Heard it From Hoard: Column 81
Three years is enough right?
That's what irate fans were saying after another dismal finish. At that point, their head coach had never posted a winning record in conference play, had never taken their school to the NCAA tournament, and didn't appear to stack-up in a league filled with legendary coaches.
The final straw was the way his second and third seasons ended with virtually-identical collapses. His second team lost 6 of its last 7 games, including a 35-point embarrassment in the first round of the conference tournament. His third team also dropped 6 of its last 7, and did even worst in the conference tourney losing its opener by 43!
A booster club began circulating a petition calling for his resignation. The athletic director received hundreds of angry letters, including a few death threats.
Funny, but you don't hear many Duke fans complaining about Mike Krzyzewski now.
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What the fans REALLY got tired of was hearing their coach constantly mention his team's lack of experience.
It began in the preseason when he reminded reporters that "we don't have anybody who has started a game for us."
It continued after a string of Big East losses when the coach said, "when we hit better competition and stumbled a little bit, we didn't have the ability or experience to bounce back."
And he was still talking about a lack of experience after an early exit in the Big East tournament when he summed up a first round loss by telling reporters that "we don't shoot the ball well enough and our youth shows. Our youth shows because we don't know how to handle adversity at times."
Sound familiar? Those quotes came from Connecticut newspapers and were uttered by UConn head coach Jim Calhoun during the 2006-07 season when his Huskies started 11-0 before losing 14 of their 17 games to miss postseason play.
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I think you see where this is going.
Look, I'm not trying to suggest that Mick Cronin is the next Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Calhoun, but I do think the bashing he's received since the DePaul game is excessive. Furthermore, I say there's still reason to believe that he has the program moving in the right direction and can have a long and successful run at UC.
The key is pretty simple - keep getting better players while developing the ones you already have.
I think that most college basketball fans realize that the nation's top prospects are getting recruited earlier than ever. That's why the NCAA recently passed a rule that defines male basketball players in the seventh and eighth grades as prospective athletes, allowing the NCAA to monitor and regulate their contact with college coaches.
When Mick accepted the challenge of rebuilding the UC program, he had virtually no shot at the top prospects for the next two recruiting classes because they had either already signed with other programs or had a final list of schools that did not include Cincinnati.
His first class in which Mick had sufficient time to recruit included the best local prospect in Yancy Gates, a top-100 point guard in Cashmere Wright, a likely 4-year contributor in Dion Dixon, and a serviceable JUCO big man in Steve Toyloy.
It also included a 7'2" freak of nature named John Riek who, unfortunately, was never cleared to play by the NCAA. Maybe his eligibility was a long-shot, but according to scout.com and rivals.com, Riek had offers from Duke, UConn, Florida, and Georgetown too. The gamble was obviously well worth it.
Cincinnati's win total has increased in each of Mick's first three seasons. Next year, his squad will have several experienced players, a point guard in Wright, a 6'11" forward with starting experience in the Big 12 in Ibrahima Thomas, and a freshman guard in Sean Kilpatrick who was recently named a 2nd-team all-star at the National Prep School Championships.
Additionally, the only Big East teams that finished ahead of UC in the standings that aren't expected to suffer heavy losses to the NBA or graduation are Villanova, Syracuse, and West Virginia.
Isn't it reasonable to give Mick another year?
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Mike Krzyzewski's third season at Duke concluded with a 109-66 shellacking by Virginia. According to a 1992 Sports Illustrated article, Coach K went out to dinner with a Duke publicity man after the game who raised a glass and said, "Here's to forgetting tonight."
Krzyzewski responded by saying, "Here's to never forgetting tonight."
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Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.