Heard it From Hoard: Column 17
Since Mick Cronin became the head basketball coach at Cincinnati, there's been something missing at practice.
Make that someone missing.
In the practices I've attended this year, I don't recall a single one where all 3 assistant coaches were in attendance. It seems at least one of them is always on the road recruiting.
"The NCAA only gives you so many days and rest assured we're gonna use them all," Coach Cronin told me recently. "We're in a situation where the most important thing for us is to improve our personnel. When I was here in the past, we had great teams because we had great players and we can only change our fate if we change our personnel."
This time of the year is what the NCAA calls "an evaluation period," so when assistants Larry Davis, Chris Goggin and Tony Stubblefield are on the road recruiting, they can't even speak to the players they've traveled to see.
"We're allowed to talk to the coach and the kids know we're coming, so they know we're there," Cronin said. "If you look at our website-which kids do-you can click on each coach and there's a picture of him. We all have e-mail with our picture and the Cincinnati banners all over it, so they know what we look like and they know who we are. Still, we make sure they know when we're there."
How do they let the players know they're coming?
"Contact by the NCAA rulebook is defined as person-to-person contact," Cronin told me. "You can't do any of that in an evaluation period. Right now a text message is considered the same as a letter so you can text message a guy all day for 24 hours if you want. We don't do that, but we spend a lot of time text messaging kids. I personally text message kids but I just tell them to give me a call and then they call."
Bearcat assistants not only miss practices. Goggin, for example, missed the recent road game at USF to watch a big prep school tournament.
"I'm big on watching guys play real games," Cronin said. "I think you make a lot of mistakes in the summer (at all-star camps and AAU events). You've gotta watch as many real games as you can. That's why you've seen some of the assistant coaches miss our games, because I think it's important for guys to see potential recruits play in real games."
The Bearcats inked three high school seniors (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis) in the early signing period and can't publicly acknowledge verbal commitments they've received since. "I have my wants and needs," Cronin said. "I want 4.0 students that are future NBA players, but right now I'm in need of some shooters and some athleticism. Kenny Belton's a 6-8, 245 pound guy. . .it would be nice to have a 6-11 guy in the program."
"Specifically, I like guys who can shoot the ball. I think that's important. As an assistant here, I recruited Steve Logan, Field Williams and DerMarr Johnson who were not great defensive players but could really shoot it. It's hard to score if you don't have guys who can shoot because the defense is just too good nowadays. There's too much athleticism out there on the court."
While the Bearcats can sign a total of five players for next year, they're spending much of their time working on the following year when they'll lose six seniors.
"2008 is a big, big year for us," Cronin said, "We've been able to put the time in and we've been able to recruit some elite players in that class. We were able to get in with them last spring and this year now is their junior year, so we'll be able to follow them in the summer and get ahead of the game. It takes away a little bit of your time but you have to do it. You have to recruit the underclassmen hard or you're going to fall behind."
The fact that Cronin was able to field a competitive team this year under the circumstances he inherited is a minor miracle. But "competitive" is not what he's shooting for in the near future.
"I think you have to try to recruit guys that wanna play for you and it's important to tell them what playing for you is all about. I'm intense, I'm demanding, and I want guys who won't accept anything less than trying to get to the Final Four and win the NCAA title."
You can bet none of his coaches would miss that.
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