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Shaquille Thomas is Working and Waiting

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UC freshman Shaquille Thomas is from a basketball family.  He is the nephew of former NBA first-round draft pick Tim Thomas and the brother of current WNBA All-Star Essence Carson. 

But what about that first name?  Is he named for Shaquille O'Neal?

"No I'm not," Thomas told me with a grin.  "And when you watch my game, you won't think so."

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Unfortunately, Cincinnati fans will have to wait until next season to see Thomas in action.  The 6'7" wing player was one of four basketball recruits from NIA Prep in Newark, New Jersey that was ruled ineligible to play this year by the NCAA.    

"It was the school - it was never me," said Thomas.  "I always had decent grades and a decent SAT score, but it was the school that I went to."

The NCAA has tried to crack-down on so-called diploma mills in recent years, but NIA Prep has had 28 athletes certified to play at Division I schools since 2006.

"When the NCAA, for whatever reason, feels that it can't certify grades from certain prep schools, they pull the plug on those schools," said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  "But there's no way that Shaquille and his grandmother could have known that because the year before, his prep school was certified.  He had no opportunity to move to another school, which is why the NCAA granted him a waiver to attend the University of Cincinnati." 

The waiver allows Thomas to be on scholarship and attend classes this year, and he'll have four years of eligibility remaining.

"Shaq did everything he could, Cincinnati did everything that it could do, and the NCAA cooperated with us as much as it could possibly cooperate," said Coach Cronin.  "You hear people say, 'It hurt our team.'  Well, he's a real person and he was a nervous wreck.  You're talking about a young kid with an uncle that played in the NBA for 15 years and a sister that plays in the WNBA - basketball is a major part of his life.  He and his grandmother were so happy when we found out that he could at least come to Cincinnati."

Thomas was eligible to begin practicing with the team in mid-December following the fall semester.

"I think I'm doing pretty well," said Thomas.  "I try to help the guys get prepared.  I want to help the team in every aspect of the game and I just try to go hard in practice.  That helps the team and it helps me get better too."

"I think he's doing a great job," said sophomore Sean Kilpatrick of his roommate.  "It hurt him when he couldn't practice.  It took basketball out of his life for a couple of months and when he came back, you saw a brightness on his face."

Kilpatrick voluntarily redshirted at UC two years ago and has helped Thomas deal with the frustration of not being able to play as a freshman.

"He's dealing with it well," said Kilpatrick.  "He doesn't always look at it as a negative.  I tell him, 'You can't look at it as a bad thing.  Coach is going through this with you.'  I think he'll be alright."

"(Sean) is definitely helping me," said Thomas.  "He tells me to keep my head up and next year will be here before I know it." 

Thomas averaged 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists at NIA Prep last year, and will give the Bearcats size on the perimeter.  

"He's a big guard," said Coach Cronin.  "You look at Syracuse and they have big guards like Kris Joseph on the wing.  6'7" guys that are catching alley-oop dunks or driving to the basket and dunking the ball over people.  Shaq can really handle the ball and beat his man off the dribble.  As he becomes a better perimeter shooter, he'll become really tough to defend.  He has very quick feet and he's an excellent passer.  Right now offensively, he's a great athlete who can handle the ball and pass and he'll fit great in our offense."

"He's going to be special," said Kilpatrick.  "He has great athletic ability and he has heart that a lot of people don't have.  He can break-down a defender."

Saturday night's game at Rutgers would have been a homecoming for Thomas who hails from Paterson, NJ.

"Rutgers guards Myles Mack and Eli Carter are from my hometown, so I really wish I was playing," said Thomas.  "They beat UConn and Florida, so I'm really proud of those guys."

Shaquille will get the chance to compete against the Rutgers duo next year, which was one of the reasons why he chose Cincinnati.

"It was definitely a good fit for me," said Thomas.  "You get to get away from home, but you still get to play against all of your friends in the Big East.  Every team that we've played again, I probably know two or three people on the team.  Cincinnati is a great up-and-coming program.  I love the city, the coaching staff, and everything about the Bearcats." 

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The Mick Cronin radio show moves from Thursday to Monday next week.  Come out and join us to talk Bearcat basketball and feast on the world's best ribs from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it, I hope you'll tune in on 700 WLW.

 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Butch Jones Is Signed, Sealed, and Delivering

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Butch Jones and Whit Babcock have been friends since 2006 when they worked together for nearly two years at West Virginia University.  But their relationship changed three months ago when Babcock was hired as UC's Athletic Director and became the head football coach's boss.

"We laugh about that," said Babcock.  "We acknowledge that up front - there are certain things that we're friends on, and then there are other days where I have to tell him something that he doesn't want to hear and vice versa.   I guess that's why I wear a tie every day - so that he knows that I'm the boss."

"Sometimes I have to tell him to loosen that tie up," said Jones with a laugh.  "But it isn't difficult because we have mutual respect for each other.  We're able to separate our personal relationship and our business relationship."

Their relationship helped produce the three year contract extension (thru 2017) that Jones signed on Tuesday.  The new pact will pay the 2011 Big East Conference Coach of the Year more than 10 million dollars - before incentive bonuses - if he stays at Cincinnati for the next six seasons.    

"Whit was extremely proactive right from the very beginning and that meant more to me than anything else in the contract," said Jones.  "The way our administration was proactive at a very early stage in our season, showed me that they really believe in the foundation that we're building, and our philosophy for what we want in our football family."

"If I played a small role - great - but I really think it comes down to the character of our coach," said Babcock.  "Butch is grateful for the opportunity here and as hard as he sold me on the University of Cincinnati when the A.D. job was open, I know that he cares about it and loves it.  He wants to be a part of building this thing and finishing what he started."

Jones has won three league championships in his five years as a college head coach, including a share of the Big East title this season.  Next week, he's expected to sign the most highly-touted recruiting class in school history.  Scout.com currently has Cincinnati's projected class ranked #23 in the country and #1 in the Big East.

"He's even better than I thought and I knew he was good," said Babcock.  "People take for granted that every team plays hard every week and they don't.  I'm just really impressed with how hard our team plays for him.  That comes from the leader.  It's an overused term, but they would try to run through a wall for him."

"I'm definitely excited for the university and the program," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "He's done a great job of installing what he wants in a program which is family and toughness.  I think we've come a long way in doing what he wants and it's only going to get better.  I've read that they have a great recruiting class coming in and last year's class was great, so it's great that Coach Jones decided to stick around."

"I know that it doesn't really affect me because I'm a senior, but he's taking this program in a good direction and I want the best for the team," said linebacker JK Schaffer.  "I am absolutely happy that he is signing a contract extension.  I see this program over the next few years climbing even higher than it has over the last four years."

"I thought it was time that somebody stepped up and said, 'Hey, we're committed to being here.'" said Coach Jones.  "I'm excited about what we're doing in this football program.  We have a lot of things to be proud of, and we're going to continue to grow, and build, and elevate this program into elite status."

The contract extension also includes a $250,000 increase to the salary pool for assistant coaches, raising the total to $1.85 million.

"You win with consistency and continuity and I'm excited about what we're building and the possibilities that we have for the future," said Coach Jones.  "The big thing for me is being able to continue to attract the best staff in the country and keep them intact and take care of them."

There is also a sizable increase in the buyout clause that would allow Coach Jones to take another job.  It jumps from $1.08 million to $1.75 million in year one, although Babcock admits that figure probably wouldn't scare away big budget schools.

"There's a balancing act there," said Babcock.  "You want the buyout to be enough so that if the coach leaves, it can help to fund your search for the next coach.  And you want it be a number that gives some people a reason to pause.  But I don't think you want to have it at such a level that you trap a coach.  If you ultimately have a coach that doesn't want to be here, do you really want to handcuff him?  There's a fine line there, but I think it needs to be enough to get people's attention and to help you - if you do have a coach leave - to conduct the search and get things in place to hire the next guy. 

"But my goodness, I look at this contract as a way to have Butch here for a long time and not to figure out what the heck to do when he leaves.  I think his loyalty and love for Cincinnati played a real big role in this contract."

Cincinnati's previous two head football coaches - Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly - each spent three years in Clifton.  As Jones prepares to enter his third season, he often hears from fans who tell him that they hope that he stays at UC.

"I hear that all the time and it means a lot," said Jones.  "We have a fan base that has been extremely loyal to me since the day that I walked in, and I can't say enough about the amount of support when things weren't going as well as we wanted.  To me, that means everything.  This truly is a special place."

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Come out and join us for the Mick Cronin radio show on Thursday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it, I hope you'll tune in on 700 WLW.

 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.  Speaking of young Sam, here he is after a recent haircut.

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Sorry Kemba...It Was Kilpatrick's Time To Shine

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After hitting a jumper that helped Cincinnati build a 12-point lead before halftime, Sean Kilpatrick looked up in the stands and saw a familiar face:  Former UConn star - and Bearcat-killer - Kemba Walker, now in his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats.

"When I hit a three in the first half, he looked at me and gave me a little wink," Kilpatrick told me.  "He's a New York guy like me, and having him at the game was big - especially in the middle of the NBA season.  He's a great player and I'm happy that I got to see him."

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The last time that Kilpatrick saw Walker, the Connecticut guard ended UC's season by scoring 33 points in the Huskies 69-58 win over the Bearcats in last year's NCAA Tournament.  But on Wednesday night in Storrs, CT, Sean played the hero by drilling a 3-point shot with 2.5 seconds remaining to give Cincinnati a thrilling 70-67 win.

"The last time that I hit a game-winning buzzer beater was at White Plains (High School)," said Kilpatrick.  "This one was big and I'm happy that I got the win for the team."

The sophomore guard could have clinched the win much earlier at the free throw line, but twice missed the front end of one-and-one foul shooting opportunities in the final 1:30.

"It would have been a tragic loss," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "We started missing free throws when we were up by eight with our best foul shooters getting fouled."

"That rim did me dirty," said Kilpatrick.  "The ball was going in and it rolled out.  Coach Cronin said, 'Don't worry - just run back on defense.'"

But while Sean was hustling back to guard Jeremy Lamb, the Huskies' leading scorer didn't get the ball down the stretch.  Instead, it was UConn point guard Shabazz Napier burying three clutch treys, with the last one tying the score with 9.5 seconds to go.

"When he hit that shot, I just rolled my eyes and thought, 'Oh no, not again,'" said Kilpatrick.  "When I looked up the scoreboard and saw that it was tied, I was like, 'Yo!  We have got to do something.'"     

Sean took matters into his own hands.  After catching the inbounds pass from JaQuon Parker, Kilpatrick dribbled into the front court, pulled up at the three point line, and calmly sank the game-winner.

"I was going to drive and try to get fouled, but once I saw my man close the lane, I was like, 'You know what?  I've got to take the shot,'" Kilpatrick told me.  "It was plain to see that it was up to me to take the shot, so I took it."

And he made it, giving the Bearcats their seventh consecutive Big East road win, and their second over a Top 15 team in the last ten days.

"They have a great team full of All-Americans, a Hall of Fame coach, and it was a sold-out arena," said Coach Cronin.  "When you're able to come in here and get a win, people are going to stand up and take notice.  That's what our players want.  They want to be a ranked team whether they say it or not.  They want to be a team to be reckoned with, and they want people to respect them as individuals.  To do that, these are the type of games that you have to win."

"I hope it opened some eyes, but you can't really worry about that," said Kilpatrick.  "It's all about the Bearcats."

Walker was clearly impressed.  As Kilpatrick walked toward UC's team bus after the game, Kemba was waiting by the exit to congratulate Sean and exchange phone numbers.

I asked him what he thought of Kilpatrick's dramatic shot.

"I was mad as hell," said Walker.  "But he's my guy so it's all good.  He played good, man."

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It was great to see former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield in attendance at Connecticut on Wednesday.  The former UC point guard who helped lead the 'Cats to their last Sweet 16 appearance in 2001 is still playing professionally in Japan.


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I hope you'll come out and join us for the Mick Cronin radio show on Thursday night from 8 to 9 at the Original Montgomery Inn.  If you can't make it in person, you can tune in and call in on 700 WLW.

 

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

JaQuon Parker and the "Magic" Broomstick

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On the all-time list of people with magic broomsticks, you have:

A)  The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

B)  Quidditch players in the Harry Potter books.

C)  UC assistant basketball coach Larry Davis.

Huh?

OK, so maybe Larry's broomstick isn't magical, but it has helped turn Bearcat guard JaQuon Parker from a guy who only made three more 3-point shots than you did last year (he was 3-for-20), into a 58% shooter from beyond the arc this season (15-for-26).

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Parker had a mechanical flaw where he twisted his feet in the middle of his shot, so Davis suggested that he practice shooting with a broomstick lying on the floor between his feet.

"At first I looked at him and said, 'Are you crazy?'  But it's been good for me," Parker told me.  "For the first five minutes I kept landing on it.  I never fell down, but it was close.  I stumbled a few times.  He kept telling me that it would really help my shot.  It worked."

"I was trying to find a way a long time ago to help guys that turned their feet when they shot the ball," Coach Davis told me.  "Once you have everything lined up in a straight line to the basket it's easy.  I decided to put a broomstick on the floor to force them to stay in a straight line with their feet.  If you don't, you fall on the broom so that's how it started."

After averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds in 23 games last year, JaQuon is up to 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in 11 games this year.  In games where Parker has made more than one basket, the Bearcats are 8-0. 

"When I came back here after the summer, I was really hitting shots," said Parker.  "The guys were all saying, 'He can shoot now,' so I knew I had improved."

Broomstick aside, there is no mystery behind JaQuon's dramatic improvement.  It's the result of many hours of hard work in the gym.   

"I told him at the end of last year that we had to have a serious talk about whether he was going to stay at Cincinnati or not," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "Playing at the highest level means that you have to be totally committed and you have to develop your game on offense.  You can't just show up at practice and be a good guy and play hard on defense.  You have to be a totally committed basketball player.  He took it to heart and he did it.  You have to give him all of the credit because he did a great job in the off-season."

"He let me know that if I worked hard, I would be an important piece next season, so I took that seriously," said Parker.

But even before that conversation with his head coach, Parker realized that he needed to improve his work ethic.

"I think it was the second-to-last game last year," said Coach Davis.  "We were out doing shooting drills before the game and he looked at me and said, 'Coach, I blew it.'  I said, 'What do you mean JaQuon?'  And he said, 'I didn't work last summer like I should have.  I have nobody to blame but myself.  That's not going to happen again.  I'm going to work my butt off and when I come back, I'm going to play.  I am going to play.'"

"When I went home, I worked out with Maurice Riddick who played professionally overseas," said Parker.  "He's a real close friend to the family and I got a chance to work out with him every day for the month-and-a-half that I was home."

"He definitely came back in the fall a much more confident basketball player," said Coach Cronin.

And while Parker is not going to continue making 58% of his 3-point shots, he's just as unlikely to go back to being the player who did not make a trey in his last 11 games last season.

"Oh man, it was really tough," said Parker.  "I think I tried too hard to make shots instead of just going out there and shooting it.  Just seeing the ball go through the net helped me get my confidence back.  It's a lot more fun when you're making shots."

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I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Speaking of young Sam, it's been a long time since I posted a photo.  Like his dad, he had two football teams to root for this year.

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Small Stats, But Big Role For Gates in Bearcat Win

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In the first half of Monday's game at Georgetown, Yancy Gates did exactly what a big guy is supposed to do on offense - he used his size and strength to get close to the basket, squared his shoulders toward the rim, and went up with authority.

And he still couldn't make a shot.

"Oh man - it was just one of those nights," Gates told me after the game.  "Those were shots that I can make in my sleep, but I really wasn't frustrated by it.  I was just trying to find other ways to get into the game."

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Yancy finished with modest stats - 8 points and 7 rebounds - but head coach Mick Cronin said that the senior from Withrow High was a big key in the Bearcats 68-64 win over the 11th-rated Hoyas.

"I've never been more proud of Yancy Gates," said Coach Cronin.  "He had 10 deflections which for him is off the charts.  For any big guy - that's off the charts." 

"I think that was a career high," Gates said with a laugh.  "I had to find some way to contribute, so I tried to smack the ball around."

Gates spent most of the game guarding Georgetown center Henry Sims and forced him to commit five turnovers.

"Yancy played through a lot of things tonight that have been a challenge throughout his career," said Coach Cronin.  "We do not win this game if he doesn't hang in there mentally with his defense.  That was a huge, huge effort from him on the defensive end.  A lot of other guys did a lot of things, but that was big for us."

The Bearcats managed to win even though Georgetown shot 59% overall and 60% (6-for-10) from 3-point range.  UC overcame the Hoyas' hot shooting by forcing nearly twice as many turnovers (17) as they committed (9). 

"Georgetown is the most precise offensive team in the Big East," said Coach Cronin.  "They always shoot a high percentage, so what you have to do is get some turnovers.  If you don't disrupt them at all, they'll just carve you to death.  To get 17 turnovers was huge for us.  Points off turnovers was the difference in the game - it was 20-7 for us.  The kids are so committed to getting deflections right now - we ended up with 34 tonight and against Georgetown, that's a monster number."

"When you get deflections, it disrupts the other team's offense and helps keep them out of rhythm," said Gates.  "Even if you deflect it and don't get it, they still have to run and pick it up and reset.  That's been the focus since I got back so I've tried to be a part of it."

The win improved Cincinnati's record to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in the Big East and atoned for Saturday's discouraging home loss to St. John's.   

"It's was a great win for our team - it shows them what we're capable of.  But so does (last) Saturday," said Coach Cronin.  "As (assistant coach) Darren Savino likes to say, 'You're a peacock today and a feather duster tomorrow.'  The danger with this team is complacency.  I have to find ways to keep these guys locked in.  It's a long grind and we have to make sure that guys are showing up to play on game day.  When they throw that ball up, you've got to be locked in and ready to go.  In this league, anybody can beat anybody."

"We felt like we gave a home game away on Saturday," said Gates.  "The good thing about playing in the Big East is that you lose that game, but you have a chance to come to a place like Georgetown and get a win.  Saturday we play Villanova at home so we need to get another win and keep rolling."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net


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When The Game Ends, Practice Resumes For Davis

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As I type this sentence, it is 12:27 on Thursday afternoon - nearly 16 hours since the Bearcats won their 7th straight game by beating Notre Dame 71-55.

I wonder if Jeremiah Davis III is still in the gym shooting.

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After every Cincinnati home game, long after the fans have exited and the only people in the stands are members of the cleanup crew, Davis can be seen launching shot after shot after shot.

"I started doing that this year," Davis told me after the Notre Dame win.  "Things weren't going the best for me at the beginning of the year and I'm here to play basketball, so I might as well be in the gym.  I've definitely noticed a difference."

Haven't we all.

The freshman guard from Muncie, IN did not score a point in his first four college games and went 0-4 from 3-point range.  But in his six games since, Davis is averaging 7.0 points in 13 minutes of playing time, and has drilled 8 of 13 treys (62%).

"He loves basketball and he's not afraid to put in the work," said head coach Mick Cronin.  "He's got great parents that have instilled a great work ethic in him.  In recruiting, when you get a chance to meet a kid's parents, you know what he is going to be about, because you know you're going to get support from home.  He understands that hard work pays off because that's what his family is about and that's what he is about."

"I appreciate Coach Cronin for saying that," said Davis.  "Coach Cronin is a great guy too.  Sometimes people misjudge him a little bit, but he's a great guy.  He's a coach you definitely want to play for.  That's why I came here."

Davis played a key role in Wednesday's win over the Fighting Irish.  Cincinnati held an 8-point lead when Sean Kilpatrick went to the bench with foul trouble with 10:23 remaining in the first half.  Davis helped UC quickly increase the lead to 13 points by scoring eight points in the next four minutes.   

"In the first half after SK got his second foul, Notre Dame went exclusively to the zone," said Coach Cronin.  "Dion (Dixon) was struggling and Jeremiah Davis gave us a huge lift.  Their zone was effective - we only scored 31 points in the first half - but it would have been even more effective if it wasn't for Jeremiah Davis stepping up and knocking in some shots and giving us solid defense."

"My teammates did a great job of getting me open," said Davis.  "I just try to be a team player and everything worked out."

Davis is not the only Bearcat freshman who has made a big contribution during the winning streak.  Jermaine Sanders went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in wins over Wright State and Radford, Ge'Lawn Guyn scored a career-high 11 points against Chicago State, and Kelvin Gaines had 7 blocks in the same game.

"I like our mix right now because our freshman can really help, but there's not a lot of pressure on them," said Coach Cronin.  "It might be Jeremiah one game, Ge'Lawn another game, Jermaine Sanders another game...those guys are going to jump up and help us.  But it's nice that they're coming off the bench.  Three or four years ago, we were trying to win with Yancy and Dion starting in their freshman year in this league.  You just can't do it."

Davis knows his role and is embracing it.

"I'm having fun," Jeremiah told me.  "I love Bearcat Nation, I love Cincinnati, I love my family and coaches.  It's a great time right now.  After that brawl, everybody got closer together.  I think you can tell on the court.  We love each other and we're going to do anything we can for each other."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Binns Gives Chisum His Number...And Stamp Of Approval

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A.J. Green is not the only wide receiver from Georgia who is having an impressive first year in Cincinnati.


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Bearcat freshman Alex Chisum - from Sandy Creek H.S. in Fayetteville, Georgia - will enter the Liberty Bowl with 18 catches for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 22-yard TD grab in the regular season finale against UConn.


"He's mature beyond his age and I think that's a by-product of playing at Sandy Creek in a great high school program," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He had the big catch to win the state championship last year.  He's the model of consistency and you could see him getting better, and better, and better.  That breeds self-confidence, and as he progressed, our players gained much more confidence in him as well."


"He's a guy that I want on the field all of the time," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "I'm always asking the coaches for ways to get him on the field.  He did a great job over the summer, but he's really come on over the past few weeks."


Chisum is 6'3" and is drawing comparisons to a former Bearcat wide receiver that not only is the same height, but wore the same uniform number at UC - Armon Binns.


"He's kind of like the #80 that we used to have," said Collaros.  "He knows how to play the ball in the air and if you needed to be bailed out of something he can usually bail you out."


"Oh yea, I get that a lot," said Chisum.  "Ever since I got here, people have said, 'You look like Armon Binns...you run routes just like Armon...you're like a little Armon.'  I've come to accept it.  At first I didn't really see it, but now I consider it to be a compliment."


Binns is currently on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad and has taken a keen interest in the person who inherited his number. 


"It's a really big deal to me," Binns told me.  "At first, I was a little bit selfish and didn't want anybody to wear it.  But if somebody was going to wear it, I wanted it to be somebody good who plays the game hard."  


"I didn't know what number I wanted," said Chisum.  "I knew I didn't want #14, my high school number, so I asked coach.  He said, 'I have the perfect number for you,' and he gave me #80.  When I first started wearing it, all of the older guys said, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' and started giving me a hard time."


They're not ribbing him anymore, and since Binns is still in Cincinnati, he's become a mentor for the Bearcat freshman.


"The first time that I got to talk to him was the big game against N.C. State," said Chisum.  "I told him that I had some big shoes to fill and he kind of laughed and said, 'No, you got it.  And if I can, I'll come over here and work out with you.'  He really wants me to wear that #80 proudly. He gives me tips and I try to apply that to my game when I'm on the field.  It's really helped me."


"He's a really nice kid," said Binns.  "He's always smiling and seems like a really fun person to be around.  Plus he wants to learn - I like that about him.  I've told him, 'Just go out there and catch the ball - that's what earns you trust from your quarterback.'  That also gets you more playing time and a lot more balls thrown your way."


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Binns is not the only NFL receiver that Chisum has ties to.  In his senior year at Sandy Creek, Alex caught 69 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, breaking three school records held by Detroit Lions star Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.


"I actually broke his record the night he came back to have his jersey retired at halftime," said Chisum.  "I got to joke around with him and he said that he wouldn't have wanted anybody else to break it.  Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps and be half as good as he is."


Calvin Johnson attended Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets tried to sign Chisum too.


"I got an offer from Georgia Tech the night before signing day, and the University of Georgia wanted me as well to play safety, but I wanted to be a wide receiver," said Chisum.  "I wasn't one of those Georgia kids who wanted to stay in the state - I wanted to get out and distance wasn't a problem for me.  This staff started recruiting me when I was a sophomore.  I came up here several times and fell in love with the coaches and knew I had a chance to play early.  Coach Jones kept his word and here I am now."


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Will Zach Really Be Back?

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Will quarterback Zach Collaros really be able to play in the Liberty Bowl only 49 days after breaking his right ankle?


Collaros motion.jpg


My first attempt at getting the inside scoop was from Zach's former housemate Derek Wolfe.


"I'm not going to comment on that right now, because I don't want to put anything out there that I shouldn't," said Wolfe.


Alright, how about Zach's fellow team captain JK Schaffer?


"It's not really my business to talk about," said Schaffer.  "I don't know any of the medical stuff and I try to stay out of that.  It's his business and he has enough people asking him about it."


So much for that idea.  Let's go straight to the source.


"If it's up to me I'll play," said Collaros.  "What it comes down to is what Coach Jones wants and what (trainer) Bob Mangine and Dr. Colosimo say."  


Not exactly the definitive answer I was hoping for.


But just when I thought that I was going to leave practice thinking that Zach's status for the bowl was still 50-50, head coach Butch Jones provided the strongest indication yet that Collaros will take the field in Memphis on December 31st.


"I would say right now it's 65 to 70 percent likely that he'll play," Coach Jones told me.  "We have one more practice on Thursday and then we're off for a couple of days, so we'll see when we report to Memphis how he feels.  But you can see that he's getting better every day.  That's obviously very encouraging."


Zach's ankle now includes a plate and two screws that were surgically attached on November 14th, and while he has taken most of the snaps at practice this week, the senior quarterback isn't finished with the rehab process.


"I spend about an hour in the morning doing rehab before practice," said Collaros.  "Then we have practice and after that, it's anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to three more hours.  When I get home, it's not like I'm doing rehab at my house, but I'm definitely icing it and following Bob's rules.


"The past couple of days - especially yesterday - I felt really good.  Today I was pretty sore after three straight days of practice, but I just have keep doing what I have to do in the training room and at home.  Hopefully, I'll be ready in 10 days."


I'll be honest.  When Zach was taken off the field on a cart after being hit by West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, I assumed his college career was finished.  Even after being told that there was a chance that he could recover in time for a bowl game, I remained skeptical.


But his teammates and coaches figured that if anyone could make it back that quickly, it was Zach Collaros.


"I thought it was a legitimate possibility because of how competitive that he is and how important this is to him," said Coach Jones.  "This football game means everything to him.  Anything that he puts his mind to, he usually accomplishes."


"Even from the beginning, I knew that he would play in a bowl game," said Schaffer.  "Knowing Zach, there is no way that they'll keep him off the field.  Nothing will keep him off."


"I miss playing," Collaros told me.  "It's been a hard five weeks just sitting around and watching.  I'm very competitive and I want to be out there.  It's important to me and it's important to help my teammates get a win.  And I don't want my last play to be the play that it was."  


It sounds increasingly likely that it won't be.


I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net


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Keep The Shootout -- Lose The Hostility

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It was roughly 90 minutes before tipoff.  As the Bearcats warmed up at the Cintas Center, a grown man dressed in Xavier gear - I would guess in his mid-30's - stood as close to the court as he possibly could and taunted Yancy Gates.  It wasn't good-natured fun.  For 10 to 15 minutes, the man barked out a string of insulting remarks in hopes of getting under Yancy's skin.

Trust me, I am not trying to explain or defend Yancy's behavior on Saturday.  It was indefensible.  And I am not suggesting that Xavier fans are any different than UC fans.  But it's time to inject some badly-needed civility into the nation's best intracity rivalry.  On the court and off of it.    

What happened on Saturday has been building for years and both sides are guilty.  In the first Shootout that I ever attended (the Lenny Brown game), Danny Fortson got into a skirmish with T.J. Johnson and there have been pushes, shoves, head-butts, and punches thrown in nearly every game since.  The trash talk and taunting was nothing new either.  Long before Xavier's Tu Holloway made references to body bags, my all-time favorite UC basketball player - Melvin Levett - did a throat-slash gesture near the end of a Bearcat win over the Musketeers.

Before last Saturday's brawl, that kind of behavior may not have been encouraged, but it certainly wasn't condoned.

Cincinnati plays hotly-contested, physical games every year against Louisville and West Virginia and I can't remember any fights.  Ditto for Xavier's annual games against Dayton and Temple.

The volatility between UC and XU is not limited to the players.  The rhetoric between the two fan bases has grown increasingly harsh in recent years.  And frankly, since Saturday's fight, I still don't like what I'm hearing.  While the players and coaches seem genuinely remorseful, too many fans are still arguing over everything from what side started the fight to which school acted properly in the aftermath.

Enough already.

I love the Crosstown Shootout and consider it an incredible privilege to broadcast the game.   I hope that I'll have the opportunity to do many more.

I've always thought that the UC/XU game didn't get enough nation attention for being one of the top rivalries in the country.  Well, the two schools are certainly in the spotlight now.  Next year's game - assuming it happens - will receive enormous national scrutiny.

There's an opportunity going forward to celebrate the fact that we have two of the best college basketball programs in the county in our city.  There's no reason why they can't play a basketball game every year without the hostility.  And there's no reason why any of us can't support one school without feeling the need to blast the other. 

Isn't it time we emphasized the "Cross-town" instead of the "Shootout?"

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net

 

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The Return of Isaiah Pead

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It was 3-0 Syracuse in the second quarter when the Orange dropped back to punt from their own 40 yard line.  I'll admit to being surprised when I saw Isaiah Pead on the other end of the field waiting to return it.  After all, the senior from Columbus had not return a punt since...


"Eastmoor Academy -- my senior year of high school," Pead told me after the game.  "It's something that I've been asking for since I've been here.  I guess they finally decided to pull the trigger."


It was more like lighting a fuse.


Pead Syracuse.jpg

 

Pead caught Jonathan Fisher's 50-yard punt at the 10 yard line and broke several tackles on a 34-yard return.  It helped set up a game-tying field goal that sparked the Bearcats in their 30-13 win at the Carrier Dome.


"He's been in my ear all season and our players have great confidence in him," said head coach Butch Jones.  "When he went back there it really energized our team and I thought it switched the momentum."


It was one of 28 "touches" in the game for Isaiah as he rushed 17 times for 80 yards, caught 9 passes for 112 yards, and returned 2 punts for 54 yards.  That's 246 badly-needed yards when the Bearcats were playing without injured quarterback Zach Collaros.   


"That's what you play the game for," said Pead.  "I just did what I could to help the team.  Our captain is down right now and the team has to lift his spirits.  It starts with me.  I'm a senior running back and I think I did what I could today."


The decision to allow Pead to return punts was made early in the week.


"After the disappointing loss at Rutgers, Coach Jones came into the team meeting and said, 'Pead -- you're going to be returning punts this week,' Isaiah told me.  "I embraced it.  I started watching more film and started taking care of my body more.  The players were up for it -- they like blocking for me."


In case you're wondering why Pead hasn't returned punts before at UC, consider the first skill required in performing the job. 


"Catching a punt with 10 guys running down at you full speed is not a very easy skill to perform," said Coach Jones.  "He's really worked hard at that skill.   I'll tell you what, the progress that he's made from last year to this year in the skill of catching punts is a tribute to his work ethic.  He's been practicing all year and waiting for this opportunity."


And while Pead relished the opportunity, he downplayed his role in the victory.


"Coach told me at the beginning of the week that it was on me," said Pead.  "I said, 'It's not on me.  I'm going to play my role like I always do -- just a little bit more.'  I think it all worked out great.  The offensive line did good, the receivers were great blocking on the edge, and it was a great team victory."


"We fed #23 and he played a great game," said Coach Jones.


This week, Isaiah will be one of 21 Bearcats honored on Senior Day at Nippert Stadium.  The 25th-ranked Bearcats host UConn at noon for a share of the Big East championship.  If USF beats West Virginia on Thursday night, the Bearcats will play in a BCS bowl game for the third time in four years if they beat the Huskies.


"It's going to be a great challenge," said Coach Jones.  "I can't tell you how excited our kids are to get back and play in Nippert Stadium.  We're going to need the 12th man on Saturday because they are extremely physical.  We're playing in a Big East championship game and we need everyone -- there's absolutely no reason why Nippert shouldn't be sold out."


Come early.  Be loud.  And wear black.  


I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net


If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


And I'm on Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.