he had a great game.It was the Villanova game.He had 14 deflections and his energy and
defense inspired his team to get 46 deflections and beat a NCAA Tournament team
by 18 points."
Over the next month, Wright is almost certain to set
Cincinnati's all-time record for games played.After watching his senior point guard play through knee and shoulder
pain for much of his career, Cronin wants to see Cashmere relax and finish
"He's a conscientious kid who wants to play well,"
said Cronin."He's unlike me, because I
am oblivious to other people's opinion.If I have one gift, it's that I have tunnel vision on doing my job.Whether your opinion of me is great or whether
your opinion of me is poor, it doesn't really affect me.Unfortunately, kids can be affected a lot
more than you think this day and age.He
is a very conscientious kid who is putting a lot of pressure on himself.
"He's trying as hard as he can to help his team and
I just have to make sure that he does two things:Worry about defense and stay aggressive.You can't worry about making mistakes.I have to get him in an aggressive mindset on
both ends of the floor, and whatever mistakes he may make we have to live
with.But he has to be on the attack and
he has to be aggressive or we're not going to be a very good team.
"I'd like to get us to where we're playing well, and
helping Cash get his confidence back is probably the number one thing that I
have get done as a coach."
You probably know the basic details of the Tim
Grows up a competitive swimmer in the Virgin
Islands...eventually takes up basketball as a teenager...gets discovered by Wake
Forest...becomes one of the greatest players in history.
But here's a nugget that you might not know:The coach at Wake Forest that found Duncan
was current UC assistant Larry Davis.
"We had a kid abruptly leave that was starting at
center for us as a freshman," Davis recalled."He walked in one day and said that he was homesick and we couldn't talk
him out of it.Going into the spring, we
had no guy on our roster that was bigger than 6'8".So (head coach) Dave Odom called all of the
assistants in and told us to turn over every rock because we had to find a
center.So I started making calls.I had met a guy by the name of Holman Harley
who was working for an agent at that time, and I called him and said, 'Do you
know of any big guys anywhere?'And he
said, 'Yea, there's a 6'10" kid in the Virgin Islands.'He gave me Tim's name so I tracked him down,
got him on the phone, and asked who he was being recruited by and he said, 'I
got some letters from Delaware State and one letter from Providence.'
"About the fourth time that I called Tim on the
phone I asked him if he had ever been to the United States.He said, 'Yes, I have a brother-in-law in
Ohio and I went to Ohio State's basketball camp last summer.'I said, 'Is Ohio State recruiting you?'Tim said, 'No.'I got off the phone and immediately called
Holman Harley and said, 'Are you sure this kid can play?He's 6'10", he was at Ohio State's basketball
camp and they're not recruiting him.How
can that be?'Holman said, 'Larry, I'm
telling you - the kid can play.'
"I went in to Coach Odom and told him that I might
have found a kid and he said, 'Where is he at?'I said, 'The Virgin Islands.'It
wasn't hard to talk him into making the trip.So Dave went down to see him and I'll never forget - he calls me on the
phone and said, 'You're not going to believe this guy.He's 6'10", he can run like a deer, he's got
great hands, and we're bringing him in.' Tim ended up visiting Providence and
Wake Forest.It was 45 degrees when he
visited Providence and 80 degrees when he visited us.That's when I knew that we were getting him."
And that's how Larry Davis helped sign perhaps the
greatest under-the-radar recruit in college basketball history.
While the former head coach at Oak Hill Academy
(1983-85) and Furman University (1997-2006) hasn't landed the next Tim Duncan
at Cincinnati - at least not yet - his relentless recruiting efforts have been
instrumental in helping Mick Cronin rebuild the program.
"I've never been around a guy that loves recruiting,
evaluating, and working like he does," said Cronin."Most guys his age become the resident
veteran coach on the bench, but he loves recruiting like a 25-year-old.He can't get enough of it.He loves it."
"A lot of colleagues knock recruiting, but I like
it," the 56-year-old Davis told me."I
like meeting people, I like travel, and it's a challenge.It's competition and I like competition -
what can I say.
"It can drive you nuts because kids make decisions
based on some of the craziest things that you could ever imagine, and there are
always hidden land mines out there.You
have to figure out who is on your side and who is not on your side and
sometimes, somebody that you don't even know is in the background either
helping you or killing you.So when you
get a kid to commit and sign, it's a great feeling."
Cronin became aware of his colleague's zest for
recruiting nearly 20 years ago when Davis was an assistant coach at Ball State.
"We met when I was a high school coach at Woodward
and he was trying to outwork people for Eric Johnson," said Cronin."He ended up at Louisville, but Eric would
tell you to this day that the best job that was done in the recruiting process
was by Larry Davis.He loved Larry
Davis, but it was hard to turn down Louisville for Ball State."
Observing Coach Davis's recruiting persistence made
a strong impression on his future boss.
"My dad taught me to be smart enough to listen to
older guys and Larry helped to guide me in the business," said Cronin."I've tried to pattern myself after his
effort in recruiting."
The key word in the last sentence is effort.
"Young assistant coaches in our business need to
spend a week with him in July," said Cronin with a laugh."When you're out there in July, he's watching
games from 8 am until midnight.He's not
a guy that will watch a few games, get a workout in, and go out to dinner.He's in the gym when the first game starts
and the last game ends.He'll tell me
who I need to see and I'll say, 'Where are you going?'And he'll say, 'Well, I'm going to see a half
of this game and a half of that game and then I'm going to go check on this
kid.'If he lays eyes on 10 kids he
might find that guy that wasn't highly-rated - whether it's a Sean Kilpatrick
or a JaQuon Parker."
While Davis has inked his share of big-name recruits
over the years such as 11-year NBA veteran Bobby Jackson when Larry was an
assistant at Minnesota, his ability to find lesser-known recruits has been
invaluable at Cincinnati.
"What I've learned is to be able to rate his tone of
voice," said Cronin."He call and say, 'I
think I've found one,' and I can tell by the way he says it how good that he
thinks the guy is.I can tell by his
excitement level that we had better hurry before too many people see the
"Scouting services and ratings are great, but I've
always been taught from the first day that I got into this that you should
judge with your own eyes," said Davis."You try to see what a guy's potential is down the road.Some of it, quite honestly, is a little bit
of luck, but you have to have an eye for it too and know some of the
characteristics that you're looking for.I take pride in trying to do that and I work for a boss who could care
less about the ratings.Mick wants to
know if the guy can play or not - that's the most important thing to him."
"What Larry understands is that good players don't
have to be highly-rated," said Cronin."He believes in out-working the opponent.He doesn't just go to a city and see one
practice.He'll talk somebody into
working out at six in the morning, so that he can see another kid practice at
three, and another kid play at seven.It's sheer numbers.In sales, the
more people that you get in front of, the more sales that you're going to
have.In recruiting, the more guys that
you see means that you're eventually going to see somebody that can play.That's how you find Hasheem Thabeet in a back
gym when nobody else was recruiting him at the time."
The 7'3" Thabeet was a late signee in Coach Cronin's
first year at Cincinnati who chose UConn over UC and ultimately became the 2nd
overall pick in the NBA draft - unfortunately in recruiting, you don't always
get the guy.But Davis has won his share
of battles and landed Troy
Caupain and Jamaree
Strickland in this year's early signing period.According to Rivals.com, Caupain is a 3-star
recruit while the 6'10" Strickland received 3 stars from 247sports.com.
But before you put too much stock into the scouting
services, you should consider the Wake Forest class of 1993.
"When the recruiting rankings came out that year,"
said Davis, "we had signed three or four other guys so it listed their names
and how many stars they received and ended with, 'and Tim Duncan.'No comment, no rating, just 'and Tim
Duncan.'In the end, he was the number
one guy in the country."