Men's Basketball |
Feb. 4, 2009
By JOSH KATZOWITZ
Sometimes during the middle of the week, former UC basketball players drop into Fifth Third Arena to watch the current version of the Bearcats practice and fine-tune their skills.
Invariably, Coach Mick Cronin will hear the same comment repeated back to him: Yes, he’s told, sophomore wing Rashad Bishop can play a little. Perhaps it’s not always obvious to the eye — or, frankly, to the statistics sheet — but, aside from junior guard Deonta Vaughn and senior forward Mike Williams, Bishop might be the most important player for UC.
“Any former player that has come to our practice in the last two years — from Oscar Robertson to Terry Nelson — every one of them says Bishop is their favorite guy,” Cronin said. “They see that Bishop knows how to play. It’s the hardest thing to recruit. You get to see guys play two months in the summer during AAU, and it’s the lost art of recruiting to be able to figure out who knows how to play. Any time I’ve ever been in touch with NBA people to ask me about a player, that’s the No. 1 question they always ask: does he know how to play? Rashad knows how to play on both ends of the floor.”
Perhaps that was no more evident than during UC’s 64-54 win over Carleton in the first exhibition game of the season. While Bishop’s stats line hardly raised an eyebrow — he took one shot, scored one point, had a couple of assists and steals, and recorded, as Cronin said, “one more rebound than a dead man” — Cronin was sufficiently impressed.
In fact, after the game, he called Bishop the most valuable player of the game. The reasons: defense and the ability to play the kind of game the Bearcats need from him.
“Defensively, he’s our glue and offensively, he’s probably our best passer,” Cronin said. “He’s not necessarily the most flashy guy, but the ball goes where it needs to go. It’s the old hockey assist — the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the basket. All good teams have good players like that.”
Bishop didn’t need to be that player last season. UC had a plethora of seniors, and though all of them were junior college transfers and only had a little more experience than the true freshman Bishop, his contributions weren’t needed the same way they’re needed this season.
It’s a good thing. It took Bishop awhile to adjust.
“It’s a lot different on the court this year,” said Bishop, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Newark, N.J.
“The game to me has slowed down since last year. Last year, it was moving so fast I couldn’t keep up. Now, I’ve adjusted to it.”
Or somebody made him adjust to it.
“Coach tells him that all the time — you’re not a freshman any more, even though Coach says it in a different way,” a grinning Vaughn said. “He just steps up and sees that he has to help me carry these young players.”
Now, Bishop also is the player who will guard the opponent’s best scorer.
Last year, guard Jamual Warren filled that role, but with Warren out of eligibility, Bishop will take over as the defender Cronin counts on the most.
“He has to be our best defender,” Cronin said. “All great teams have a guy that can stop the other team’s best player.”
Bishop could see that from Warren last season. While Cronin says part of becoming a great defender is the belief that defense actually is important, Bishop saw Warren put those words into action.
Sure, Warren wasn’t a point guard with great offensive statistics — he averaged 5.6 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting (26.2 percent from the 3-point line) while averaging 4.0 assists — but he played tough defense. And he seemed happy to do so.
At least that’s how Bishop saw it.
“I can remember a couple games where he stopped his opponents and we won the game,” Bishop said. “He used to tell me that it would be me next year.”
Warren was right. Bishop will be the player to replace Warren’s defensive intensity this season.
“I have to take away scoring from the other team,” Bishop said. “If I’m guarding their best player, it’s me not letting him get his average up. I accepted it. It’s not really a big deal to me as long as we win. Scoring was never really a big deal to me. I did it a lot, but I will always look to my teammates.”
That’s the other side of the equation, though. Cronin wants more from Bishop on offense as well.
He averaged 23.4 minutes per game last year, but he only managed 5.4 points while shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from long-range. Those numbers, Cronin said, have to improve.
“Offensively, we talked a lot about becoming a more consistent shooter,” Cronin said. “Shooting is about percentage and consistency and getting to the foul line. That’s something we’re working hard on. We’re also working on his ball-handling, where he understands how to get fouled, get himself to the rim and get his body to the foul line because he’s a big strong wing. There’s an art to that as well. He’s got to be able to improve on his offense, because he’s a very capable offensive player. I’ve seen him get 30-plus in games against real players in high school.”
That said, Cronin wants Bishop to experience more after this season. He said recently he would talk to former Bearcat Pete Mickeal about possibly allowing Bishop to spend some time him while he plays professionally in Spain. Mickeal knows about playing defense, after all. He led the team in steals in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, his only two years in the program, and since then, he’s turned himself into a strong shooter at the pro level.
Cronin thinks spending time with Mickeal would pay dividends for Bishop, who worked hard this summer to improve his shooting.
“All summer, I was working on my jumpshot in the gym,” Bishop said. “If I get the open shots, I have to knock them down. It’s gotten a lot better. My balance is better, and I use my legs more.”
Vaughn can see the improvement.
“Rashad is a solid player, and he doesn’t make too many mistakes or try to force nothing,” Vaughn said. “His shots are starting to fall in practice more. Now, teams will have to respect him more and not double the post off of him. Once they kick it out to him, he’s going to be able to make the open shot because he’s got confidence in himself. Now Rashad is bringing more intensity and more confidence in what he can do on the court.”
But goal No. 1 still is to play defense. Improving his shooting percentage would be nice, but defense is the most important aspect of his game.
“He’s a key player, because with the experience he has and all the games he played last year, he knows what Coach expects,” Vaughn said. “He’s a veteran now, too. He’s now one of those guys where you don’t have to keep telling him what to do over and over again. He’s figured it out that he’s one of the veterans of the team and one of the key players that Coach looks for. When something breaks down on the defensive end, Rashad can step up and take control.”
(This story was previously printed in the Bearcat Sports Digest.)