Oct. 14, 2008
(11:15 a.m.): When basketball practice begins for UC on Oct. 17, the first phase of coach Mick Cronin’s reconstruction will be complete. The second one finally will begin.
“The first phase was to have a team,” Cronin said. “Those guys graduated. We tried to accomplish the goals and establish how hard we were going to play, how we’re going to graduate. Now we’ve been able to build our talent back up. I’m excited we’ll have more quickness, we’ll have more athleticism, we’ll have more depth. Yet, we’re kind of starting a new team, because we’re going to be counting on guys who didn’t play last year. It’s going to be a challenge from a coaching standpoint. Playing to win and having talent are two different things.”
The past two years, the Bearcats certainly played hard enough to win. After all, many of the members of the team – made up mostly of junior college transfers and Cronin recruits who either were freshmen or sophomores – were just happy to be playing Division I basketball.
Cronin recruited guys like John Williamson (who came from Cincinnati State), Marcus Sikes (Mt. San Jacinto), Marvin Gentry (McLennan Community College) and Jamual Warren (Globe Institute) because he had to fill roster spots.
By the time UC sorted out its basketball coach situation in March 2006 and hired Cronin, the school basically hadn’t recruited for two seasons. Plus, Cronin was way behind in landing recruits for the 2006-07 year. So, he went the only place he could find players – junior college graduates who had not signed yet with another school.
They worked hard in practice and tried hard in games, but their talent, compared to the rest of the Big East, was lacking. Which is why you see a combined 24-38 record the past two seasons for the Bearcats.
“When I took the job, we had to scramble to put a team together,” Cronin said. “The first two years, we were going to be focused on setting the tone and the brand of basketball. We were only going to be able to be so big.”
With the inability to get Hernol Hall eligible that first season and with Mike Williams sitting out his transfer year from Texas, Cronin was forced to play the 6-foot-8 Sikes against Big East schools with plenty of height and strength. He was forced last year to keep starting a struggling Adam Hrycaniuk at center. He was forced to count on a young Deonta Vaughn to carry the offensive load. He was forced to coach players he knew would have a hard time matching up against talented conference programs.
Last year, Cronin was forced to make Vaughn his point guard as well.
“Last year, it was very tough,” said Vaughn, who’s averaged 16.7 points per game his first two seasons. “We already knew it was going to be like that, being one of the returning players. Being the player I am, Coach knew I had to work hard every day and to get the team to where we want it to be. He wanted me to be more of a vocal leader along with being the best player on the team. It got me wiser and smarter with the things to do and not to do. It made me realize that you can’t take anything lightly.”
He insists, though, the pressure wasn’t too much.
“It’s not exhausting,” he said. “I’ve been there before when I was in high school, being the best shooter and being a person that could create things. It’s always been on me to do stuff even if I have older people with me. I just knew what I had to do for the team.”
Vaughn, though, should have plenty more help this season. …
And we’ll explore that more later this week. Keep an eye out for the part deux of the Katzonthecats ginormous two-part series on UC basketball.
And now for something completely different. Nice little feature on the Rays beat writers, and my friend Marc Lancaster, who covered the Reds for the Post, is featured prominently. Check it out.