After back-to-back 26 win seasons, an appearance in
the Big East Tournament final, and a trip to the Sweet 16, is recruiting
getting easier for UC head coach Mick Cronin?
"It never gets easier to recruit," said Cronin."You do become more popular the more you win
and you get on TV more.So I have better
name recognition because that's the guy they see on TV and our program is
winning.It definitely has an effect,
but at the same time, it's still hard.Recruiting is the toughest thing we do.It's the hardest part of the job for any coach - there's no question
Today the hard work paid off for Coach Cronin and
his staff as three high school standouts faxed in letters of intent to the
University of Cincinnati on the first day of the early signing period.
Caupain, a 6'3" guard from Cosby High School in Midlothian,
VA verbally committed to UC in June after averaging 26 points, 12.9 rebounds,
and 8 assists as a junior last year.
"Troy is a huge recruit for us," said Cronin."He's a 6'3" point guard and he's 16-year-old
on signing day.He's going to turn 17 in
a couple of weeks.He's got something
that you can't teach - the gift of vision.He finds the open man and has great leadership skill.He's a true quarterback and it's natural for
him to talk on the floor - I won't have to coach that with him.And he can beat his man.More importantly, when he beats his man off
of the dribble, he finds the open man and he's a willing passer.He's a big-time recruit for us."
This year's class also includes a local recruit in
Summit Country Day's Kevin Johnson.
"I usually don't mention that he's local because I
don't want people to think that we recruited Kevin Johnson only because he is
from Cincinnati," said Cronin."That
would be patently false.We've passed on
some guys that are from Cincinnati because maybe they weren't the right fit for
us and Kevin is the right fit.He grew
up within miles of our campus, he is a great kid, and we are fortunate to have
Johnson is a 6'1" guard who averaged 14.1 points,
6.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year in helping the Silver Knights capture
the Division III state title.
"He's a guard that can do everything," said
Cronin."He can score, he can handle the
ball, and he can pass.He's also a
winner which goes a long way with me as he led his team to the state
championship.And he's very unselfish -
he could shoot a lot more for Summit Country Day than he did last year, but he
played within their system and their team was extremely well-coached.And he's got great upside.Kevin is a 17-year-old senior and won't turn
18 until next summer.He's a long guard
and can do a lot of things."
Cincinnati added a post player in Jamaree Strickland who hails from
"Even though he's from California, he grew up a
Bearcat fan," said Cronin."That worked
in our favor.We didn't know that until
we contacted him and his father couldn't have been more excited.You would have thought we were the hometown
Strickland was one of the top-rated big men in
California when he suffered a knee injury in 10th grade that
required surgery and wiped out his junior year.A second surgical procedure caused him to miss all but two games of his
But Jamaree is no longer wearing a knee brace and is
spending this season playing for Queen City Prep in Charlotte, North
"Jamaree didn't start playing without his knee brace
until the fall, and everybody that saw him offered him a scholarship," said
Cronin."He's left-handed; he's 6'9 Â½"
or 6'10" and has great hands and a soft touch.He can score.Most big guys can
do one of two things - they are either a shot blocker or they can score.Jamaree can score and is a very comfortable
offensive player.He has range on his
jump shot, and has a nice jump hook and a soft touch.We're going to have to get his body together
because he's been out, but he's lost weight and that's why he's come on so much
after he got his knee brace off.Once we
get him in shape, he has a chance to be a great player for us."
Cincinnati still has one scholarship available.
"That's by design," Mick told me."When you get your program on solid footing
you're not desperate so you don't have to just take guys and hope for the best
because you need bodies.When you're in
a good position you can confidently say, 'We have 11 or 12 players and that's
enough.'Then you have a scholarship
available when things happen.For
instance, we have one available now.So
second semester, if a very good player wanted to transfer here over the
Christmas break, we could take him.If
that doesn't happen, then Alex Eppensteiner will get to use it in the second
semester.I would definitely rather have
a scholarship than take a chance on a guy that you're not really sure about."
Before Saturday's 34-10 win at Temple, the last time
that quarterback Brendon Kay started a game was November 24, 2007 when he led
Marine City (MI) High School to a state title at Ford Field in Detroit.
That's a Rip Van Winkle-like 1,813 days between starts.
So was the fifth-year senior able to sleep the night
before his first start as a Bearcat?
"Not really," Brendon told me with a laugh."I'll be honest with you - I didn't."
Imagine what he'll do with a good night's rest.
After coming off the bench last week to help rally
the Bearcats to a win over Syracuse, Kay left no doubt who the starting
quarterback will be next week against Rutgers, completing 13-of-21 passes for 244 yards
and 2 touchdowns, while running for an additional 71 yards on 7 carries.He even caught one of his own passes for a
five yard gain when it ricocheted off of a Temple defender.
"It was awesome to be out there," said Kay."You prepare all week like you're the
starter, but when you hear that you are, your mentality changes a little bit.When you get the opportunity you have to take
advantage of it."
"I'm proud of him," said wide receiver Anthony
McClung."This is what everybody dreams
of.He's been the backup all season and
now that he got his opportunity, he came through for us.I told him, 'It's not like you've never done
Kay was especially impressive throwing the deep ball
as he tossed a 75-yard TD pass to Kenbrell Thompkins and a 65-yard TD to Chris
"That pass to me was right on the money," said
Moore."All I had to was put my hands
out and it was right there."
Kay's college career has been slowed by a series of
knee injuries that have required him to undergo three surgeries.That were times where it appeared that his Bearcat
career was over.
"That's what makes this even better," Brendon told
me."All of the people who say 'You
can't do it.'All of the doctors who
say, 'I don't think you can come back from this'When you come out and do it, it's that much
"I'm alright now.I've put in the time and I feel good."
Due to his multiple knee injuries, Kay hopes to be
granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"Right now, all indications are that it's very
favorable," said head coach Butch Jones."That's something that we'll work on once the season is concluded."
"It's not in my hands so I can't really worry about
it," said Kay."I'm going to approach
these last few games like they're my last."
While there wasn't much of a crowd at Lincoln
Financial Field, the spectators did include several members of Kay's family.
"My mom, my grandma, my girlfriend, my dad, and my
stepmom were all here," Brendon told me."It was awesome to see them out there.It was pretty emotional.I saw my
dad after the game and he came down and gave me a hug."
After going nearly five years between starts, was it
worth the wait?
"Honestly, looking back on it, it goes by quickly,"
said Kay/"But it was a long process, so
it was definitely rewarding.I'm going
to celebrate for the rest of the day.Tomorrow I'm going to get to work and start watching film."
After all, he only has seven days to get ready for start number
It's impossible for most of us to imagine the
anguish that Walter Stewart must have felt when he was informed that a
congenital defect in his spine would likely end his football career.
But David Pollack can identify.
Six years ago in the second game of his second
season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pollack broke his sixth cervical vertebrae while making a tackle.It ended his NFL career after playing in 16
Pollack met Stewart earlier this season while he was in Cincinnati to
broadcast the UC-Pitt game on ESPN, and called the Bearcat senior
this week to offer his encouragement.
"I've been through having football being a huge part
of your life and then all of the sudden it's gone," Pollack told me."That can be extremely tough, so I just
wanted to reach out to him and tell him a little bit about my experience.I wanted to share any words of wisdom - which
doesn't come from my mouth very often - or anything that I thought was a big
help for me during a time when I needed it."
"They've really bonded and formed a close
relationship," said head coach Butch Jones.
"He's a kid that I have a lot of respect for," said
Pollack."When you see people and the
way that they play, I think that tells you a lot about them and he's one of
those guys that plays really hard and loves the game."
By all accounts, Stewart has handled the news of his
injury remarkably well.
"I talked to Cincinnati trainer Bob Mangine and he
told that he cried when he told Walter the news, but Walter didn't cry," said
Pollack."He's handled it as well as
you can when you get that kind of news."
"He's dealing with it in Walter Stewart fashion -
very poised, very calm, very realistic, and just a model of resiliency," said
Stewart had five sacks in five games this season before
suffering his injury and was likely to be a high NFL draft pick in April.But Pollack says it's important not to dwell
on what might have been.
"It's always easy to look at a situation like that
and see the bad," said Pollack."But I
think it's extremely important to look at the positive too.He's in a situation where he can walk, he can
move - he's not in a situation as severe as Eric LeGrand or Kevin Everett several
years ago - so I think right away you count your blessings.One thing that kind of gave me hope and
clicked in my brain when I was going through my situation is that at some
point, there comes a time when you're going to have to hang your cleats up.That day will come.Whether it's now or 10, 12, 15 years down the
road, it will come.It's about how you
handle it and how you move on."
Over the past several weeks, Stewart has remained an
integral part of the Cincinnati football program as he has tried to lead his
teammates in the locker room and on the sideline.
"I'm trying to convince him to give
coaching a try because I think he can impact lives on a day to day basis," said
Coach Jones."I think that's his passion,
I think he needs to be around the game, and I think he can be an asset to our
profession.When he speaks the kids
listen and he has credibility behind him.I fully anticipate him doing that - if playing football is out - I think
you will see him on the sideline with us."
"The most important thing to remember is that life
is never going to be perfect," said Pollack."It's never going to go exactly how you planned it, and it's always
important to know that God never closes one door without opening another one.Walter is a great kid with great perspective
and I think he'll be absolutely fine with whatever comes his way."
Cam Cheatham was a running back and slot receiver at
Kalamazoo (MI) Central High School and anticipated having a similar role at the
University of Cincinnati.
On his first day of training camp in 2008 he found
out he was being moved to cornerback.
"I was given a black jersey and I was like, 'Man,
that's for the defensive players.'" Cheatham told me."I thought they might have made a
mistake.I went to the equipment guy and
he was like, 'No, that's what you play.You're with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Coombs.'I was mad and there were times where I didn't
want to play that position, but God always has a plan and it worked out.I've been a three-year starter and I've
played a lot of football."
Cheatham did get to show off his running back skills
recently, when he intercepted a pass against Miami's Zac Dysert and sprinted 68
yards for a touchdown.
"I had flashbacks," said Cheatham."It's been a long time since I ran into an
open end zone like that."
Cam's "Pick Six" swung the momentum when it appeared
that the RedHawks might jump out to an early two touchdown lead.
"It was a great call by (defensive coordinator) John
Jancek and I just made a play," said Cheatham."Everybody else was doing their job and I was able to reap the benefits
and make the big play.That's all it
"I'm really proud of him," said head coach Butch
Jones."He's really improved his
leadership skills and he's really taken ownership in the back end of our
defense.He's been extremely consistent,
extremely competitive, and it's a great comfort knowing that you have a corner
who can win in man coverage."
Ironically, Coach Jones unsuccessfully tried to
recruit Cheatham when he was the head coach at Central Michigan but wound up
getting to coach him for three years at Cincinnati.
"It all worked out and I feel very fortunate," said
Jones."I'm very proud of how far he's
come and the improvement that he's made.Each year you could see him making dramatic improvement and he's
well-respected on our football team.Cam's
very polite and quiet and unassuming and then all of a sudden, you put him in
some competitive situations and you see another side to him."
In addition to being handed a defensive practice
jersey at his first training camp, Cheatham was originally given the #2.But he was able to change to #21 in honor of his
hero Deion Sanders.
"If you look at it, Deion Sanders is to the
cornerback position what Michael Jordan is to basketball," said Cheatham."All great cornerbacks come up wanting to
wear #21.He was Prime Time, he had the
shoes, he was bouncing around out there, and he was a lock-down corner.It's on my bucket list to meet him.He's the best to ever do it."
Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in
the NFL and Cheatham has done that twice at UC.The decision to move him from running back to cornerback proved to be a
"It worked out perfectly and I'm happy where I'm at,"
Cam told me."I don't know if I would
have made it at running back.We've had
some great running backs and I don't know if I could have taken all of those
No, the University of Cincinnati's Interim President
isn't looking to work baseball play-by-play into his busy schedule, but like
the Reds' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dr. Ono is willing to have his head shaved
if the Bearcats win 10 consecutive games.
"That is for both football and basketball," Ono told
me at halftime of the UC/Virginia Tech game."I hope that I lose my hair.You
look pretty good, and if they win 10 games, I'll do it at midfield or in front
of the student section.I'll do whatever
I can to encourage the team and the coaches to play at their utmost
abilities.It's not a big deal for me to
lose my hair - I think the students love it, and I love the students.Whatever gets them excited I'm happy to do."
(You can see Dr. Ono pledge to shave his head in the
locker room after the dramatic victory over Virginia Tech)
If you're among the thousands of people that follow
Dr. Ono on Twitter (@PrezOno), you are well aware of his passion for Bearcat
athletics.In our halftime interview
last Saturday, I asked UC's Interim President for his view on the role that athletics
play in the mission of the university.
"I think it's incredibly important," said Ono."I went to college at the University of
Chicago and most recently I was at a D-III school - Emory University - and they're
fantastic universities just as the University of Cincinnati is.But there's nothing like D-I sports to bring
a whole community together.We have 14
outstanding colleges at UC and they have a lot of different identities, but
what galvanizes the community and links us to the 250,000 alumni around the
globe is Bearcat sports.I'm slightly
enthusiastic about it.I'm a big fan and
I think I've tweeted about 11,000 times and have about 19,000 followers on
Twitter and Facebook and I think that's really, really important.It's one of my primary jobs:To connect to the community and show how
enthusiastic I am about what's going on at the University.Not only sports, but the tremendous research
that's going on and the art, architecture, and music that are all part of
Representing the C."
Earlier this year, Dr. Ono took part in a practice
of sorts with the football team and caught some passes from Munchie Legaux.Last Saturday, I asked him to share some
thoughts on his relationship with head coach Butch Jones and the job that he is
"Butch Jones, I think, is one of the best football
coaches in America," said Ono."We
really are privileged in athletics right now at UC to have a great athletic
director, a great team of coaches, and great head coaches across all of the
different sports, but Butch Jones and Mick Cronin, I think, are anchors to our
program.They are people with integrity
and they are people that are really committed to Cincinnati.I love them and I view them as brothers and
partners in Bearcat Nation.We have
something really special here.(Coach
Jones) is really important to the University and he and I really cheerlead and
back each other.I was in the locker
room before the Bearcats came out and he said to the team, 'Do you have my
back?'I think that everybody knows that
I have his back."
He has his coach's back, but if the Bearcats win
their next seven games (the three wins to end last season don't
count), Dr. Ono won't have his hair.
The clock read 1:43, the end zone was 85 yards away,
and the Bearcats trailed Virginia Tech 24-20.Not an ideal set of circumstances unless you're a quarterback with
something to prove.
"You can't ask for a better situation than that," Munchie
Legaux told me after the game."Down by
four, no timeouts - that's what you dream of as a little boy playing in the
backyard.Five, four, three..."
"That's what quarterbacks dream of," said Walter
Stewart."Being down on the road with
two minutes left and you've got to make a play."
The first play of the drive was a 15-yard completion
to tight end Travis Kelce taking roughly 10 seconds off the clock.
"Munchie was very calm and very relaxed," said Damon
Julien."Coach puts us in adverse
situations in practice, so we were ready to come out and execute."
After back to back incompletions, a 13-yard scramble
by Legaux gave the Bearcats a first down at their 43 yard line with 1:14 to go
and the clock running.
"I though he was exceptionally poised
all game," said head coach Butch Jones."He
just had that look in his eye. He had that moxie - that alpha male that we talk
about that we want out of our quarterback."
A 4-yard run by Legaux was followed by a
14-yard strike to Anthony McClung, putting the ball at the Virginia Tech 39
yard line with :38 left.
"This is what we do," said Ralph David Abernathy
IV."Every day Coach Jones and the staff
prepare us for this.We learn how to
deal with adversity every day at practice and today I think we showed people
that we can do anything when we put our minds to it."
An incomplete pass for Kenbrell Thompkins left :26 to
go.An overthrow for Anthony McClung reduced
the time to :20 remaining.
It was third-and-10 at the Hokies 39 yard line.
"I was talking to Munchie before the game and I
said, 'This is your time man.This is
your stage.'" said Stewart."He stepped
up when he needed to."
After taking a shotgun snap, Legaux dropped back
to the 47 yard line and released the ball a split second before being drilled
by Hokies defensive end James Gayle.The
pass was intended for Damon Julien who had dropped a possible touchdown pass
earlier in the fourth quarter.
"I was a little upset," said Julien."The defensive back tipped it and then I
tipped it and dropped it.I hoped that
Munchie would come to me again and that's what he did."
"He trusts his wide receivers." said Thompkins."Even when we make a bad play, he'll come up
to us on the sideline and say, 'I'm coming back to you.'"
In this case, Julien took advantage of his second
chance by making a lunging, fingertip catch while sliding across the goal line for
the game-winning touchdown with :13 remaining (you can hear the radio call here).
"I had a couple of big plays in junior college, but
this is by far the biggest for me and on the biggest stage," said Julien."I'm very grateful for this opportunity."
"Damon Julien man," said Thompkins."Great guy, great athlete, and tremendously
Consider it a belated birthday present for Munchie
Legaux who turned 21 on Thursday.
"My teammates came up to me and told me that they
would have my back no matter what," said Legaux."Mistakes, great balls, bad balls - they have
my back.They trust me and I trust those
"Our kids have great belief in our program and each
other and I think that showed," said Coach Jones.
"Munchie keeps showing people what kind of player
that he is," said Abernathy."Every
Saturday he steps up and makes plays.That's our quarterback.I'm proud
When the New Orleans Saints practiced in Cincinnati
for two days last week to avoid problems caused by Hurricane Isaac, the visit
had an unexpected benefit for UC quarterback Munchie Legaux.
"I was watching film in meetings and Coach Jones
came in all fired up and said, 'What are you doing today?'" Legaux recalled
with a grin."I told him what I was
doing after practice and he said, 'No you're not.After practice you're going to meet Drew
Brees.'I wasn't going to turn that
"He was smiling and saying, 'I met Drew Brees...I met
Drew Brees.'" said wide receiver Anthony McClung."He said he was a cool, laid-back guy so I
guess they're similar to each other because Munchie is the same way."
Head Coach Butch Jones arranged the meeting through
a contact on the Saints coaching staff.
"I'm very thankful to the coaches there that they
would allow Munchie to be able to spend some time with him and talk about work
ethic and leadership," said Coach Jones."But also, just to talk about New Orleans too."
"I introduced myself to him and said that I was from
New Orleans and he asked me about my family and if they were OK," said Legaux.
"That was very comforting to him with the hurricane
going through New Orleans," said Coach Jones.
Munchie was in eighth grade when Hurricane Katrina
ravaged the city in 2005.His family
evacuated to Houston for a roughly two months, and they returned there last
week when Hurricane Isaac approached.
"I have an aunt there and my family stayed there for
four or five days," said Legaux."When
they got back to New Orleans the power was back on, and they called me to let
me know that everything was OK.They'll
be here on Wednesday for the Pitt game."
While the Legaux family will be in the stands
at Nippert Stadium, Munchie says that Brees will be a spectator too.
"He told me he would be watching the game on
Thursday," said Legaux."He said that he
and his offensive lineman were going to check me out."
Brees also gave Munchie some friendly advice as the
Bearcat quarterback gets ready for the first game of his junior season.
"He told me to enjoy the college life," said
Legaux."Enjoy the fans, the Saturday
games, the college atmosphere, the stadiums, the cheerleaders -
everything.He told me to go out and
enjoy myself.I appreciated that he took
the time to sit down and talk to me.For
him to spend maybe 10 minutes with me and just to see how I'm doing - I knocked
one thing off of my bucket list.
"I'm a huge Saints fan and he's done so much for New
Orleans.He brought us our first
championship.Drew Brees has the key to
There are 65 first- or second-year players on Cincinnati's roster this year.At times,
they are bound to be a little overwhelmed.
"It's like sipping water through a fire hose - everything
is flying at you," said head coach Butch Jones.
But several of the least experienced Bearcats will have to play
significant roles this year, including cornerback and punt returner Trenier
"We expect a lot of our redshirt freshman to play,
but if you asked me to pick out one who has stood out above and beyond everyone
else, it's Trenier Orr," said Coach Jones."He's having a spectacular camp and is pushing Cam Cheatham, Devin
Drane, and Dominique Battle each and every day.It's been great to see."
Ironically, one of the reasons why Orr chose
Cincinnati over Illinois and Colorado State is that he didn't think he would
have to wait until this year to see action.
"I felt like there was an opportunity to come in and
play right away, but Coach Jones thought it was best for me to redshirt and now
I understand," Orr told me."Last year was
rough.No freshman wants to redshirt but
now that I look back on film, I wasn't ready.I know that I wasn't ready.I
look at my progress now and everything is so much quicker."
Orr needed the redshirt season because he was
primarily an offensive player at Ocoee High School near Orlando, Florida.
"I played quarterback, running back, wide receiver,
safety, cornerback, and they gave me a couple of snaps at tight end," said
Orr."I kind of had the mindset of a
receiver because growing up, I usually played receiver.In my senior year, I barely played defensive
back because they had me moving around everywhere."
After practicing at cornerback for a year at
Cincinnati, Orr says he is comfortable at the position.
"Everything has gotten better - my footwork and my
technique," said Orr."I can say that
I'm a defensive back now."
"The big thing now is the little nuances and
technical details required to play the corner position," said Coach Jones."Trenier has the athletic ability and the
competitive nature that you want, and we're very excited about him."
Orr appears to be one of Cincinnati's top three
cornerbacks to begin the season, and the coaching staff has targeted him at
practice to get him ready to play a key role.
"In our first scrimmage in spring ball, I had four
fades thrown on me to test my mental toughness," said Orr."Coach Jones said that he was going to come
at me in every practice to make me tough.I got beat sometimes, but I learned to snap-and-clear and do my thing."
"We've told our older wide outs that 'You've got a
freshman out there on an island and you need to go after him and take advantage
of the situation.'" said Coach Jones."I
tell you what, he's held his own and more."
"He's a great talent," said defensive coordinator
Jon Jancek."He hasn't played in a game
yet, so we're excited to see what he can do.He makes freshman mistakes still and has to mature, but with his talent
and intangibles, he can be as good as he wants to be."
In college basketball, athletic seven-footers are
hard to come by.
"Usually their last name is Plumlee and they're all
on Duke's team," joked UC head coach Mick Cronin.
Mick wasn't able to sign Miles, Mason, or Marshall
Plumlee, but for the next two years, 7'1" 230-pound David Nyarsuk will play for the
Nyarsuk spent the last two seasons playing for NAIA
powerhouse Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, but the school was
stripped of its accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in mid-July.
"We would have been ranked preseason number one in
all of the polls," said former Mountain State head coach Bob Bolen."We had 10 players returning from a Final
Four team and we signed four players that were ready to come in and play.David wasn't planning on leaving until all of
When the word got out that Nyarsuk was available for
this season, Division I coaches swooped in.
"I got over 450 calls in 96 hours," Bolen told me in
a recent interview on 700 WLW."A lot of
the calls were about Dave and a 6'9" kid who was a Third Team All-American.That's who the majority of the calls were
about.They would start at seven in the
morning about Dave.I only made one call
for Dave and I called Bob Huggins, who is a really good friend of mine, to see
if he needed him or had any scholarships available and he didn't.From that point, Cincinnati jumped in there
quickly and I think it's a good decision for him."
As it turned out, UC assistant coach Larry Davis had
a relationship with one of Nyarsuk's high school coaches.
"Larry Davis was on top of it and did a great job
and there was a trust level there," said Coach Cronin."I think that what probably separated us from
other people was that we told David and his coach that we wanted him.I think a lot of people were inquiring about
David and from the first time that we spoke to him, we told him that we wanted
him, we needed him, and we were willing to take him that day.
"We got out in front of it and beat some people to
the punch and sometimes you're first in line and sometimes you're not.On this one, Larry Davis did a great job."
In two years at Mountain State, Nyarsuk averaged
10.2 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks, helping the Cougars go 59-15.
"He changes the game on the defensive end," said
Bolen."He's a great shot blocker, runs
the floor well, and is a lot stronger than he looks.He has skinny legs, but he has a lot of fight
in him.I had calls from schools in the
ACC, Big East, Big 10 - I had calls from about everywhere for him.His offensive game has improved tremendously
over the past two years and I think he's a great addition for Cincinnati."
"I think David is definitely going to be able to
help us," said Cronin."He has played
college basketball for two years and he's played at the highest level of NAIA
which is better than junior college basketball.He's got a chance to help us right away - how much I don't know yet
because I haven't had a chance to get him out there.I can tell you that we're excited to have
Nyarsuk was ranked as the 19th-best center
in the 2010 recruiting class and originally signed with West Virginia.However, the native of Juba, Sudan was still
learning English at the time and failed to reach the required test scores.David has been cleared to play immediately at
Cincinnati by the NCAA.
"(His English) is a lot better than it was two years
ago," said Bolen."He barely missed on
the SAT score and he's a great student and very conscientious.He's a great kid, he's a Christian, and they
can't get a better kid."
Following the departure of 6'9" senior Yancy Gates,
Nyarsuk joins 6'10 Cheikh Mbodj and 6'10" Kelvin Gaines to give the Bearcats
three centers on this year's roster.
"It definitely adds to our depth if David is able to
come in and help us the way that we think he can," said Coach Cronin."Cheikh Mbodj is a guy that's going to get
some fouls with the way that we want to play - playing pressure defense and
being a shot-blocker.He looks great
right now, but he's going to get fouls.Kelvin Gaines has been a work in progress and this buys him some time to
get more ready to play since he's only a sophomore.Our biggest question mark was if we had
enough at the five spot, and David definitely helps us solve that problem."
The jump from NAIA basketball to the Big East is
obviously steep, but Nyarsuk's former coach says that he can handle it.
"He's ready," said Coach Bolen."We only had one Division I game last year
and that was against Morehead State and we beat 'em by 15 and he dominated the
game.He'll surprise a lot of people
because he's ready to play at that level."
When Yancy Gates was a freshman at Cincinnati, the coaching staff had him
study DVDs of Pitt strongman DeJuan Blair in action.Mick Cronin wanted Yancy to use his bulk like
the Pitt All-American did, as Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds
despite being two inches shorter than Gates.
three years later and one of Yancy's classmates at UC was none other than DeJuan's
younger brother - Bearcat linebacker Greg Blair.
"I talked to Yancy about that once when we were in
class," Greg told me."He said, 'Man,
your brother used to a beast in the Big East.'When Yancy was a freshman, my brother was a sophomore and Yancy said he
was too much for him to handle.
"I used to tell my brother that he wasn't going to
be as big as his opponent so he had to outwork him.It's crazy because now, that's what DeJuan
says to me.He says, 'You ain't going to
be the fastest, you ain't going to be the strongest.You just have to outwork your
DeJuan Blair is currently a key member of the San
Antonio Spurs, and Greg Blair is emerging as an important part of the Bearcat
defense.In recent days he's moved to
the top of the depth chart as JK Schaffer's replacement at middle linebacker.
"It was my goal to get with the 'ones,' said
Blair."That was one of my main goals
that I wrote down before camp and I achieved it.After position meetings they tell us the
rotation and one day they said, 'Blair - you're with the ones.'Now I've got to work to stay there because I
know that I could get bumped down just as fast."
"We've really challenged him and he's done a great
job," said UC head coach Butch Jones."He has a long way to go, but he's really watched his weight and shown
great diligence in his physical conditioning.Now we're working on his mental conditioning and to get him to play
through things when he's tired."
Like his 6'7", 270-pound older brother, Greg Blair
is 6'2" and solidly built - a bit too solidly last year after transferring from
Lackawanna Community College.
"He puts weight on when he's sweating," joked Coach
Jones."But he's doing a great job.When we get off the field, he's in the weight
room riding the bike.He's really shown
a commitment level this offseason."
"I don't know what it is with my metabolism," said
Blair."(Strength coach) Dave Lawson
says that he's never seen anyone like me.I'll come in and gain seven pounds in one day and then lose eight pounds
the next day.I can't control it.That's why I try to watch what I eat and when
I eat.I'm 243 right now so I'm in good
shape - I just have to maintain it."
The Blair family lived within the shadow of the Pitt
campus, so potentially making his first Division I start on September 6th
against the Panthers is an exciting prospect for the UC senior.
"That's a huge deal," Greg told me."I just thank God for the opportunity.If I have the opportunity to start against
Pitt, that will be a really emotional day for me."
And not only because Pittsburgh is his hometown.
Last Tuesday, a 25-year-old childhood friend of Greg's
named Robert Murphy was shot to death in a Pittsburgh suburb.
"Over the summer when we had a break and I was back
home, he was saying that he couldn't wait to see my first game and to be
there," said Blair."He had purchased my
customized jersey and it just came in.I
have a heavy heart right now and I have to go home for the funeral.
"They said it was a drive-by shooting and he died
shortly afterward.It's messed up.He was probably the closest friend that I had
- he was one of those friends you just do everything with.It's hard to lose him but you just have to
Staying strong runs in the Blair family.
"He's had some trials and tribulations since he's
been here and he's just kept fighting through them," said Coach Jones."He's shown great perseverance."