Oct. 9, 2009
(1:10 p.m.): Had a lovely telephone chat with Mick Cronin this morning, a week before the Bearcats basketball team takes the court for the first official practice of the 2009-10 season.
I thought I’d break up this interview into two parts in the order of the questions I asked. The one exception is the queries about Lance Stephenson. I asked him those questions at the end of the interview, but I’ll put his answers at the beginning of the Q&A, since that seems to be on most people’s minds at this point.
And away we go:
KatzontheCats: So, what’s going on with Lance Stephenson. Any change in his eligibility status (as of Friday morning, the Bearcats were still waiting to hear from the NCAA to make sure he can play this year)?:
Mick Cronin: Same. Status quo. Hopefully it will be done soon. They don’t really want me to comment on it.
KOTC: Well, can you tell me about what he’ll bring to the team if he’s made eligible?
MC: One thing Lance brings to the table is the ability to get you offense. Not just for himself, because he’s a great passer. Because he’s the all-time leading scorer in the history of New York high school basketball, you think he’s a scorer. His high school team was limited and he’s never really played on loaded AAU teams and played with elite big guys. But the one thing he’s enjoying and that he’s taken to right away is if you ask our guys after a week or so of practice – or even right now – about one of the best things he does, they’d say his passing. He has great vision. He’s got good size and can look over people. He’s definitely going to make you better offensively immediately. Obviously, we’re planning that things will go well and him being with us, and he has the potential to make us a team that has somebody that can always be as good as the other team’s best player. He has the potential to be the most talented offensive player on the floor of any game.
: You look at your roster this year, and you have to excited by what you see.
MC: Yeah, compared to the first two years of a patchwork team. Last year, we had to rebuild in year three because the first two had to be a wash.
KOTC: The roster looks pretty impressive, though.
MC: Well, we have a full roster. We’re normal. We have a couple seniors that have been here. We have some returning players, some experience. We have young talent. A lot of components. A little thin on the front line until (Ibrahima) Thomas gets eligible. The obvious (flaw) would be inexperience at point guard. But we have five guys who can play. We have our roster to the point where it looks like I want it to look with depth, size and athleticism.
KOTC: But you must feel more comfortable than you have before.
MC: You’re talking to a guy that hasn’t had the best Octobers, other than it’s my daughter’s birthday. But the last three years, we’ve lost starters – Hernol Hall, Adam (Hrycaniuk), Mike Williams, Cashmere (Wright). We need a good October.
KOTC: Let's talk about Deonta Vaughn. He's been the rock-solid guy the past three years.
MC: Most good teams have good players that have been there and done that. He’s a steady voice. He knows how to step it up when it’s time to step it up. He knows what it takes to compete in this conference. He’s going to have a lot more help this year. Just from the returning guys who played significant roles or a guy like Yancy (Gates) or new guys. He’s looking forward to being able to come out of a game and get a blow.
KOTC: The last couple years, you’ve talked about him not getting him tired toward the end of the season. But then he gets tired at the end of the season.
MC: It was worse last year because of no point guard. Having no other options, other than Dion Dixon as a freshman out there by himself. You’re in crucial games in the Big East. You could rest every other position, but you have to make sure you have a guy out there who doesn’t turn the ball over. Not having Cashmere just crushed us.
KOTC: Let’s talk about Cashmere. I assume he’s 100 percent healthy.
MC: He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. He’s excited. It’s going to be important for him. He’s been playing since April, just developing his habits. The difference at this level is you can’t turn the ball over. Playing in the spring and summer is not the same as a game. One thing all young players have to learn is taking care of the ball is the most important thing. You can’t trade off a turnover for an assist. He’s going to have to learn that as he goes. It’s something I’m well aware of. It’s going to be a little bit of process because he’s a playmaker.
KOTC: Did he gain anything from last year? Obviously not game experience, but in other aspects?
MC: It’s almost like a guy in the NFL – is he better off playing for a year as a quarterback or sitting and watching for a year? There’s no doubt that it helps that he was sitting there and watching every day. He was 160 pounds when he came in. He’s 180 now. He’s much stronger physically and his body is more ready to handle what’s going to happen in the Big East. There are certain things you have to coach out of somebody. He has to learn to play with the ball in his hands and be accountable for everything. You can talk about it all you want, but there’s no doubt it helps that he was here.
KOTC: What kind of impact will Ibrahima Thomas have when he’s eligible in the second semester?
MC: He brings great energy. He’s a very effective defender because he’s long and knows how to move his feet. He understands how to play defense and block shots. He’s a legitimate 6-11. He can make shots, and he’s a versatile offensive player, because he can really shoot the ball from the perimeter. He’s going to be a huge addition.
KOTC: With him and Yancy in the game at the same time, that’s a pretty tough frontcourt.
MC: Shot-blocking wise, I can tell you from workouts, when Thomas and Biggie (McClain) are on the same team, it’s tough to get a shot off on them. Biggie has grown. He’s 7-1 now. You know, he was young. His aspect of shot-blocking is going to help us. I’m excited about it. All good teams have shot-blocking. The best two defensive teams in our league lead the league in blocked shots.
KOTC: What about McClain? He didn’t get much playing time last year.
MC: The hard thing last year was he got caught in a numbers game with Mike Williams playing the 4. It’s hard to play three guys at the 5.
And thus concludes part I. Part II will run early next week.