JK Schaffer spent the last four years proving people
After not being heavily recruited out of LaSalle
High School, Schaffer concluded his college career as a First-Team All-Big East
linebacker - one of only four players in league history to have more than 100
tackles in three straight seasons.
So as far as JK is concerned, not being invited to
next week's NFL Scouting Combine is par for the course.
"I've always used that stuff for motivation,"
Schaffer told me."When I was in high
school, people told me that I wouldn't play in Division I.Now, it's not getting invited to the combine
or people saying, 'He's too small, he's too whatever.'I just take all of that stuff and think about
it on that last run of conditioning drills when I'm struggling and don't want
to do it anymore.It's another reason to
go out and prove people wrong.I also
look at it as giving me an extra week to train and get ready for Pro Day."
While fellow seniors Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe, and
John Hughes will be in Indianapolis when the combine starts on Wednesday, Schaffer's
opportunity to work out for NFL scouts will come on March 2nd when
UC holds its annual Pro Day.
Schaffer, an excellent student who was recently
named the Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is now busy cramming
for the tests he'll get from NFL scouts.
"It's all about Pro Day," said Schaffer."About 3 Â½ weeks ago, I moved up to
Barrington, Illinois which is a little northwest of Chicago and is where my
agent is based.I'm living and training
with two guys from Northern Illinois University while taking 15 hours of online
classes because I want to be able to graduate by June.We work out three to four times a day and at
the field house where we have the weight room and the field where we do all of
our position drills and running.We have
basketball courts where we do different things and there's a pilates room which
we use twice a week.That's basically my
life right now - training six days a week for most of the day and then coming
back to the house and doing a little homework."
Schaffer, who was listed at 6'1, 227 this year, is
trying to get bigger and stronger while shaving a fraction of a second off of
his 40-yard dash and shuttle run times.
"I'm trying to put on a little bit of weight," JK
told me."I've never really been above
230 in my life, so I'm trying to get to 235.Obviously, I can't improve my height, although I would really like to.You can't get that much faster, but what you
can improve is your technique.I know
that I didn't understand technique, so we're working with a lot of guys who
know what they're doing."
While Schaffer was not invited to the combine, he
was selected for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl - an all-star game in California where
he played for former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil.
"The whole week leading up to the game was great, but
unfortunately, I played four seasons at Cincinnati and didn't miss a play due
to injury, and pretty early-on in that All-Star Game, I took a helmet to the
hip and got a hip pointer," said Schaffer."I couldn't even stand up, so I got taken out of the game.That's why you didn't see much of me.I'm fully recovered from that, so it's not a problem.I was sore for a couple of weeks, but it was
not a serious injury."
Wes Welker, Osi Umenyiora, and Jay Ratliff are among
the current NFL players who have been to multiple Pro Bowls despite not being
invited to the combine, and while UC head coach Butch Jones is not necessarily predicting
Pro Bowl appearances in Schaffer's future, he has been singing JK's praises to
"The scouting process is not an exact science and
they can't measure the intangibles," said Coach Jones."On Pro Day, everybody is looking at your
athleticism - the way you run a 40-yard dash, your short shuttle time, your
change of direction - but what you can't measure at Pro Day is heart, and
that's what JK has.The big thing that
every coach looks for is consistency, and the great thing about JK is that you
know what you are going to get each and every day.He has great competitive spirit and
coachability - couple that with his physical skills and, I am his biggest
advocate to say the least."
Coach Jones says he expects Schaffer to get an
opportunity in training camp to make a roster, but the senior linebacker takes
it a step further by saying he expects to play in the NFL.
"There's no doubt," JK told me."I don't know what kind of competitor I would
be if there was any doubt."
Do you have any friends that have an uncanny ability
to remember famous lines from movies?
name is Mick Cronin.
"My memory is probably my best trait," said the UC
head coach."Whether it's a player from
years ago or a play that the other team runs, I think that recall is one of my
strengths.Plus, I've watched certain
movies multiple times."
Mick makes frequent use of his movie memory.For example, when asked at a recent news conference
about fighting through the Big East grind, Coach Cronin quoted the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II when Colonel
Trautman (Richard Crenna) tries to comfort John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone)before Stallone's character walks off
into the distance as the credits roll.
Colonel Trautman:How will you live John?
Coach Cronin doesn't only use movie references when
dealing with reporters.Frequently when
trying to emphasize a point at practice, he'll quote a movie line in an effort
to make it resonate with the players.
"You pick out spots," Mick told me."A good example would be, when a guy is
trying to do too much with the basketball, I hit 'em with General McAlister
from Lethal Weapon:'There's no more heroes left in the world
son.'In other words, just play your
role and take care of the ball.During
the suspensions when we only had eight guys and had to stick together, we
brought out, 'Am I my brother's keeper,' which is a New Jack City reference."
"He has a lot of movie quotes and they are usually
right on," said Yancy Gates."It's hard
to remember them all because he has so many.I can't remember the movie, but one line that he uses is, 'You're
nothing but a lot of talk and a badge.'That's one of his favorites after a loss."
For the record, that line comes from The Untouchables and is used to make the
point that talk is cheap.It's no
surprise that Yancy Gates remembered the line but not the movie since the film
came out two years before he was born.
"He usually talks about movies that we've never seen,"
said Dion Dixon with a laugh."They're
either too old or they're movies that we don't watch."
"Unfortunately, if it's not a slapstick comedy,
today's players have not seen the movie," said Coach Cronin.
Mick, on the other hand, prefers the classics.What's at the top of his all-time list?
Godfather, which I brought with me on the last road trip,"
said Cronin."I have trouble sleeping,
so I can always put on The Godfather
1 or 2.I have to put those two near the
top, along with Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction.After that, there's another category where
you go from the best movies of all-time to some really good movies that I
Mick actually used a line from The Godfather when talking to his players about not sharing too
much inside information about the team on their Twitter accounts.
The Bearcats most recent road trip to St. John's and
Marquette even included a trip to the movies.To break up the drudgery of going back-and-forth between practice gyms
and hotel rooms, the team went to see the new Denzel Washington movie Safe House.
"We talked to Drew (Seidenberger, Director of
Basketball Operations) about it," said Cashmere Wright."We said, 'We're going to be on the road for
so long, we have to do something.'He said, 'I'll talk to coach about it.'"
"That was the
movie that everybody was talking about," said Gates."We were all planning to see it together when
we got home, so when Drew told us we were going to go see it on the road trip,
everybody was excited.I thought it was
great - another great Denzel movie.I
think he's the only bad guy that has everybody cheering for him."
While the Bearcats went to watch Denzel last week,
the Academy Award-winning actor showed up at Madison Square Garden two years
ago to watch them.He was sitting near
President Clinton when West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler beat the Bearcats with a
last-second three point bank shot.
"Denzel is a big college basketball fan and his son
Malcolm is a pretty good player," said Coach Cronin."We have mutual friends so I've met him
before and he's a huge basketball fan.He's one of the best actors of our time, so I thought the guys would
like it and it got us out of the hotel."
There's a scene in Safe House (it's in the trailer so I'm not spoiling anything) where
a young CIA employee played by Ryan Reynolds tells Denzel's character that "you're
not getting into my head."
Denzel's character coolly responds that "I'm already
in your head."
I wouldn't be shocked if that line is eventually
used to make a point at a Bearcat practice.
I've seen hundreds of basketball practices over the
years, but as the Bearcats prepared to face St. John's, they did something that
I had never seen before.
As UC studied the St. John's offense, whoever was
pretending to be leading-scorer D'Angelo Harrison, ran through the Red Storm's plays
either wearing or waving a white t-shirt.
"That helped us know where he was going to be at all
times," said Dion Dixon."We were like,
'He's over here...now he's over there.'I
give all the credit to the coaches.They
did a great job of preparing us."
"In football they put the red jersey or the green
jersey on the quarterback, so for the last couple of days, we had a white
t-shirt on D'Angelo Harrison," said head coach Mick Cronin."Our guys were trained to find him.We were not going to let him beat us."
The St. John's freshman entered Wednesday's game
averaging 16.7 points, including eight 20-point performances.In his previous game, Harrison dropped 23 points
on first-place Syracuse.
But after Cincinnati's "white shirt" practices,
Harrison might as well have waved a white towel in the Bearcats' 76-54 win over
St. John's.D'Angelo nearly reached his
scoring average with 15 points, but he shot 4-for-13 from the floor, and 10 of
his 15 points came in the last 6:25 after the outcome had been decided.
"You could see him getting frustrated," said
Dixon."He just put his head down and
started barreling to the basket because he wasn't getting open shots.That's a young guy - he's going to be a great
"He can't make the shot if he doesn't get the
attempt," said Cronin."In their
previous two games, he was something like 12-for-19 from the 3-point line, and
that's with everybody trying to find him.He's making shots from behind the NBA line, and he has an extremely
quick release.Their other guys do not
shoot the ball well from beyond the 3-point line - their next-best 3-point
shooter is Moe Harkless at 23%, so we said, 'Don't let Harrison shoot - make
the other guys shoot.'So it was easy to
find him at practice - he was the guy running around waving a white t-shirt
over his head when we were going through St. John's offense."
It was an exceptional defensive performance by the
'Cats against a team that had averaged 77 points in its previous five games
against Villanova, West Virginia, Duke, DePaul, and Syracuse.St. John's only managed 54 points against the
Bearcats, and shot 28% from the floor in the first half and 33% for the game.
"We know what they're capable of," said Cronin."They scored 57 in the second half of their
game last week at DePaul, which was devastating to watch.The talent is there, and when you prepare for
a team, you prepare for their best effort.
"You have to give the kids credit - they were locked
in and focused.We had a team meeting on
Tuesday about mental state and how committed we were on defense when we only
had eight scholarship players and no big guys.If we can have that attitude, focus, and commitment, we have a chance to
make a run down the stretch."
After improving to 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big
East, the Bearcats have two days to prepare for a difficult road test at 18th-ranked
Marquette (20-5, 9-3).I suspect the
white t-shirt will come in handy as Cincinnati studies how to defend Darius Johnson-Odom.
Did we finally see the real Cheikh Mbodj?
After averaging a modest 2.7 points and 3.1 rebounds
in his first 14 games, the 6'10" JUCO transfer had his best Big East game on
Wednesday, finishing with 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in 16
minutes of playing time.All five blocks
came in the second half.
"In the first half, I asked Cheikh if somebody stole
his dog," said Coach Cronin."I said,
'Did somebody take your puppy, because I don't know where your mind is.'He has practiced so well in the last two
weeks and it just hasn't translated until the second half (last
night).He finally got comfortable on
both ends of the floor.I just think
he's nervous to be honest with you.
"His shot blocking has been off-the-charts in
practice.We were playing zone, and when
you have a guy in there patrolling the middle and blocking shots, it matters."
Just ask Syracuse.The 'Cuse is undefeated when 7-footer Fab Melo has been eligible.
Did you think that the officials did a good job in
the St. John's game?
Perhaps it was because my man Machock spent half of
the pre-game show chatting with his buddy Ed Hightower.
All kidding aside, I think Wednesday's crew of
Hightower, Pat Driscoll, and Brian O'Connell is among the strongest in the Big
I had little doubt that Chuck's streak of
consecutive games without being ejected would reach 287.
On Wednesday, the Big East officially announced the
addition of Memphis for all sports beginning in the fall of 2013.
"It's good to see something done for basketball,"
Coach Cronin told me."There's no doubt
that Memphis with their fan base and the FedEx Forum - basketball has always
been the lead-dog so to speak.We're
losing Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia in the coming years, so it's good to
add a basketball power to the Big East.Now that we're at 17, there is going to be speculation that there's
another team coming to get to 18, but I don't know who that would be.I think this is a positive for Cincinnati,
and anything that's positive for the Big East is a positive for Cincinnati."
The text message from Mick Cronin to his players was
sent on Monday night.Instead of
practicing the following afternoon at the usual time of 3 o'clock, everybody was
required to be ready to go at 7:30 on Tuesday morning.
"When he sent us the text, everybody was like, 'Yo,
this is not looking good,'" said Sean Kilpatrick."Usually when a coach wants you to come in at
7:30 in the morning it means you have to get your track shoes ready."
But Coach Cronin's objective was not punitive.
"We don't have class until 11 o'clock on Tuesdays
and Thursdays, so I was just trying to keep it fresh for the guys," Mick told
me."It gives them more recovery time
until the next day and changes the routine up - which I think is important this
time of year.Also, it allows the
coaching staff to get on the phone and recruit and do the things that they need
The twice-a-week early practices are
expected to continue until the end of the academic quarter and while they are
not meant to be punishment, the players have been doing plenty of running.
"It has been 'get out the track shoes' to be honest
with you," said Coach Cronin."I think
that lately we've played too slow and as a coach, you always have to look in
the mirror.Coaching is not about
telling guys what to do; it's about getting them to do it."
In their last two games, the Bearcats scored 53
points in their loss to Syracuse, and 54 in their loss at Rutgers.Coach Cronin disputes the notion that they've
changed their offensive approach from the attack that helped them win five of
their first six Big East games.
"You have to get easy baskets," said Coach
Cronin."When we were 5-1, we were
averaging 11 steals a game.The telling
stats for easy baskets are 'points off turnovers' and 'second-chance
points.'If you have to rely on all of
your baskets in a Big East game coming in the half-court, you're not going to
win.You have to get second and third
shots, and more importantly, you have to get easy baskets in transition.We've worked really hard at practice this
week on getting back to being aggressive on what we're doing on the defensive
end to get us some easier baskets on the offensive end.We're trying to get back to running on every
possession and trying to attack teams before they can set the defense."
Cincinnati is hardly the only team that has had
low-scoring games in Big East play.Connecticut scored 44 points in Wednesday's loss at Georgetown, the
Hoyas were held to 49 points in a victory over Providence on December 31st,
and Pittsburgh managed 39 points in a home game against Rutgers on January 11th.It didn't mean that Jim Calhoun, John
Thompson III, and Jamie Dixon forgot how to coach.
"Fans are entitled to their opinion, but I don't
think they realize how hard it is to score in the Big East," said Kilpatrick."Every day you face something different.Teams have scouting reports and they adjust
their defenses to the way that we play and the way that everybody else
plays.Lately, the teams in the Big East
have been doing a great job of that."
"Look at Syracuse," said Coach Cronin."They are number one in the country in
steals, but in their last three games, they scored 58 at Notre Dame, 60 at
Cincinnati, and 63 against West Virginia.Their scoring totals are coming down because teams are not giving them
all of those fast break points."
So in an effort to get the Bearcats back to forcing
turnovers and getting some easy hoops, Coach Cronin has been "cracking the whip"
at the crack of dawn.
"No mistake has gone unchallenged or unpunished this
week," Mick told me."But the guys'
attitude has been great.Winning will
take of itself if your focus is on playing smart, having intensity, and staying
together as a team."
"You never know what's going to happen with Coach
Cronin," said Kilpatrick."I think it's
been a good idea though.We looked at
the last couple of games that we played and it was embarrassing.Everyone knows that and everybody's mindset
has been different.The past few days
have been great."
I don't know about you, but if I had bolted from
high school in the middle of my senior year to enroll in college nine months early
I would have been absolutely petrified.
Shoot, I was nervous enough when I showed up in
September with the rest of the freshman class.
But nine members of this year's UC football
recruiting class that signed their letters of intent on Wednesday have been
enrolled in class since early January.
(Deionte Buckley, Warren Central H.S.)
"It was difficult at first," said running back
Deionte Buckley from Indianapolis, IN."You
have that heartbreak of missing your family and missing your friends - you
might have a girl back home - but after the third week or so you get used to
it.You know what you're here for and
you have to grind and work hard."
"I miss my family and I went to school with my
younger sister, so I miss going to school with her," said defensive lineman
Josh Posley from Indianapolis, IN."I
miss being part of my high school family, but I know what I'm here for and I
know that this is going to help me in the future."
By enrolling early, the nine recruits can get a jump
on their academics, participate in the Bearcats' off-season workout program, and
take part in spring football.
(Bennie Coney, Plant City H.S.)
"That's the best way to compete and have the
opportunity to play early," said quarterback Bennie Coney from Plant City,
FL."I decided that if I got in early, I
could learn the playbook and it would be fair game on the field."
"It was something that I always wanted to do because
I've always wanted to play as a true freshman," said linebacker Errol Clarke
from Miami, FL."So I figured what's the
point of waiting?I wanted to get a head
start on other guys and get going.I
just have to work really hard in the weight room and on the field."
"Since my freshman year of high school, I knew that
it was something that I wanted to do," said quarterback Trenton Norvell from
Daytona Beach, FL."Regardless of what
school that I chose, I just wanted to get ahead of the competition, get into
the playbook and the weight room, and have a chance to start."
The adjustment to college life has been an
eye-opener - especially the demands of strength and conditioning coach Dave
(Marcus Foster, Troy H.S.)
"He's been murdering us," said safety Marcus Foster
from Troy, OH."They say that it's going
to get even harder, but I've never been around anything like this.The first few weeks have been kind of
hectic.It's a lot different.Being on your own, you have to be responsible
and be where you're supposed to be.It's
a lot different when your mom and dad aren't there to tell you when to get up
and when to go to bed."
"We haven't started practice yet, but it's already a
lot of work," said defensive back Kevin Brown from Indianapolis, IN."You have to have the mindset to come in and
work hard because you know it's going to be better for you in the long run."
I spoke with seven of the nine early enrollees on
Wednesday and found their reasons for choosing Cincinnati to be remarkably
"The love and the atmosphere from the coaches," said
Coney."The players were upfront and
told me how everything was.They said
that the coaches were real and really cared about the players as more than just
"I came with my mom on my visit and it was her first
time flying.When we got to campus, all
of the coaches were at the bottom of the stairs and they gave me a standing
ovation.It was a real nice welcome and
I felt pretty special."
"When I first visited, it felt like a family - I felt
at home," said Buckley."I woke up one morning
and it was on my mind.I talked to my
parents about it and they loved it.When
they first came down here, they loved it too.It was God's will - he showed me here and this is the best place for me
"I felt like this was my best fit," said
Posley."I like the environment, I like
how the players interact with each other, and I feel like I have the best
chance of having a good college career here."
(Trenton Norvell, Seabreeze H.S.)
"I prayed to God about it," said Norvell."I was committed to Marshall, but one day I
woke up and I knew it was the right thing to do.I prayed for about a week, and I woke up one
day and I looked at all of the hats that I had and saw the C-Paw and it just
kind of hit me."
"We all felt like this was family and this was a
home-away-from-home," said Brown."Coach
Jones and Coach Coombs - who recruited me - made me feel like I was a part of
the family before I even got here.That
gave me the peace of mind that when I came here, I would have the family
structure that I have in my own home in Indianapolis."
This year's class of 28 signees and two preferred
walk-ons is the highest rated in school history.Scout.com has Cincinnati ranked second in the
Big East behind West Virginia, and 33rd in the country.
"It means a lot," said Posley."I love the players that were already here
before us, and I'm liking this class that we have.I really feel like we should go to a BCS bowl
and compete for the National Championship sometime soon."
"I think it says a lot about Coach Jones and what
he's been doing to get the program back on its feet after the 2010 season,"
said Brown."If we work hard, learn the
system, and be coachable, then we can be successful and eventually get to a
"It's nice to be part of something that's the best,"
said Coney."Best school, best fans,
best everything.That's how we want it."
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
"No I'm not," Thomas told me with a grin."And when you watch my game, you won't think
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
"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
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
"(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."
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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."
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.
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."
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
"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
"I was mad as hell," said Walker."But he's my guy so it's all good.He played good, man."
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.
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.
On the all-time list of people with magic
broomsticks, you have:
Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
players in the Harry Potter books.
assistant basketball coach Larry Davis.
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).
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
"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."
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."
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 anybig 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
"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.
"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