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Recently in Michael Perry Category

   When I interviewed close to 80 former UC players and coaches for "Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball," which came out in 2004, I couldn't help but include Cheryl Cook, even though the book was all about the men's program.

   Cook remains the greatest women's basketball player in school history, and I have memories of watching her play - and more than hold her own - with all guys in Laurence Hall pick-up games.

   A funny story that emerged for the book was about Luther Tiggs, who played for the UC men's team and broke a finger and missed two games because of Cook.

     "She was the best women's player I ever saw," Tiggs told me. "She was extremely competitive. She always wanted to play with the guys. They called her a few names, but nobody gave her an out. That's what she wanted.

     "One day, she wanted to play one-on-one at a side basket. She had the ball and she made a move toward the baseline and my hand went across the body because I wanted to strip her of the ball. I pulled it back. When I looked up, my index finger was completely severed. I ran to the trainer, and my finger was just hanging there. They had to stitch it up. The guys were really on me about that."

   When we talked about that story several years ago, Cook said: "It wasn't intentional. Now that you brought it up, I still feel bad about it."

   We mention all this because Cook was announced as a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 on Monday.

   Already her retired No. 24 jersey hangs on the wall in Fifth Third Arena and she is a member of UC's Athletic Hall of Fame.

   She is the Bearcats' all-time leading women's scorer (2,367 points) and went to win a gold medal with the U.S. team in the 1983 Pan American Games and a silver medal with the U.S. team in the 1985 World University Games. She played six years in Spain and Italy and even had a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters.

   "It's been a great journey," she said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

   Cook now lives in Bedford Heights, Ohio, and is administrator at the Department of Youth Services in Cleveland. She also coaches the organization's basketball team (ages 16-21) and says she has won three straight state championships.

   "I enjoy working with kids and I wanted to be able to give something back," she said.

   She'd like to give back to women's basketball and UC, too, by joining its broadcast "team."

   That would be Tom Gelehrter, manager of new media and broadcasting at UC who does live play-by-play for the Bearcat women's games for CATSVision All-Access on www.gobearcats.com. Cook and Gelehrter met in Cincinnati in November.

      "There's a definite opportunity for her to join me on the broadcast," Gelehrter said. "She indicated to me she'd be down for games. The door is wide open. I do all the women's games by myself. I'll have a head set for her. It's as easy as that for me. To have someone of Cheryl Cook's stature on the broadcast would be great."

   As a senior in 1984-85, Cook was the nation's No. 2 scorer (27.5 ppg) and was named second-team All-America.  Known as the "Cookie Monster," she was twice Metro Conference Player of the Year and sometimes practiced with the UC men's team.

   "I am always a Bearcat at heart," she said. "Color analyst for UC women's basketball - that's the ultimate job. I would love to continue to try to get the women as much exposure as they deserve.

   "I would love to be a part of something special that they have going. If people will be patient with (Coach Jamelle Elliott), she's going to make UC people and the community proud."

   Cook grew up playing against six brothers and was a star at Indianapolis Washington High School. She averaged 29.7 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as a senior in 1981 and was named Indiana's Miss Basketball.

   Her official induction to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame will be April 24 in Indianapolis.

   "I'm humbled," she said. "I take a lot of people in with me, so I don't just go alone - family, faculty at my high school, coaches at UC, my teammates at UC, my teammates in high school. Everybody had something to do with this."

 

Bearcats need consistency from Vaughn

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   The UC men's basketball team begins conference play tonight against No. 10-ranked Connecticut. The stakes for the season have just been raised.  

 

   It's with that in mind that we bring up Deonta Vaughn and his senior season.  

 

   Vaughn is already the No. 11 scorer in school history (tied with Darnell Burton). UC has at least 20 games left. Vaughn needs to average 21 points a game to catch No. 2 Steve Logan and 15 points a game to catch No. 3 Danny Fortson.  

 

   Right now, Vaughn is averaging a career-low 9.8 points. At that rate, he'll be lucky catch No. 4 Roger McClendon.  

 

   The start to his final season as a Bearcat has been shockingly inconsistent.

 

   In the first 11 games, Vaughn has scored in double digits only six times with a high of 16 points against Maryland. He went scoreless in 26 minutes against Miami then in the first half against Xavier.  Over the last five games, Vaughn has averaged just 7.2 points while shooting 30.2 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range.  

 

   Vaughn is obviously capable. He dropped 34 points on Notre Dame as a junior. His sophomore year he scored a career-high 36 against Coastal Carolina.  

 

   In reviewing his stats, I became curious as to how others fared as seniors. I looked back at Logan and McClendon. Why those guys? Fortson only played three years and didn't have a senior season. And there's no sense comparing anyone to Oscar Robertson, who, of course, is No. 1 on the scoring list.  

 

   Logan was simply spectacular from the first game of 2001-02 when he scored 31 points against Oklahoma State. He scored 30 or more five times (including two games with 40 or more), averaged 22 points a game and only had one outing in single digits (seven points against Charlotte). You could pencil in Logan for 15 to 20 a night, knowing you might get more. He was incredibly consistent. UC finished 31-4.  

 

   Like Vaughn, McClendon got off to a slow start in 1987-88, scoring nine points against Northern Kentucky and seven against Kentucky. But he did come back with 33 points against Miami in Game Four and averaged 15.3 points over the first 11 games. McClendon averaged 14.5 points for the season, down 5.4 points from his junior year. The Bearcats finished 11-17.

 

   None of the top 20 scorers in UC history averaged less than 10 points as a senior. The last 1,000-point scorer to do that was Damon Flint, who averaged 8.9 points in 1996-97 as he took on a different role behind Fortson, Ruben Patterson and Burton.  

 

   You could argue Vaughn is doing the same as freshman Lance Stephenson has become the Bearcats' go-to player.  

 

   You could - and should - also argue that Cincinnati needs Vaughn to score more and be more consistent to do well in the Big East Conference. Vaughn is still second on the team in minutes played and field-goal attempts and No. 1 in 3-point attempts, assists, turnovers and steals.  

 

   He should benefit from the attention Stephenson is taking away, not to mention all the other talented players on the team. Vaughn needs to be playing with the sense of urgency with which seniors typically play.  

 

   An NCAA Tournament bid could depend on it.  

 

  

Coombs: Prep for bowl game better than last year

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No fear. No awe. That's what Kerry Coombs sees from the University of Cincinnati players.

 

The Bearcats' defensive backs coach and associate head coach is helping the team prepare for its New Year's Day matchup with Florida in the Sugar Bowl. It is UC's second straight BCS bowl appearance, and Coombs says there is a noticeable difference from a year ago.

 

"I think we're much better suited this time than we were the last time because we were star-struck last time," Coombs says. "I believe our players and coaches have a much better feel for what the BCS involves.  We've tried to make sure that our preparation is very solid prior to going to New Orleans so we're down there sharpening the sword instead of installing new things.

 

"I feel very good about the change in the way we're preparing this time over last time. We didn't tackle much (in practice) last time; we've done a lot of that. I think we learned a lot of lessons from the last game."

 

Virginia Tech easily handled Cincinnati 20-7 in last season's Orange Bowl. UC struck first and led 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.  But the Hokies dominated the rest of the way, finishing with 398 yards of total offense and holding the ball 19 minutes more than the Bearcats.

 

This year, UC is preparing to face the defending national champion Florida Gators and quarterback Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner who threw for 2,413 yards and rushed for 1,026 yards this season. He accounted for 31 touchdowns.

 

"It is a great challenge," Coombs says. "We'll take the field in the Sugar Bowl, with all that history and tradition, against what 20 years from now may be regarded as the greatest college football player of all time. And what a great opportunity for us. I think our kids are looking at it that way. I don't think they're awestruck. I know this - they're not afraid one bit. They're just looking forward to playing."

 

Coombs says preparing for the Gators is the same as getting ready for all opponents, just with more practice. "You don't have time to pause and think about how good they are," he says.

 

While UC's high-powered offense attracts a lot of attention, the defense may very well be the key to this game. The Bearcats have allowed 44 (Pittsburgh), 36 (Illinois), 21 (West Virginia) and 45 points (Connecticut) in the last four games - a 36.5 average.

 

That's after allowing an average of just 12.9 points over the first eight games.

 

"When you look at the points that we've allowed ... it's been the result of an individual player's breakdown on a certain play or the function of the defense having the right call," Coombs says. "It's not been, boy, we've got 11 guys who have gotten bad all of a sudden. We played great defense for a large part of the year.

 

"The great thing about our defense is they've played well enough to win. They fight and scratch and claw. If you look at where we were when it was 31-10 to winning that game at Pittsburgh, it was the defense that brought the team back. That's something those kids are very encouraged by. They're really excited and eager to play on this stage. They've heard the talk and they will be prepared."

 

Since the thrilling victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 5 that gave UC the Big East title, the program has gone through unprecedented upheaval.

 

Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn was named interim coach for the Sugar Bowl. Butch Jones from Central Michigan was named UC's new head coach. And Quinn accepted the job at Buffalo's head coach while remaining to coach the Sugar Bowl.

 

Crazy times, for sure.

 

One constant is Coombs, the former Colerain High School coach who was Jones' first hire for his new staff. Coombs is a Cincinnati guy who wants to be in town and with the Bearcats.

 

"I'm thrilled at my choice," he says of staying with UC. "I think everybody is going to come out of this thing in a great situation one way or another. These are great men who are great coaches and wherever they are coaching they're going to be successful.

 

"I love Brian Kelly and I will always be in Brian Kelly's debt because he hired me at the University of Cincinnati when he hadn't even met me before. He's a great coach. Brian is going to be very, very successful at Notre Dame. At the same time, this is the University of Cincinnati, and I am very excited to be here. I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with Butch and the other coaches who will be here, as well."

 

Jones announced the hiring of Coombs at his introductory press conference. Coombs says the two have known each other for years and used to go head-to-head at a University of Michigan summer camp when Coombs coached defensive backs and Jones wide receivers.

 

"His style would be a little bit more laid-back (than Kelly) on the interpersonal level," Coombs says. "He will be very intense at practice and at games. In casual conversation he's relaxed.  I think he's confident. He feels very good about the situation that's found himself in. I think he's excited about the future.

 

"He's inquisitive. He wants to know everything there is to know about the team, the players, the recruiting. We haven't even gotten to the city yet. That's coming after we get through this, and that will be a whole nother learning curve for him. The town, the team and the university - everybody is going to be attracted to Butch.

 

While Jones is not coaching UC in its bowl game and is doing his best to maintain a low profile during preparations for New Orleans, he is already hard at work on the Bearcats' behalf.

"He's been very cognisant of the process that we're going through," Coombs says. "He's not trying to impose himself on that at all, which I think everybody appreciates. At the same time, he's here. He's working on recruiting. He met with a lot of our committed kids over the weekend. And that was good because he was received very well by them. So he's hard at work, but he's working in the future. He's allowing these players and this coaching staff to finish the job, which I think is admirable on all fronts. He wants it to be that way, and I give him credit for that. It's a tough situation for everybody.

 

"I admire the way everybody is preparing and focusing and working day in and day out. The kids, the coaches, we're just doing our business. That's a really admirable thing to watch."

 

 

Another classic Shootout

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   So many reasons to love the Crosstown Shootout this year - and every year.

   I know both coaches hate it, but it's such a great, intense game. I would think Mick Cronin and Chris Mack, when watching video with their teams, will tell their guys they need to play with that kind of passion every game. You know, like against UAB on Wednesday night and Lipscomb (Lipscomb? Really?) on Saturday.

   Had major computer issues last night and found later that blog posts never posted. Thought today I'd throw out a few observations from the thriller in Cintas.

 

·         The first half of XU's 83-79 victory told you all you need to know about why this game is different. Fights almost broke out twice. Players had to be restrained. Coaches and staff ran out on the floor. That's not happening against Miami University, folks.  The beginnings of these games are often sloppy because of the level of intensity with which everyone comes out. Also guys try to too hard. While I personally like some pushing and trash-talking because it keeps the rivalry heated, unfortunately for the Bearcats they kind of lost their composure and let a seven-point lead disappear. "You've got to be able to walk away," Cronin said later. "True toughness is dealing with the environment and dealing with the game. My guys lost their cool. We were concerned about everything but execution." No question. The guys acted like they've never been in a physical game before. "Just a little talking going on," Rashad Bishop said. "It just kind of escalated a little too far." Cronin stressed composure at halftime, and the players seemed to get the message.  The second half was great ball on both sides.

 

·         It's always interesting to see who rises to the occasion in these games and who doesn't. Obviously Xavier's Terrell Holloway (career-high 26 points, 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and Jason Love (19 rebounds, five blocks) were sensational. UC freshman Lance Stephenson scored a career-high 22 points and is really tough to stop one-on-one.  "I felt like every play I could make the basket," said Stephenson, who was allowed to speak to the media for the first time since arriving at UC. "This was a very competitive game. I didn't know it was this tough."

 

·         Holloway, like Stephenson from New York, told Mack during the game that he wanted to guard Stephenson.  He did a decent job, making Stephenson work for his points. Stephenson has averaged 19.5 points in the last two games and is clearly UC's go-to guy. Deonta Vaughn had a career-high nine rebounds, but it took him too long to get going offensively. Coming off zero points against Miami, he didn't score against Xavier until 2½ minutes into the second half. He finished with 13 but missed a layup in the final seconds of double-overtime.

 

·         By the way, Mack indicated that Stephenson was, uh, talking to him during the game. Stephenson could not seem to recall that.

 

·         Both coaches used lots of players (9 each played at least 10 minutes) and lots of combinations. Cronin did not start Yancy Gates but needed him quickly when Steve Toyloy picked up two fouls in the first 2½ minutes. Mack didn't start leading scorer Jordan Crawford. Said he wanted to try a different lineup. Uh huh.  Darnell Wilks strikes me as very productive: He had eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes and was 2-of-4 from 3-point range.

 

·         Some stats: This was only the sixth overtime game in Crosstown Shootout history and the first to go into double overtime. "A Shootout to remember," Mack called it. Xavier has won five of these games; UC's only OT victory was in 1967. ... The Musketeers have defeated UC three straight times for only the second time ever. The first was 1984-86, the Byron Larkin era at X. XU has never won four in a row in the series.  ... UC has lost 10 of the last 14 and has not won at Xavier since Dec. 14, 2001.

 

·         Bearcats were just 10-of-22 from the foul line and may have lost the game because of poor free-throw shooting, which also hurt them in their other loss to Gonzaga. UC missed a free throw in first OT and missed three in the second overtime that could have won it. Xavier, meanwhile, was 28-of-36. "We're not finishing on the interior," Cronin said, reminding that UC also missed close-range shots and layups. "We've got to learn how to close out a game." Cincinnati is shooting just 60.2% from the foul line for the season.

 

·         Wonder if ESPN will broadcast the game next year. Seems relegating it to ESPNU was not the best decision. No matter where in the country you live, that was a great game to watch.

 

·         Pretty cool that both coaches are home-grown (Cronin went to LaSalle High School; Mack to St. Xavier). "Half my family hates Xavier and they root for UC," Mack said after the game.

 

·         Perhaps the best thing about the Shootout is it's so unpredictable that it's predictable. The fact that UC was ranked going in combined with the fact that Xavier had been playing horribly only meant one thing: The Musketeers would have a great chance to win.  But that was anybody's game and a blast to watch.

 

 

 

 

Something to think about

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   Not to change the subject, turn the page or move on with life ... but here's a thought:

   Is there a better moment to get behind Mick Cronin, support the UC men's basketball program, pray that he continues to build on this early season success and takes the Bearcats to the next 20 NCAA Tournaments?
   Here is a home-grown guy who is not going to stand up in front of a crowd at another school and proclaim it his dream job. He is not Brian Kelly pining for Notre Dame or Thad Matta bolting for Ohio State.

   Cronin has his dream job. You think if he leaves and someone else is brought in, it's going to be theirs?

   Root for the guy. Hope like heck he duplicates Bob Huggins' success at UC - and then some.

   It was another bad, awkward week for collegiate sports in this town. Why, oh why, can't coaches learn how to gracefully exit?

   Skip Prosser was the model when he left Xavier for Wake Forest. He came back to Cincinnati, told his players in person he was taking a new job, met with the media and answered all questions, paid proper homage to his roots here, got choked up, hugged everyone and moved on.  And everyone wished him well. Is that so hard?

   It stinks right now that players and fans are angry and bitter toward Kelly when less than a week ago he was the toast of town. What he accomplished at UC is nothing short of remarkable and was truly unfathomable when he took the job. It's a shame his final chapter in town played out the way it did.

   I'd find it hard to root against the guy, though. For now, you can be mad at Kelly, Notre Dame, Charlie Weis, the NCAA, the BCS, the guy who kicks off for Nebraska ... take your pick. But there is no substitute for what he gave the program and the city: A reason to believe, incredible electricity in a sold-out Nippert Stadium, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl appearances and, well, Mardy Gilyard.

   Good luck to Kelly. He should always be part of UC somehow.

   Better luck to Jeff Quinn, who now owns the monumental task of preparing the Bitter Bearcats for Urban Meyer and Florida.

   And, circling back, best luck to Cronin, who wants to be here.

 

  
  

  

UC's new president has extraordinary story to tell

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   He practiced basketball every day all summer long.  Gregory Williams badly wanted be a Muncie Central High School Bearcat. And for that, he was willing to do just about anything. So he'd play 10 to 12 hours a day. Even after football practices started, Williams would come home afterward and play basketball in the evening.

   "I learned that if you really want to do something you have to be totally committed out-of-your-mind to it," Williams says now.

   He had started his junior season on the varsity basketball team but was demoted around Christmas to the "B team." Williams was driven to make the varsity as a senior.

   As you read along in Williams' book, "Life on the Color Line," you're certain he will achieve his goal.

   And then all of a sudden - he doesn't.

   Williams was cut from the team.

   "That was a disappointing time," he says. "I learned that sports were not necessarily as fair as I thought they should be - because I don't know what went into that decision. I hope what went into it was could I contribute to the team (and) was I a good enough player to stay?"

   He wonders.

  

*

   You walk into the outer office of new University of Cincinnati President Gregory Howard Williams and you can't help but notice the walls. They are adorned with promotional posters of his best-selling book and photos and letters from dignitaries and celebrities - folks like President Clinton, Colin Powell, Tom Brokaw, James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall and the Prince of Asturias, heir apparent to the Spanish throne.

   There are more in Williams' office.

   UC's 27th president, who officially started on the job Nov. 1, brings more than a lifetime of academic achievements to his new position. He is an accomplished author who has appeared on "Oprah," "Good Morning America," "Larry King Live," "ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel," "Dateline NBC with Tom Brokaw" and National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

   He has traveled the world and counts Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, as a friend.

   When asked who he would want at his "ultimate dinner party," Williams mentions many of those people. But he starts with his father, who died at age 61.

   "I'd like to have my dad at the dinner table - sober," Williams says. "Actually, he did die sober. It was a great thing that he was able to move forward in his life. He was a great story teller and a guy of great wisdom and understanding."

   James "Buster" Williams was a driving force in his son's life. Buster was an alcoholic. He was often unemployed. He had more than his share of personal struggles. But he never lost sight of encouraging Gregory to succeed academically.

   "His message continued to drive me for many, many years," Williams says. "My dad had his problems but he was totally committed to me as well as he could be dealing with his own alcoholism. And he believed in me when not everyone believed in me.

      "I had high aspirations. I had high goals. My dad said, 'Greg you can be president one of these days.' It turns out he was right. I did turn out to be president of two great institutions."

 

*

   Williams started growing up in Virginia. In 1954, when he was 10 years old, his parents separated, his father lost his business and Buster Williams took his two sons to Muncie, Ind., where his family lived.

   It was on the bus ride to Muncie that Buster first told his children that they were part African-American and they were going to live with African-American relatives in an African-American neighborhood. Until then, Gregory Williams had been told his father was half Italian and believed he was white.

   "Life is going to be different from now on," Buster Williams said. "... People in Indiana will treat you differently."

   Suffice it to say, the next several years were filled with highs and lows that are described in the book in candid detail.

   Through it all, Gregory Williams never wavered in his goal to be a lawyer.
   "What I really learned is perseverance and to stay focused," he says.

   In his book, Williams refers to a conversation with his high school football coach who questioned him about dating white girls. In reality, it was the basketball coach who had that discussion with Williams.

   To this day, he does not know if that played a factor in his not making the basketball team as a senior.

   There were hard lessons learned in Muncie.

   "Realizing that it's not going to be a day at the beach," he says when asked what he learned most from being cut in sports. "If something's really worth doing, then you really have to deal with whatever adversity or obstacles might be in your way. Be able to walk from it saying, 'OK, maybe I wasn't successful, but I did the best that I could do.' There was never any question that I, as they say, left everything on the field."

   Oh, did we mention Williams was Muncie Central's starting quarterback?

*

   Whatever it takes.

   Williams graduated from Ball State University, earned a masters degree at the University of Maryland and a law degree, masters and Ph.D. at George Washington University.

   Whatever it takes.

   At the University of Iowa, he was a law professor, associate law dean and associate vice president of academic affairs. At Ohio State, he was dean of the law school. At City College of New York, he was president of the university.

   Whatever it takes.

   Williams has always had a special drive. His father was a great motivator and set high goals for his son. Miss Dora, a family friend, took in Gregory and his brother six months after they arrived in Muncie despite making just $25 a week as a maid.

   "She did everything she could for us," Williams says. "There would be days where I thought, Well, I've had enough; I'm going to give this up. Then I'd say, No, no. There are too many people who supported me, people that supported me during a time when there was a price to pay for being a friend of Greg Williams, people that I felt I just couldn't let down.
   "Athletics played a role, as well. It's one thing having that dream; it's another thing being able to kind of achieve that dream and figuring out what it is going to take.

   "A combination of all of those things created perseverance, that strong will, that desire to achieve, to be competitive and reach for those goals."

 

*

 

   Over the years, Williams says, he talked with many students about obstacles they were facing and he shared "bits and pieces" of his own story. Many of those students told him he should write a book. His wife, Sara, also encouraged him to tell his story.

   Well, not just his story.

   Williams was back in Muncie and asked friends and family there what they thought of the book.  

   "Greg,"  they said. "This is not your book. This is our book. You told our story. "

   "That's what I really wanted to do - tell the story of what it was like to grow up in a very racially divided community," Williams says. "But, of course, it's not just about racial division.  It's about overcoming obstacles. It's about living in a dysfunctional family. It's about dealing with poverty. It's about trying to survive. It's about trying to make sense of teen-age years.

   "I go back to Muncie at least once or twice a year. I see folks that I grew up with whose life didn't really turn out the way I thought it should have or they thought it should have. Doors of opportunity were closed to them. Some of them closed those doors themselves. I had two close friends I played football with die of acute alcoholism in their late 30s. But I've had others who simply things didn't happen for them.

   "People tell me they like the book. What that means for me is they like the stories that I told about the people that are close to me and they feel positive about them in the way that I tried to portray them in the book."

  

 

 

 

  

A deeper statistical look on Gilyard

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Only two receivers have ever won the Heisman Trophy: Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1991; and Tim Brown, Notre Dame, 1987.

Just checking to see how Mardy Gilyard's season and career stack up. I'd say "pretty well."

Not saying he has any chance to win the Heisman (he doesn't), but he sure should have been in the conversation:

Brown (1987): 846 receiving yards. 144 rushing, 456 kick return, 401 punt return, 1,847 total yards, 7 TDs
Howard (1991): 985 receiving yards, 180 rushing, 412 kickoff return, 282 punt return, 1,859 total yards, 22 TDs
Gilyard (2009): 1,150 receiving yards, 16 rushing, 1,074 kickoff, 202 punt, 2,442 total yards, 15 TDs

CAREER
Brown:
2,493 receiving yards. 442 rushing, 1,613 kick return, 476 punt return, 5,024 total yards, 22 TDs
Howard: 2,145 receiving yards, 249 rushing, 1,211 kickoff return, 337 punt return, 3,942 total yards, 35 TDs
Gilyard: 2,962 receiving yards, 26 rushing, 2,450 kickoff, 202 punt, 5,640 total yards, 31 TDs (with one game still to play)

Think Gilyard isn't Heisman material? Guess again

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Been racking my brain all season because Mardy Gilyard has reminded me of someone, and I couldn't figure out who. Until yesterday it struck me.

When I worked at a newspaper in Indiana in the 1980s, I remember covering a Purdue football game at Notre Dame early in Tim Brown's final season. Brown was electrifying. You could not turn your back, go to the concession stand or restroom when Brown was on the field because you might miss something special.

I have felt that way about Gilyard all season. I am not alone. Nippert Stadium buzzed when the guy dropped back to receive a kick or punt.

So, remember that Brown became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy? He had 1,847 all-purpose yards and seven TDs as a senior in 1987, and 1,937 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns as a junior.

Ready for Gilyard's season stats? Try these:

2,442 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns. That's almost 600 yards and more than twice as many TDs as Brown when he won the Heisman. Gilyard even has 304 more receiving yards, and he has still has one game left.

Want more?

Brown's stellar college career ended with 137 receptions, 22 touchdowns and a Notre Dame-record 5,024 all-purpose yards.

Gilyard has 197 receptions, 31 touchdowns and more than 5,600 all-purpose yards.

And for the capper: The Fighting Irish went 25-21 (and 0-2 in bowl games) during Brown's four seasons. The Bearcats are 37-13 in Gilyard's four seasons.

Brown, of course, went on to a 16-year NFL career and very well might end up a Hall of Famer.

Just sayin'.

What a day!

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It's often a sore subject across college campuses all over the country how much attention gets paid to athletics.

Today is a prime example why -- right or wrong -- that is the case. The drama of the games involving the nation's top teams can't be matched.

No need to recap UC's thrilling come-from-behind victory at Pitt. But that was just the start of the nail-biting. Tonight's Nebraska-Texas game played out the same way, going down to the last second. Literally.

If not for the Nebraska kickoff going out of bounds ... if not for the horse-collar tackle and penalty ... if not for one second being put back on the clock ... UC just might have had a shot at playing for a national championship. Which even as I write it seems completely unfathomable.

And so for close to 12 hours today, college football consumed us.

How much fun was that?

 

Van Exel determined to get degree

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   Nick Van Exel wants to practice what he's preaching.

 

   As an assistant coach for Texas Southern University, he tells the players to make sure they graduate and how that will help them in the long run. And so 17 years later, Van Exel is going to work on finishing the requirements needed for his college degree.

 

   "I want to get that done," he said Tuesday night after UC trounced Texas Southern 94-57 at Fifth Third Arena. "Probably (it will take) one year. It's something I want to do. It's something I need to do. If I had this brain about 20 years ago, I wouldn't be here talking about that.

 

   Van Exel said he's received his transcripts from UC and plans to finish at Texas Southern.

 

   "For me, it's very personal that I had that opportunity and I let it slip by," he said.

 

   Before the game, Van Exel was recognized upon his return to the arena in which he helped lead the Bearcats to the 1992 Final Four and the 1993 Elite Eight. He averaged 15.2 points, 3.6 assists and totaled a then-school record 147 3-point field goals while playing two years for Bob Huggins at UC. Van Exel was named third-team All-America in 1993.

 

   "It was fun to be back," he said. "It brought back a lot of memories."

 

   The crowd gave him a nice welcome home. Then many scratched their heads and thought, "Nick's coaching at Texas Southern? Huh?"

 

   Van Exel, who lives in Houston, retired from the NBA in 2006 after a 13-year career in which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs.

 

   He is among the top-10 all-time in 3-point field goals made (1,528), and he finished with 12,658 career points, 5,777 assists and a 14.4 ppg scoring average.

 

   He always knew he wanted to go into coaching and planned to take off two years after retiring before launching his new career.

 

   "Where I made my mistake (was) when I was finishing up playing in the NBA, I wasn't vocal about it," he said of his desire to coach.  "Before that third year came I really wasn't ready mentally. I sent out a few calls to the NBA, to a few teams, but that didn't work out. 

 

   "This opportunity presented itself. I said, 'I'm going to go ahead and give it a shot and let people see that I'm really interested.'  When you take a job like this ... it opens up people's eyes, and that's what I wanted to do."

 

   Texas Southern, which plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, is 3-5. It's hardly the big-time of college basketball. That's OK with Van Exel. He knows he's gaining valuable experience.

 

   "I love it," he said. "I love this level. The guys listen. They're receptive. It's a learning experience, and I really need it. Being an athlete you think you can just jump into something and do it. I'm learning a lot of things.  I'm learning more about myself. I'm learning how to talk to the kids. I like it a lot.

 

   "I'm totally the opposite of Huggs as far as (being) volatile. I'm very quiet, laidback. I don't have a lot of yelling in me. But his material was great. I still use it."

   One thing Van Exel could live without: The bus rides.

 

   Here's a guy who traveled in luxury as an NBA player and now he's taking 9- to 13-hour bus rides to and from games. After the loss at UC, Texas Southern was heading out for an 8- to 9-hour ride to Wichita State for a Thursday night game. Then it will be 9 to 10 hours back to Houston. And it will take 12 to 13 hours for a Dec. 23 game at New Mexico State.

 

   "That's the tough part," Van Exel said. "But you have to adjust. I didn't come from the NBA as far as my life, my growing up. I can get over that."

 

   He wants to coach. And he wants to get as far as he can in the profession.

 

   "I'm a point guard," he said. "That's what point guards do. I have a lot of passion for the game. I have a lot of knowledge of the game. And I have a lot of playbooks."

 

   He smiles.

 

   We're standing outside the Texas Southern locker room. Former UC teammates Anthony Buford and Herb Jones are nearby.

 

   Van Exel is asked about his year's Bearcats, which are ranked No. 22 this week.

 

   "They're very good, very talented, very big,' he said. "They use their bodies. They beat you up. We were expecting that. We tried to get our guys prepared for that.

  

   "There are some big bodies out there. One thing about playing at this level as opposed to the level we're on, you're not going to get anything easy; you're not going to get anything cheap coming through that lane. Guys are going to knock you all over. We weren't ready for that."