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NCAA teams provide benchmark for Bearcats

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So, watching the NCAA Tournament can be a good way to measure where your team is relative to being a postseason contender.

 

Whether you want to compare UC's basketball team to Northern Iowa and Butler or Michigan State and West Virginia, there are lessons to be learned from teams who have put on an amazing show over the past few weeks.

 

What that in mind, here is a wish list of sorts for the 2010-11 Bearcats:

 

1.     Find/recruit/develop a designated 3-point shooter or two (or three). I think about guys like Field Williams, Darnell Burton, LaZelle Durden - players who will nail a wide-open 3 a high percentage of the time. How many teams advanced in the NCAA when a reliable outside shooter hit a clutch shot in the final seconds? If you can't hit them regularly, you're unlikely to sink them when it counts most.  I thought maybe Larry Davis or Darnell Wilks could be that player last season. They weren't. If I were them, I'd be shooting 1,000 3-pointers a day. At least. UC needs someone with the mental makeup of an Ali Farokhmanesh (See Northern Iowa over Kansas).

2.     Bring in a team psychologist and a shot doctor to help with free-throw shooting. The end of so many games comes down to fouling and free-throw shooting. Anyone think any of the Bearcats would sink three straight free throws at the end of a game like Terrell Holloway did for Xavier with five seconds left at the end of regulation against Kansas State? Not me.

3.     I once covered a coach whose goal for this team was to "play harder longer" than any opponent. We've watched teams compete at an unbelievable level during the NCAA Tournament - and several NIT games (the Dayton Flyers come to mind). They may kick it up a notch during the postseason, but these are teams that are accustomed to playing and competing with that kind of intensity throughout the season. That's how you get to the NCAA - you can't just turn it on and off. After watching the Bearcats in the Big East tournament, how could you not help thinking: What if they played that hard every game all season?

4.     There have got to be a few bread-and-butter plays a team can use when it's going lengthy periods without scoring - kind of like a stopper in a baseball team's rotation who can halt a losing streak. I have not seen many teams over the years regularly go 7, 8, 9 minutes without scoring like this past season's UC team. Somebody has to be able to design a few go-to plays that prevent those kinds of droughts.

5.     While I appreciate that there were a lot of capable players on this year's team, it did not seem like natural roles developed for each guy. It was hard to point to the best player to run the offense, the best on the fast break, the defensive stopper, the spot-up shooter, the relentless rebounder. So many guys played different roles every night that I am not sure whether they found a rhythm in their roles.

 

I have been fortunate enough to cover some great head coaches and former assistants who are now head coaches: Gene Keady, Skip Prosser, Bob Huggins, Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Steve Lavin, Dino Gaudio, not to mention Mick Cronin and Chris Mack. I would never claim to know more about basketball than any of these guys.

 

Just sharing some thoughts I've had while watching this fabulous NCAA Tournament. Hope the Bearcat players are watching, too.

Tate surges toward Division I coaching job

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Andre Tate played for Bob Huggins, worked for Mick Cronin and has a good rapport with Kansas State coach Frank Martin and Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy, both former Huggins assistants.

 

But Tate's not ready to call any of them for a job. Yet.

 

He will someday.

 

Tate's been working on building his coaching resume. Last weekend he added the most impressive line item to date, leading Cincinnati State to the championship game in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II tournament. The Surge lost 71-60 in the final to Lincoln (Ill.) College on Saturday night but finished 27-9, setting a school record for most victories in a season.

 

"I knew we were going to be pretty good, especially toward the end of the year," Tate said.

 

This is his second stint with Cincinnati State. He was an assistant for Eric Thomas, then head coach for two years before leaving in 2006 to join Cronin's first staff at UC as video coordinator.  After two years with the Bearcats, the Cincinnati State job opened again. Some officials at the school probed to see whether Tate was interesting in returning.

 

He was. In 2008, he was back in charge of the Surge.

"Those two years over there with Mick at UC helped my coaching a lot," Tate said. "Just strategic-wise - playing the chess game with the other team, seeing the things that they're running, how to take things away, how to create certain matchups for yourself, using the different personnel that you have.

"But I also wanted to be on the floor teaching and recruiting and stuff like that. I just thought I had more to give."

Tate's interest in coaching goes back to his playing days.

He came to UC from Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and started for the Bearcats in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Huggins became UC's coach in 1989 and moved Tate to point guard, where he averaged 17.1 points and 3.4 assists as a senior.

Huggins often told Tate that he'd be a good coach.

 

"I thought I would," Tate said. "I always prided myself in being a coach on the floor. When you're a good point guard, you think like the coach."

Tate played professionally in Puerto Rico, Finland and Turkey and completed the requirements for his UC degree in 1993.

In 2000, former UC assistant Larry Harrison, now on Huggins' staff at West Virginia, encouraged Tate to get into coaching.

And so the dues-paying started.

 

One year as JV/assistant coach at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. One year as JV/assistant at Englewood High School. One year as head coach at Wendell Phillips High.

 

"It was exciting just coaching, being around the kids and being involved with basketball," Tate said. "That was the most satisfying thing to me when I first started, doing something that I really loved."

 

Then Tate left Chicago, moved to Cincinnati and was athletic director and a substitute teacher at Douglass Middle School in the Cincinnati Public Schools. At the same time, Cincinnati State was looking for an assistant coach. And in 2003-04, he joined the Surge staff.

 

A year later he became head coach. In his second season, he led Cincinnati State to a 26-9 record and a fifth-place finish in the national tournament.

 

In four years as a junior college head coach, Tate's teams are 87-48 (.644).

"I think I'm a good people person," he said. "I think people like playing for me. Kids play hard for me. I've been around. I'm from the inner city. I played JUCO basketball. I played Division I basketball. Kids just feed off of me.

"I want to be a Division I head coach. At the end of the day, that's where I want to be. My strength is working with kids and recruiting kids. I know what I bring to the table. I'm building up my resume."

And when he's ready, somebody's going to get a phone call.

 

It all looked and felt too familar

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If you're a UC basketball fan, you've experienced plenty of moments like tonight, when West Virginia stunned the Bearcats 54-51 at the buzzer in the Big East Championship quarterfinals.

Two memories come to mind immediately:

1. Charles Williams losing the ball out of bounds, setting up Xavier's upset when UC was No. 1 in November 1996.

2. West Virginia hitting a halfcourt shot to knock the Bearcats out of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

UC was a No. 2 seed that year and beat Northern Arizona in the first round of the NCAA. Bob Huggins was coaching against his alma mater and against former Cincinnati coach Gale Catlett,

The Bearcats were ahead 74-72 with 7.1 seconds left, West Virginia's Jarrod West took the inbounds pass, dribbled to halfcourt and fired away. UC's Ruben Patterson tipped the ball with his middle finger. The ball went right in for a Mountaineers upset. Certainly the stakes were higher that night; UC would've advanced to the Sweet 16.

Now, back to Williams. (Dion Dixon played his role tonight, losing the ball out of bounds in the final seconds to give the Mountaineers the chance to win)

It was Nov. 26, 1996, and the Crosstown Shootout was at Shoemaker Center. The Bearcats were the top-ranked team in the country and a 171/2-point favorite against Xavier.

The game was a classic Shootout that came down to the end. James Posey's basket off an inbounds play with 6.7 seconds remaining tied it 69-69. Williams was running up the court with the ball, then dribbled it off his foot. It went out of bounds to Xavier.

You know the rest: XU guard Lenny Brown nailed a jumper at the buzzer for a 71-69 Musketeers victory.

Well, tonight UC fans got to add another gut-wrenching moment to the vault.

Tales from UC's championship teams

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Before Tuesday night's game against Villanova, UC will honor members of the 1961 and 1962 national championship teams as a kickoff to a two-year celebration.

This brings to mind some of the related stories in "Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball," a book I wrote which came out in 2004.

Here are a few anecdotes about some of those players.

GETTING PSYCHED UP

 

     It was the day of the 1961 national championship game. No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Cincinnati. The first time in NCAA history two teams from the same state met in the title game.

     The Bearcat players were getting taped and dressing in the hotel across the street from the arena in Kansas City. A radio was turned on, and the team was listening to an Ohio State broadcaster breaking down the game's matchups. It was pretty much even, they decided, except for one position: That was UC's Bob Wiesenhahn against OSU's John Havlicek.

     "They thought he was going to whip me," Wiesenhahn said.

     Now understand, Wiesenhahn was the kind of player who preferred to play on the road and loved to get booed. It made him play harder. He was, well, an emotional guy.

     Getting knocked on the radio? "That's all I needed," he said. "I was a psycho. I got fired up real easy."

     "Weise's face just got red because (the announcer) called him a hatchet man," Carl Bouldin remembers. "He said, 'I'm going to kill him.' "

     Wiesenhahn outscored Havlicek 17-4 and outrebounded him 9-4. The Bearcats won their first NCAA title, 70-65 in overtime. Wiesenhahn mostly tried to keep Havlicek, who finished 1-of-5 shooting from the field, from touching the ball.

     "That was the greatest feeling that you could have," Wiesenhahn said. "That was very satisfying."

 

GOOD-BYE PURDUE, HELLO UC

 

     Ron Bonham was getting pressure to stay in state. A star at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School, his team won 29 straight games before losing to East Chicago Washington in the Indiana high school state finals.

     Naturally, Purdue and Indiana pursued him hard. Bonham picked Purdue, but was not thrilled with the choice. He went to West Lafayette, stayed a few days, then went back home and told his family he wanted to attend the University of Cincinnati.

     "UC is where my heart was all along," he said.

     In 1960-61, he played on UC's freshman team, which played an up-tempo style of basketball, just as Bonham's high school team did. That season, however, the "varsity" was slowing down their play under first-year coach Ed Jucker, and they went on to win the NCAA title.

     When his sophomore season started, Bonham was coming off the bench.

     "I have to admit, I played very little defense when I was in high school," he said. "We pressed the whole time. I didn't know how I was going to fit in (at UC). I had to get acclimated to playing defense, and that took a while. That helped me later on."
     Bonham was soon a starter and was second on the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). In the 1962 national championship against Ohio State, Bonham was matched against John Havlicek of the Buckeyes. Bonham scored just 10 points in the final, but UC won 71-59. Havlicek scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

     "We had scouted each other so much, I'd come off a pick and Havlicek would be waiting on me," Bonham said. "Jucker's strategy for me was to be a decoy. I just ran around and kept Havlicek right on me, and that helped them in starting the fast break."
     As a junior, Bonham averaged 21 points, was UC's top scorer and a consensus first-team All-American after leading the Bearcats to the 1963 NCAA final, where they lost to Loyola (Ill.) in overtime.

     He averaged 24.4 points and was second-team All-America as a senior, when the Bearcats went 17-9. Bonham left as UC's No. 2 scorer behind Oscar Robertson.

 

NO 'I' IN TEAM


     George Wilson was one of those guys who set a standard for role-playing when he was a Bearcat. Wilson was a high school All-American coming out of John Marshall High School in Chicago. He was a big-time scorer who continued that trend on UC's freshman team.
     But when it came time to join the varsity as a sophomore, the Bearcats were not in need of a scorer. They had Paul Hogue, Tom Thacker and Bonham. Coach Jucker told Wilson that he needed him to rebound and play defense. And so it was that Wilson became the defender always assigned to stop UC's toughest opponent.
     Wilson accepted the role and took it seriously, reading about his opponent and watching film so he knew what to do in games. All of this is why he calls a two-point, one-rebound performance the best of his sophomore year and one of the best in his career.
     Cincinnati was facing Creighton in its first NCAA Tournament game in 1962, and Wilson was going to be matched up with Paul Silas, who led the country in rebounding and was among the nation's top scorers.
     Silas would finished with just eight points and five rebounds, and UC won 66-46.
     "Everybody had to do their part, and that was my role," Wilson said. "Everybody gets a ring when you win a championship. When I speak to kids, they always ask, 'How many points did you score?' I didn't worry about scoring. I set picks. I did what I had to do."

GOOD TIMING


     Tom Thacker had not hit a shot all night. He was 0-of-6 from the field. And with the score tied in the final seconds of the 1962 NCAA semifinals against UCLA, the plan was for Thacker to give up the ball to Bonham, who would take the potential game-winning shot. Thacker dribbled to the right side, but Bonham was covered. "He couldn't get free," Thacker said. "I think everybody in the world knew Ron was going to get the ball."
     Time was running out. Thacker knew he had to get off a shot quickly. So, he fired away from about 12 feet out with three seconds left.
     "As soon as I let it go, I felt good," Thacker said. "It hit all net."
     The Bearcats would go on to the title game and defeat Ohio State 71-59 for their second consecutive national championship.
     When it came to winning championships, nobody was better than Tom Thacker.

     After winning two titles at UC, he won a North American Basketball League title with the 1967 Muskegon (Mich.) Panthers, an NBA title with the 1968 Boston Celtics and an ABA title with the 1971 Indiana Pacers.
     Thacker, from William Grant High School in Covington, Ky., would also become the first African-American head coach at the University of Cincinnati, leading the women's basketball program from 1974-77.


 

 

 

 

Schneider's eyes set on NCAA title, Olympics

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   Josh Schneider is being very cautious. He's watching what he eats. He's making sure he's not around anyone who is sick.

   The NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships are March 25-27 in Columbus. And the University of Cincinnati standout swimmer isn't taking any chances.

   "I'm being a lot more careful this year," he says.

   This year.

   What that means is that he is still haunted by last year.

   Schneider has qualified for the NCAA meet for the second straight time in three events: The 50-meter freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.  It is the third year in a row for the 50 free.

   A year ago, the weekend after winning all three events at the Big East Conference championships, Schneider came down with a fever. It was a Friday. "I thought it was a one-day thing," he says. "I thought I'd sweat it out."

   He felt better by night time and through most of the next day. That Saturday evening he went out with friends and before the night was over he had the chills again. Sunday he could not get out of bed and had no appetite.

   "I felt awful," Schneider says. "I don't know what happened. I caught something."

   He lost 15 pounds. While he gained some back by the time the NCAA meet came, he was still a good 10 pounds underweight.

   Needless to say, the championships did not go well.

   Schneider finished 15th in the 50 free - his strongest event. That was his best finish.

   "Last year was really rough," he says. "I've never run into a problem like that. I know everyone has their excuses ..."

   He stops there.

   "I don't really care what my time will be in the 50 free, to be honest, as long as I claim an NCAA championship," Schneider says of this year's meet. "The other races are kind of little bonuses to show that I have more to offer than just an up-and-back swim."

 

*

 

   Lost in all the stories about Reds spring training, the Winter Olympics and looming March Madness is the tale of this Taylor High School graduate and former high school swimming state champion who has an opportunity to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

   Josh Schneider is that good. And yet his saga still flies under the radar.

   Just to recap, Schneider:

·         Won Big East titles in three events for the second year in a row and was named the conference's Swimmer of the Year for the second straight time. He also holds UC records in all of his events.

·         Was UC's Male Athlete of the Year in 2009.

·         Shares the fastest time in the country in the 50 free with Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian from the University of California.

   "The Olympics is 100 percent reasonable now," Schneider says. "I've just got to keep improving. There is so much more to improve on; you can't ever be content because no one else is."

   It is, in some ways, that lack of contentment that led Schneider to overhauling his form last summer.

   He went to Charlotte, N.C., to train with Dave Marsh and Cullen Jones, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. 4x100 freestyle relay team in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Marsh coached more than 20 Olympians while leading Auburn University to seven men's and five women's NCAA titles.

   "They changed my stroke completely," Schneider says. "Wiped the slate clean. Started all over.

   "I knew what I was doing wasn't right. I wasn't feeling the water. I wasn't getting what all the coaches were explaining to me. I knew this was the right choice, and I bought into it. I started changing my stroke, and I actually started feeling the water. They call it slipping, when you're not catching water and you can throw your arms around as fast as you can."

   This is a good time to mention that Schneider is 6-foot-4 and counts his size and strength among his competitive advantages (some other swimmer named Michael Phelps is also 6-4).

   "Now with this new stroke, I feel I can use my gifts," Schneider says.

 

*

 

   In some ways, this whole swimming season has been about preparing for an NCAA title and a shot at the Olympics.

   Schneider will work out at UC throughout March with Bearcat coaches Monty Hopkins, Michael Hewitt and Randi Vogel, to whom he gives plenty of credit. Schneider says Hopkins has put in extra time working with him, and Vogel - a former UC swimmer in her second year on the coaching staff - has brought "a different spice to the team." "You see her get excited, and it gets you excited," Schneider says.

   Schneider will earn a finance degree in June and plans to continue for another quarter to complete requirements for a double major. He's thinking about a career in sales - down the road.

   His peers are out looking for jobs and thinking about how to support themselves after graduation. Schneider is more concerned with a successful NCAA meet, maybe securing a sponsor and figuring out where to train this summer.

   The U.S. National Team will be announced Sept. 1 based on results from the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships (Aug. 3-7, Irvine, Calif.) and the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships (Aug. 18, Irvine, Calif.).

   "I'm really keeping my fingers, toes and eyes crossed, being optimistic," he says. "Just seeing what doors open after NCAAs. I know a lot of people are job searching right now. I don't even know where I'm living (this summer). All I know right now is I have a chance to make the Olympics if I keep my head on straight."


Former UC volleyball star on amazing adventure

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   It's one thing to talk about former Bearcat football and basketball players competing professionally in the NFL or NBA or overseas. That's not so uncommon and has been happening for close to 60 years.

   But a former UC volleyball player competing professionally?

   Uh, that's a rarity.

   "I don't think any of my other players have gone overseas to play," said Reed Sunahara, in his 10th years as UC's volleyball coach. "I know that some have looked into it, but it didn't work out."

   The exception is Bonita Wise.

   She is currently playing professional volleyball in Finland. She previously played on teams in Austria, Croatia and Spain.

    "I have enjoyed every experience that I have had overseas," Wise said in an email exchange from Finland. "Every year I learn something new about a different culture. Of course, there are some negative things, like not getting paid on time, or missing holidays at home. But for the most part it has been nothing but positive."

   Let's backtrack for just a moment.

   Wise came to UC from Riverside, Calif., and had a stellar college career. She was Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year in 1999 and was all-league four straight years. Three times she was first-team all-conference and three times she was on the Conference USA All-tournament team.

   She graduated in 2003 and ranks fifth in UC history in kills (1,534), sixth in career hitting percentage (.297), fifth in career block assists (431) and fourth in total blocks (498).

   "Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I decided that I wanted to try and be a professional athlete," Wise said. "My dad played basketball overseas in the Philippines, so I kinda wanted to see if my sport can lead me in the same direction." 

   Said Sunahara: "The reason Bonita has had a successful professional volleyball career is that she is and was persistent. She wasn't afraid to take a chance in playing overseas. She played for a small salary at first and I think now she is doing OK for herself."
   So, what's the path from UC to Finland been like?

   We'll just let Wise tell you (if you love to travel, prepare to be jealous):

   Team 1: "My first season I signed with VC Tirol in Innsbruck, Austria.  My coach put the three foreigners (another American and a Czech) in German class. I also helped coach the junior team while I was there, so that helped my German. I liked it there, we made it to the playoffs, but the next season I wanted something new and better competition. The practices were easy, and I would rather have harder training sessions. Austria was fun, and I had a good time and still keep in touch with the coaches and the players."

   Team 2: "Seasons two and three I played for OTP Banka Pula, in Pula, Croatia. Croatia is beautiful, and their culture is a bit different. But I loved it there. That is my second family. I always go back to visit after every season. We practiced twice a day with only one day off a week. The second season we placed third in Cup and third in the league, which was good. I was tired all the time, but it was worth it. I learned Croatian pretty quickly without classes, but it's not an easy language. It is a Slavic language, so I can understand Serbian, and a little Slovenian, Czech and Russian. I loved it there because the practices were challenging and I lived five minutes from some of the best beaches in Europe." 

   Team 3: "Last year I played in Lleida, Spain. I always wanted to play in Spain, and I finally had my chance. I really like Spanish culture. It is great, and there are a lot of things to do. I thought I would enjoy the siestas more, but they turned out to be a pain because all the stores would close for a few hours in the middle of the day, which was annoying. I took Spanish in high school, so I didn't have much trouble, but their Spanish is different from Latin America Spanish. I had three other girls from Argentina on my team and everybody else was from Spain. This was the first season that I didn't have another American, and the first time not everybody spoke basic English. In fact, surprisingly a lot of Spaniards don't speak English at all. Last year we made it to the finals of Superliga B and lost. If we won we would have moved up to Superliga A., I definitely would have played in Spain one more season, but almost every team has suffered due to their economic crisis, so we had trouble getting paid on time, and the full amount. This is the main risk you have to take when you play in Spain."

   Team 4: "While I was waiting to get a call for this season, I had an opportunity to play in Maldives for their national tournament in October." (Note: Maldives is an island country in the Indian Ocean). "This culture was very different from European culture or any other culture I had been in. Normally, the one foreigner on a team was not American, due to the United States' relationship with the Islamic religion. So, I got to be the first American to play in the tournament. Everybody was really nice, and spoke good English. In the Muslim culture they would pray five times a day. They would even pause our matches if it was during one of the times. Some of my teammates chose to be fully covered, so they would play in sweatpants, long sleeves and their head dresses. I had to have my legs covered when I went to eat. We took first in the tournament, and I feel very lucky that I was able to go. Maldives was amazing. They have the best beaches I have ever seen - even better than Croatia." 

   Team 5: "I had decided to go to Finland while I was in Maldives, so I came straight here after the tournament was over - which brings me to Finland today. I don't like cold weather, which was the main reason I always passed up offers from Finland. However, everyone here gets paid on time. So I figured I'd take a chance and also try out Scandinavia. Finnish people are shy but very nice, and very smart.  Everyone speaks excellent English. I forget I am in Finland until I walk outside and it is freezing - then I remember!  I don't know any Finnish because my whole team is always speaking English, and the language is very difficult because the words are very long. Finnish people are all about sauna time. It's like winter wonderland up here, so I am going to try to do all things Finnish. Obviously I've had my sauna time and I went ice skating yesterday. Now all I have to do is ice dip in the lake, go ice fishing, skiing and start drinking one gallon of milk a day (Fins love milk),  then you can consider me officially Finnish. Currently we are in first place, so things are good."

   Sounds more like the Amazing Race than an athletic career.

   Ready to board a plane yet?

   Wise typically returns to the states for two weeks around Christmas and in her offseason, from May until August or September.

   She knows now just how good she had it while at the University of Cincinnati. Players overseas don't have access to trainers the way they do in college. She also does not find practices quite as challenging as Sunahara's.

   And the competition isn't always the best.

   But there's no substitute for the experiences she's had all over the world.

   "I have made really great friends and connections," Wise said. "I'm lucky because I always feel very blessed to be on every team; there hasn't been one player that I haven't liked. I'm godmother to a teammate's daughter in Croatia and am going back to a few weddings soon. 

   "Every year I say I will maybe play one more season. I have been saying this for three years. I like to try new things and new cultures. I've done the western and eastern parts of Europe and now Scandinavia. 

I would love to play in Turkey or Greece, but they have trouble with pay to, so I might try to play in France."

   Sounds like a plan.

 

 

 

Bearcats made key plays in two Super Bowls

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In January 1976, I came down to Cincinnati from Cleveland to visit my brother, a 1974 UC graduate. He took me to a Bearcats basketball game against George Washington at the Armory Fieldhouse on campus.
 
During the game, he pointed out a man sitting on the other side of the arena. It was former Bearcat Reggie Harrison, a hero of the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory in Super Bowl X over Dallas. We went over and met him either during halftime or when the game was over. I'm sure I have his autograph somewhere.
 
Anyway, I came across this story online about Harrison, who had several concussions playing football and suffered some long-lasting effects. http://tinyurl.com/y8l84q5
There was also a story about Jim O'Brien, another former Bearcat who was a Super Bowl hero. He kicked the game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Colts in their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. http://tinyurl.com/yjexb9j

 

How about that? Two Bearcats were key players in the first 10 Super Bowls.


The way Bearcats finish is crucial for NCAA hopes

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   We're here today to discuss the month of February. All hearts, presidents and groundhogs aside, it's a month when college basketball teams make their moves to earn NCAA Tournament bids.

   Or not.

   We're looking closely at this because, well, the Bearcats are going to be on the bubble for an NCAA berth. What they do in the next six weeks will determine whether they can return to the NCAA for the first time since Bob Huggins left in 2005.

   In Mick Cronin's three years as UC's coach, the Bearcats are a combined 8-20 in regular-season games after Feb. 1, including 7-12 the past two seasons. Cincinnati's February record since Huggins is 11-17 (three seasons under Cronin and one under Andy Kennedy).

   Last year's team had a shot at an NCAA bid, then lost 5 of 6 regular-season games and its first Big East Conference tournament game. That turned a 17-8 record into an 18-14 finish with no postseason. The year before, UC was 13-12, then finished the season with seven consecutive losses

   In 2006-07, Cronin's first year, the Bearcats were 9-3, then finished their season losing 11 of 12 games.

   To be fair, Huggins' teams were more talented and were not playing in the powerful Big East Conference.

   Still, in 16 years Huggins only had a losing record after Feb. 1 twice (2002-03, 1994-95) with a total regular-season winning percentage of 68% after Feb. 1.

   The remaining nine games this season are not easy. They include four teams in the top 10 (Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown).

   Below is a look at UC's late-season record over the past 20 years.

 

  

Mick Cronin

Year       February record           After Feb. 1 (regular season)

2008-09              4-3                               4-6                               

2007-08              3-3                               3-6                               

2006-07              1-7                               1-8                               

Total                8-13                              8-20

 

Andy Kennedy

2005-06              3-4                               4-4                               

 

Bob Huggins

2004-05              5-3                                7-3                               

2003-04              5-3                                6-4       

2002-03              3-4                                4-6

2001-02              6-2                                7-2       

2000-01              5-2                                7-2

1999-2000          6-1                                8-1

1998-99             5-3                                5-3       

1997-98             7-2                                7-2

1996-97            10-1                              10-2

1995-96             7-2                                7-3

1994-95             2-4                                3-6

1993-94             4-4                                5-4

1992-93             6-3                                7-3

1991-92             7-1                                8-1

1990-91             5-4                                5-4

1989-90             6-2                                6-3

Total                89-41                            102-49

Recalling the night Logan outscored UC's opponent

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   When I heard back in the summer that Steve Logan was going to be inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame, I was excited for him. I was the UC beat reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer during Logan's junior and senior years and found him to be one of the most exciting players I covered during my 11 years writing about college basketball.

   Of course, I was saddened a short time later when I read that he was arrested in Cleveland on charges of rape and gross sexual imposition. Just last week Logan removed himself from the Hall of Fame induction this year while dealing with his personal issues. The Hall of Fame banquet is Feb. 19.

   I haven't seen Logan since late in 2004 when he was at a UC game. The next day he spontaneously did a book signing ("Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball") with me and Corie Blount at the Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee.

   When I think of Logan's playing days, one of my favorite memories was a game on Feb. 15, 2002, when he did something I had never seen before: He outscored an opponent all by himself.

   The Bearcats blew out Southern Mississippi 89-37 that night - and Logan himself had 41 points.

   James Green, the coach at Southern Miss back then, said his team tried to deny Logan the ball, tried to double-team him, tried everything. But Logan still went 12-of-18 from the field, hit 8 of 13 shots from 3-point range and added nine assists and six rebounds. He also made 9 of 10 free throws.

   "To do it in a game like there was nobody in the gym with me, it's amazing," Logan told me the next day. "I was just in a zone, I guess."

    The 5-foot-11 guard was Conference USA Player of the Year two years in a row, was first-team All-America as a senior and finished as the No. 2 scorer in school history. He also won the Francis Pomeroy Naismith Award as the top player in the country 6 feet and under.

   In one of those life-altering situations, Logan fell out of the first round of the 2002 NBA draft and was the first pick in the second round (by Golden State). The misfortune of this? There was one less first-round pick because Minnesota had forfeited its first-round selection. If Logan would have gone in the first round, he would have received a guaranteed contract.

   Instead, his agent and the Warriors could not agree on contract terms and Logan never played in the NBA, though he did spend some time playing in Poland and Israel.

   I always thought it was a shame. It would've been interesting to see how Logan, despite his lack of height, could have fared in the NBA. His will to succeed and will to win were incredible. Though he was short, I always wondered whether he had the intangibles to make it in the pros.

 

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   You can catch former Bearcat Trent Cole in the NFL's Pro Bowl this Sunday night (7:30, ESPN). The fifth-year defensive end had 90 tackles and 12.5 sacks this season for Philadelphia. He is playing in his second Pro Bowl (2007). Cole, 27, is fifth all-time on the Eagles career sacks list with 47.

   As for the Super Bowl (Feb. 7), UC fans can watch for Troy Evans, an eighth-year linebacker and special teams player with the New Orleans Saints. This is his third season with the Saints after five with the Houston Texans. The Lakota High School graduate had 29 tackles this season.

 

 

 

Here's a good reason to pay attention to World Cup soccer

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When the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa begins in June, University of Cincinnati fans will have a rooting interest - in New Zealand.  

 

The All Whites, as they are known, will be competing in their first World Cup since 1982 and only their second ever. On the roster is Tim Brown, who played for the Bearcats from 2000 to 2003 and was second-team Academic All-America in 2003.  

 

Playing in the World Cup used to be Brown's goal in soccer. These days he's got more in mind.  

 

"Now that we have qualified, that goal has grown slightly to performing with distinction at the World Cup," he writes during an email exchange. "That will be a massive challenge. I really want to get some respect from the many who believe we shouldn't be there."  

 

After graduating from UC, Brown began playing professional soccer, a route that took him to the Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer Leagues Second Division, to the Newcastle United Jets in Australia, to the Wellington Phoenix FC in New Zealand. He is vice-captain of that team.  

 

He was chosen captain of New Zealand's team in the 2009 Confederations Cup last June by coach Ricki Herbert.  

 

"My finest achievement as a sportsperson," he calls the title.  

 

Brown, 28, was born in England but moved to New Zealand, his mother's home country, when he was around 4. By the time he was 17 he was playing for the Miramar Rangers AFC soccer club, which led to an opportunity with New Zealand's Under-20 team.  

 

He started attending Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, but says he received about a half dozen scholarship offers from U.S. colleges. Brown chose Cincinnati because of its soccer program and the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning.  

 

He helped lead the Bearcats to the Conference USA regular-season championship and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2003

 

"I played four years as a Bearcat and loved every moment of it," he writes.  

 

"Playing soccer and attending DAAP proved to be a big challenge during my time at UC. At the time, and I am not sure if it has changed, there were few athletes in that particular school. I am very proud to have graduated from DAAP cum laude as an NSCAA Academic All-American. As a professional athlete in this part of the world I am one of the very few to have a degree. It is something that will set me up for life after sport. I would like to go back to school at the end of my career, possibly in the U.S., to do my masters."  

 

New Zealand, in Group F, begins World Cup play against Slovakia on June 15. Meanwhile, Brown is trying to help turn Wellington into a perennial winner.  

 

"In many ways my career has come full circle," he writes. "I love playing professionally in my home town."