If you watched Oprah Winfrey's big interview with
Lance Armstrong on Thursday night, it began with a series of yes/no questions
in which Armstrong finally admitted using performance enhancing drugs in all
seven of his Tour de France wins.
At the exact same time as the Oprah/Lance interview
aired on TV, I was asking Mick Cronin a few yes/no questions on his radio show
about Cashmere Wright's knee injury and status for the Marquette game.
Question:Will Cashmere play on Saturday night?
Cronin:He's day-to-day.That's my status by the way.That's the life of a coach - day-to-day.
Question:Did Cashmere have an MRI on Wednesday?
Question:Is there any structural damage?
The fact that there is no structural damage is the
key piece of information.Let's face it,
when Wright was helped off the court in agony on Tuesday after scoring 20
points and dishing out 7 assists in just 22 minutes of playing time, it was
impossible not to fear the worst.
"He was headed for an easy 30 (points) and 10
assists which is complete domination of a game," said Cronin."You don't want to see him - or any player -
go down, but especially him after what he's been through.And then factor in that he's playing the best
basketball of his career.For him, (a
serious injury) would be tragic, so it was great news that his MRI was
Ironically, Wright's most recent injury was to his "good
knee."He's had three surgical procedures
on his left knee after tearing his ACL as a freshman, but sprained his right
knee against DePaul.Fortunately, it
didn't take long for Cashmere to realize that it wasn't as serious as his
"He went out at the 15:20 mark, and at the next time-out,
I look up and he's standing in the huddle and he's giving me the eye like he
wants to go back in the game," said Cronin."I would say that it scared him more than anything."
To make matters worse, Wright was not the only
Bearcat to suffer an injury in the game.In the first half, Justin Jackson was taken to the locker room with an
injured wrist.X-rays were negative and
Jackson returned to action with his wrist heavily taped.
Wright and Jackson did not do much at practice on
Thursday and Cronin says he'll be cautious in determining if either player will
be allowed to take court the court on Saturday.
"It's a long year and we have a lot of games left,"
said Cronin."Hopefully, we'll have a
lot of games in March, so I can tell you that I'm not going to take a risk now
for no reason.
"(Cashmere) probably wouldn't have practiced much
anyway to be honest with you.From here
on out with our major minute guys, we don't need to practice a whole lot.Full-speed practice is not much more than an
hour, the rest of it would be teaching points, scouting report, shooting, and
individual work.That's something that I
believe in a lot, and obviously with Cashmere, he's had some injuries.
"It's a little bit different with Justin.He's got a sprained wrist and he's
stiff.He's another veteran guy that
doesn't need a lot of practice.So we'll
see how he feels.It's his right wrist
so that's an issue for free throws, not that he's shooting a lot of jump
shots.But again, you're not going to
risk March for January."
Since Jackson was able to return to the court after
his wrist injury on Tuesday, it seems logical to expect him to play against
As for Wright, Coach Cronin
loves to quote the end
of Rambo: First Blood Part II when
Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) tries to comfort John Rambo (Sylvester
Stallone)before Stallone's character
walks off into the distance as the credits roll.
will you live John?
Cronin told reporters that he was "Bill Belichick-ing"
them - or not saying much - on all injury-related questions on Thursday, but it
appears that Wright's status is truly TBA for the upcoming games against
Marquette and Syracuse.
"We'll see how he feels on Friday...and Saturday...and
Sunday," said Cronin."Seriously, I'm
not trying to be funny, he is day-to-day."
At the end of one of my basketball seasons as a kid,
I was presented with a trophy that read as follows:"Most Likely To Think It Was A Good Shot."
In other words, I wasn't shy about letting it fly -
despite the fact that I was a mediocre (at best) shooter.
UC sophomore Jermaine Sanders, on the other hand,
has an excellent shooting stroke, but sometimes has to be pushed by his
teammates to fire away.
"They always tell me to shoot," Jermaine told
me."At the beginning of the season I
wasn't really shooting that much and they would get on me and tell me that they
needed me to shoot in order for us to win."
While the former Rice (NY) High School star hasn't
exactly morphed into a gunner, Sanders is starting to provide a nice offensive
lift off of the Bearcats bench.In his
last three games, Jermaine is averaging 6.3 points in roughly 16 minutes of
playing time.During that stretch, he's
made 7-of-13 shots (54%), including 3-of-8 three-pointers.
"He's more comfortable on offense and you can see his
confidence growing," said head coach Mick Cronin."He has the courage to take the open shot."
"I'm becoming more confident in what I can do," said
Part of that confidence stems from a more athletic
physique.Under the direction of new
strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt, Sanders dropped 11 pounds over
the summer and increased his no-step vertical leap by 3.5 inches.
"It makes me feel great about my game," said Sanders."I can move quicker on defense, jump higher
to get rebounds, and run the floor well.And I can still knock down shots at the end of the game because I'm in
"He's in better shape and he's more competitive,"
said Coach Cronin."I think his
intensity level is getting better each night out and that's allowing him to be
Before closing its doors due to financial
difficulties in 2011, Rice H.S. in Harlem produced a "Who's Who" list of Big
East basketball talent including Felipe Lopez (St. John's), Edgar Sosa
(Louisville), Kemba Walker (UConn), and former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield.Sanders was clearly well-coached there by Moe
Hicks (now part of the St. John's staff) and displays a high basketball I.Q.He's also one of the best passers on the
Bearcat roster, ranking third on the team in assists-per-minute.
"I've always been able to pass and see the floor
well," said Sanders."Since I'm taller
(6'5"), I can see over defenders and make a good pass.That really comes naturally to me.I'm really not that athletic, but I see the
game better than most people."
Over the last three games, Sanders has the same
number of three-pointers as assists.So,
which of the two would he rather have?
"A '3'...but I like assists too," Jermaine said with a
Last year after the Bearcats' thrilling road win at
Villanova, a woman stopped Mick Cronin on his way to the team bus.It was the mother of one of the 'Nova players
and she told Mick how much she appreciated his postgame comments after the
A few weeks later, a few of us were having dinner
with Coach Cronin during the NCAA tournament when a similar thing
happened.This time it was a man who
identified himself as a Musketeers fan and he praised Mick for the same thing.
I bring this up now because the Bearcats have
dropped three of their last four games and I haven't received a single e-mail
criticizing Coach Cronin.It's my belief
that the way he handled himself after last year's Xavier game caused many
people to look at Mick in a different light and reconsider what he's
accomplished as Cincinnati's head coach.
"I don't know because I'm not sure how people look
at me," Mick said when I asked if he agreed."You know me really well, and I'm concerned with being a great father, a
great friend, a good brother, and a good son, but most importantly a great
father.(My daughter) Sammy's opinion of
me is the one that matters most."
Of course, the key for any coach to win over fans is
to win games.Cincinnati has increased
or equaled its win total in each of the last five seasons, made it to the Big
East Tournament championship game for the first time last year, and advanced to
the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.
Simply put, Mick Cronin has successfully rebuilt
"We had to rebuild a winning culture," said Cronin."Now the expectation of winning is there and
the players are willing to listen, practice appropriately, and give the
required effort - I don't like to say extra effort - the required effort that it
takes to win games."
After starting this season 12-0 and climbing into
the Top 10 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Bearcats have
stumbled over the last two weeks in home losses to New Mexico, St. John's, and
Notre Dame.Scoring was a problem in all
three defeats as Cincinnati averaged 55.3 points.
"Offensively, we're just leaving too much on the
table," said Cronin."We had seven
second half turnovers (against Notre Dame) and they were all unforced.We shot over 50% in the second half, but we
didn't get enough shots off.We have to
get 'tighter' on offense and the guy with the ball has to slow down so he can
make a play.Whether it's a simple ball
reversal, making an assist, or putting the ball in the basket - when we slow
down we're fine."
It would obviously help if Cincinnati had a reliable
low post scorer.
"Would it be nice to have some guy down low that's a
monster that we could throw it to?Sure,
but that's an easy excuse," Mick told me."We just have to do a better job of moving the basketball.The key to making shots is taking easy
ones.I need to do a better job of
coaching our guys so that our passing improves.As our passing improves, we'll make plenty of shots."
Additionally, the Bearcats need to get more offense
out of their defense.Last year in a
71-55 win over Notre Dame, the 'Cats had 11 steals.In Monday's 66-60 loss, UC only managed two
steals and 21 deflections (UC's goal is 40).
"We're constructed to play in the passing lanes, run
up and down, and stay on the attack," said Cronin."We need to be on the attack.The key for us is to get into transition."
At one point last year, the Bearcats lost three
straight Big East games to fall to 5-4 in league play.After that, they did not lose back-to-back
games for the rest of the season.
There are at least 16 games remaining this season,
and Cronin and the 'Cats will look to get back on the winning track on Saturday
"When you're coaching basketball, it's never as bad
as it seems when your team is struggling and it's never as good as it seems
when your team is winning - that's why you have to watch the film and evaluate,"
Mick told me.
"They don't give away wins in this league.We have to take it as a learning experience
and do what we have to do to get better."
While it's obviously not ideal to lose a football
coach every three years, it is just as clear that it's not the end of the world
for Bearcat football.
I am genuinely happy for Butch Jones.I know that he and his family loved it here,
and that it was difficult for him to leave administrators, boosters, fans, and
friends that treated him well.Most of
all, it was hard for him to leave his players.But having just played a road game at Tennessee last season, I can
certainly understand why he took the job.The football facilities are palatial and he'll have anything and
everything he needs to try to win SEC championships (with the notable exception
of imminent retirement plans for Nick Saban or Les Miles).
I hope that Butch is the third straight former UC
coach to make us proud at his next stop.Mark Dantonio is 50-28 at Michigan State and going to a bowl game for
the sixth straight year.Brian Kelly is
about to play for a national championship at Notre Dame.Cincinnati's oldest football rival claims the
title of "The Cradle of Coaches," but in the last decade, UC deserves that
The last three coaches have all left the program
better than they found it.Mark Dantonio
came in and laid infrastructure, methodically building a BCS-level
program.Brian Kelly energized the fan
base like never before and taught us that anything - including competing for
national titles - is possible at UC.Butch Jones proved that the Kelly era wasn't a fluke, and devoted every
ounce of his energy toward making the school as appealing as possible to
They deserve kudos for Cincinnati's success over the
last nine years, but you know what?UC
deserves a ton of credit for their success too.It's a program located in a high school football hotbed that can go to
major bowl games by winning conference titles.It also comes with a salary of more than a million dollars a year in a
great place to live.I know of several
impressive candidates that have already expressed interest in the job (and no,
I am not at liberty to share names).
"Anytime that you make a hire of this magnitude it's
pretty darn important, but we're not intimidated by it," said athletic director
Whit Babcock."We have a heck of a job,
a heck of a track record, and a state that's tremendous to recruit in.We have proven success in winning titles, we
have a plan for facilities, and my goodness, if you look at the last three
coaches - there's a little pressure to produce on that level - but we'll get a
good coach.We've already received a lot
of interest and we've been prepared for it.
"I wouldn't be doing my job as an AD if we weren't
prepared.Since August, a small number
of us have been working on potential coach replacements.We've added people to the list, we've taken
some off, and we've followed their progression throughout the season. We are
prepared, and we will get a great coach."
I thought that Whit's performance at Friday's news
conference was the best I've ever seen under similar circumstances and I hope
that Bearcat fans share my confidence that he and President Santa Ono are doing
what is necessary to put the Cincinnati athletic department in the best
possible position to thrive in the future.
"I'm disappointed today because Butch Jones was a
good friend and we lost a good coach," said prominent UC supporter Larry
Sheakley."But if I can make a statement
as a booster, I'm confident that this University and the athletic director did
everything in their power to keep him.Everything.And they're doing
everything that they can to get us where we need to be."
One of those things was briefly mentioned in the
news conference - a plan of action for improving Nippert Stadium that will be
announced in the near future.
"You'll have to wait," said Babcock."I would rather that (announcement) be a
celebration than what today is about.I
think it's an exciting vision."
Whit ended his news conference with a call to action
for Bearcat fans.If you want to see
this program continue to grow, you can make a difference by supporting the 11th-ranked
basketball team and by traveling to the Belk Bowl on December 27th
"Quite frankly, if every fan that had e-mailed me,
texted me, called me, and Tweeted at me about Butch or the next head coach had
bought a ticket, we would have sold our allotment out two times over," said
"We have a promotion called 'One Team, One Ticket '
and that's for people that cannot go to a bowl game but want to buy a ticket -
at least one - and donate them back to us," said Babcock."We'll put them to good use.If you want to step up to the plate today and
make a statement to the nation that we're about more than a coach, that is a
great action step to take."
The search for a new coach has started, but the
momentum generated by the last three isn't about to stop.
"Hiring good coaches is absolutely critical to our
success, but we're bigger than any one individual," said Babcock."We'll survive and we'll thrive."
Last Wednesday, there was a headline in the
Cincinnati Enquirer that read "UC Still Stuck In Big East."
As a friend of mine pointed out, "Can you imagine
how ridiculous that would have sounded a few years ago?"
For the past week, I've listened to talk show hosts
and fans moan and groan about the state of UC athletics.Whether it's conference realignment or the
possibility of losing Butch Jones, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of
doom and gloom.
I don't share that pessimism.
Let's start with the conference situation.I haven't heard a single so-called expert
express the opinion that this high-stakes game of musical chairs is finished.
"Conference realignment is not over," said Mick
Cronin."It's far from over."
If and when the next shift occurs, UConn and
Cincinnati appear to be on the top of the list to move to the ACC if any current
members follow Maryland's lead and bolt for more money elsewhere.Until then, UC will continue to polish its
"resume" in athletics and academics.
"We're very fortunate to have two individuals in
President Ono and Whit Babcock leading our university and our athletic
department," said Coach Jones."They've
been extremely proactive.They have set
us up to be very successful whether it's now or in the future and they continue
to work on it.I know that they are
working to make the University of Cincinnati the best place possible and I can
tell you this - we are in great hands with their leadership."
In the meantime, is the Big East really that bad in
the short term?
Assuming that Louisville and Rutgers remain in the
league for another year, the Big East next season will lose Syracuse and Pitt
but add Boise State, Central Florida (and others) in football.The winner of the league will get a BCS Bowl
bid in the final year of the current system and Cincinnati should be among the
favorites to win it.
If Cincinnati is in the Big East in 2014, it
will still have the opportunity to claim a spot in one of the six major bowls
since the new system guarantees a bid to at least one team outside of the
so-called "Power Five" conferences.You
could make the argument that the Bearcats will have a better chance to go to
one of those bowls than the schools that have left the Big East because of the
competition that UC will face.Do you
see Rutgers winning the Big Ten anytime soon?
Yes, Big East football will have a strong Conference
USA flavor at that point, but with a major difference from when UC was in
C-USA.Back then, the grand prize for a
conference championship was a trip to the Liberty Bowl.The Big East champ will not face the same
In basketball, the Big East would still have
Cincinnati, UConn, Georgetown, Marquette, Memphis, Temple, Villanova (and
others).It would no longer be the
deepest conference in the country, but it would still be one of the best.
"Cincinnati basketball is big time - it always has
been and always will be," said Coach Cronin."We're going to end up in a great league whether it is the Big East with
the remaining teams that are tradition-rich basketball schools or somewhere
else.It's not something that I really
worry about too much.I'm more worried
about things that we can control here at Cincinnati with our own University
such as our support, budget, and facilities."
As for Butch Jones, I think he is a great coach and
a better person and I hope that he stays at Cincinnati.I think he has devoted every ounce of energy
that he has toward building a great future for Bearcat football.If he leaves he'll be sorely missed, but the program will be much stronger than the one he inherited.
If Whit Babcock has to hire a new coach, there will
be no shortage of qualified candidates.When Cincinnati hired Brian Kelly, the other people that interviewed for
the job included John Harbaugh, Hue Jackson, and Bo Pelini.I hope that it isn't necessary, but I have no
doubt that Cincinnati can find another outstanding coach.
Our basketball team is currently ranked 11th
in the country.Our football team just
won a share of its fourth conference title in five years and is headed to a
great bowl game (that I hope you will attend).
After back-to-back 26 win seasons, an appearance in
the Big East Tournament final, and a trip to the Sweet 16, is recruiting
getting easier for UC head coach Mick Cronin?
"It never gets easier to recruit," said Cronin."You do become more popular the more you win
and you get on TV more.So I have better
name recognition because that's the guy they see on TV and our program is
winning.It definitely has an effect,
but at the same time, it's still hard.Recruiting is the toughest thing we do.It's the hardest part of the job for any coach - there's no question
Today the hard work paid off for Coach Cronin and
his staff as three high school standouts faxed in letters of intent to the
University of Cincinnati on the first day of the early signing period.
Caupain, a 6'3" guard from Cosby High School in Midlothian,
VA verbally committed to UC in June after averaging 26 points, 12.9 rebounds,
and 8 assists as a junior last year.
"Troy is a huge recruit for us," said Cronin."He's a 6'3" point guard and he's 16-year-old
on signing day.He's going to turn 17 in
a couple of weeks.He's got something
that you can't teach - the gift of vision.He finds the open man and has great leadership skill.He's a true quarterback and it's natural for
him to talk on the floor - I won't have to coach that with him.And he can beat his man.More importantly, when he beats his man off
of the dribble, he finds the open man and he's a willing passer.He's a big-time recruit for us."
This year's class also includes a local recruit in
Summit Country Day's Kevin Johnson.
"I usually don't mention that he's local because I
don't want people to think that we recruited Kevin Johnson only because he is
from Cincinnati," said Cronin."That
would be patently false.We've passed on
some guys that are from Cincinnati because maybe they weren't the right fit for
us and Kevin is the right fit.He grew
up within miles of our campus, he is a great kid, and we are fortunate to have
Johnson is a 6'1" guard who averaged 14.1 points,
6.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last year in helping the Silver Knights capture
the Division III state title.
"He's a guard that can do everything," said
Cronin."He can score, he can handle the
ball, and he can pass.He's also a
winner which goes a long way with me as he led his team to the state
championship.And he's very unselfish -
he could shoot a lot more for Summit Country Day than he did last year, but he
played within their system and their team was extremely well-coached.And he's got great upside.Kevin is a 17-year-old senior and won't turn
18 until next summer.He's a long guard
and can do a lot of things."
Cincinnati added a post player in Jamaree Strickland who hails from
"Even though he's from California, he grew up a
Bearcat fan," said Cronin."That worked
in our favor.We didn't know that until
we contacted him and his father couldn't have been more excited.You would have thought we were the hometown
Strickland was one of the top-rated big men in
California when he suffered a knee injury in 10th grade that
required surgery and wiped out his junior year.A second surgical procedure caused him to miss all but two games of his
But Jamaree is no longer wearing a knee brace and is
spending this season playing for Queen City Prep in Charlotte, North
"Jamaree didn't start playing without his knee brace
until the fall, and everybody that saw him offered him a scholarship," said
Cronin."He's left-handed; he's 6'9 ½"
or 6'10" and has great hands and a soft touch.He can score.Most big guys can
do one of two things - they are either a shot blocker or they can score.Jamaree can score and is a very comfortable
offensive player.He has range on his
jump shot, and has a nice jump hook and a soft touch.We're going to have to get his body together
because he's been out, but he's lost weight and that's why he's come on so much
after he got his knee brace off.Once we
get him in shape, he has a chance to be a great player for us."
Cincinnati still has one scholarship available.
"That's by design," Mick told me."When you get your program on solid footing
you're not desperate so you don't have to just take guys and hope for the best
because you need bodies.When you're in
a good position you can confidently say, 'We have 11 or 12 players and that's
enough.'Then you have a scholarship
available when things happen.For
instance, we have one available now.So
second semester, if a very good player wanted to transfer here over the
Christmas break, we could take him.If
that doesn't happen, then Alex Eppensteiner will get to use it in the second
semester.I would definitely rather have
a scholarship than take a chance on a guy that you're not really sure about."
Before Saturday's 34-10 win at Temple, the last time
that quarterback Brendon Kay started a game was November 24, 2007 when he led
Marine City (MI) High School to a state title at Ford Field in Detroit.
That's a Rip Van Winkle-like 1,813 days between starts.
So was the fifth-year senior able to sleep the night
before his first start as a Bearcat?
"Not really," Brendon told me with a laugh."I'll be honest with you - I didn't."
Imagine what he'll do with a good night's rest.
After coming off the bench last week to help rally
the Bearcats to a win over Syracuse, Kay left no doubt who the starting
quarterback will be next week against Rutgers, completing 13-of-21 passes for 244 yards
and 2 touchdowns, while running for an additional 71 yards on 7 carries.He even caught one of his own passes for a
five yard gain when it ricocheted off of a Temple defender.
"It was awesome to be out there," said Kay."You prepare all week like you're the
starter, but when you hear that you are, your mentality changes a little bit.When you get the opportunity you have to take
advantage of it."
"I'm proud of him," said wide receiver Anthony
McClung."This is what everybody dreams
of.He's been the backup all season and
now that he got his opportunity, he came through for us.I told him, 'It's not like you've never done
Kay was especially impressive throwing the deep ball
as he tossed a 75-yard TD pass to Kenbrell Thompkins and a 65-yard TD to Chris
"That pass to me was right on the money," said
Moore."All I had to was put my hands
out and it was right there."
Kay's college career has been slowed by a series of
knee injuries that have required him to undergo three surgeries.That were times where it appeared that his Bearcat
career was over.
"That's what makes this even better," Brendon told
me."All of the people who say 'You
can't do it.'All of the doctors who
say, 'I don't think you can come back from this'When you come out and do it, it's that much
"I'm alright now.I've put in the time and I feel good."
Due to his multiple knee injuries, Kay hopes to be
granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"Right now, all indications are that it's very
favorable," said head coach Butch Jones."That's something that we'll work on once the season is concluded."
"It's not in my hands so I can't really worry about
it," said Kay."I'm going to approach
these last few games like they're my last."
While there wasn't much of a crowd at Lincoln
Financial Field, the spectators did include several members of Kay's family.
"My mom, my grandma, my girlfriend, my dad, and my
stepmom were all here," Brendon told me."It was awesome to see them out there.It was pretty emotional.I saw my
dad after the game and he came down and gave me a hug."
After going nearly five years between starts, was it
worth the wait?
"Honestly, looking back on it, it goes by quickly,"
said Kay/"But it was a long process, so
it was definitely rewarding.I'm going
to celebrate for the rest of the day.Tomorrow I'm going to get to work and start watching film."
After all, he only has seven days to get ready for start number
It's impossible for most of us to imagine the
anguish that Walter Stewart must have felt when he was informed that a
congenital defect in his spine would likely end his football career.
But David Pollack can identify.
Six years ago in the second game of his second
season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pollack broke his sixth cervical vertebrae while making a tackle.It ended his NFL career after playing in 16
Pollack met Stewart earlier this season while he was in Cincinnati to
broadcast the UC-Pitt game on ESPN, and called the Bearcat senior
this week to offer his encouragement.
"I've been through having football being a huge part
of your life and then all of the sudden it's gone," Pollack told me."That can be extremely tough, so I just
wanted to reach out to him and tell him a little bit about my experience.I wanted to share any words of wisdom - which
doesn't come from my mouth very often - or anything that I thought was a big
help for me during a time when I needed it."
"They've really bonded and formed a close
relationship," said head coach Butch Jones.
"He's a kid that I have a lot of respect for," said
Pollack."When you see people and the
way that they play, I think that tells you a lot about them and he's one of
those guys that plays really hard and loves the game."
By all accounts, Stewart has handled the news of his
injury remarkably well.
"I talked to Cincinnati trainer Bob Mangine and he
told that he cried when he told Walter the news, but Walter didn't cry," said
Pollack."He's handled it as well as
you can when you get that kind of news."
"He's dealing with it in Walter Stewart fashion -
very poised, very calm, very realistic, and just a model of resiliency," said
Stewart had five sacks in five games this season before
suffering his injury and was likely to be a high NFL draft pick in April.But Pollack says it's important not to dwell
on what might have been.
"It's always easy to look at a situation like that
and see the bad," said Pollack."But I
think it's extremely important to look at the positive too.He's in a situation where he can walk, he can
move - he's not in a situation as severe as Eric LeGrand or Kevin Everett several
years ago - so I think right away you count your blessings.One thing that kind of gave me hope and
clicked in my brain when I was going through my situation is that at some
point, there comes a time when you're going to have to hang your cleats up.That day will come.Whether it's now or 10, 12, 15 years down the
road, it will come.It's about how you
handle it and how you move on."
Over the past several weeks, Stewart has remained an
integral part of the Cincinnati football program as he has tried to lead his
teammates in the locker room and on the sideline.
"I'm trying to convince him to give
coaching a try because I think he can impact lives on a day to day basis," said
Coach Jones."I think that's his passion,
I think he needs to be around the game, and I think he can be an asset to our
profession.When he speaks the kids
listen and he has credibility behind him.I fully anticipate him doing that - if playing football is out - I think
you will see him on the sideline with us."
"The most important thing to remember is that life
is never going to be perfect," said Pollack."It's never going to go exactly how you planned it, and it's always
important to know that God never closes one door without opening another one.Walter is a great kid with great perspective
and I think he'll be absolutely fine with whatever comes his way."
Cam Cheatham was a running back and slot receiver at
Kalamazoo (MI) Central High School and anticipated having a similar role at the
University of Cincinnati.
On his first day of training camp in 2008 he found
out he was being moved to cornerback.
"I was given a black jersey and I was like, 'Man,
that's for the defensive players.'" Cheatham told me."I thought they might have made a
mistake.I went to the equipment guy and
he was like, 'No, that's what you play.You're with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Coombs.'I was mad and there were times where I didn't
want to play that position, but God always has a plan and it worked out.I've been a three-year starter and I've
played a lot of football."
Cheatham did get to show off his running back skills
recently, when he intercepted a pass against Miami's Zac Dysert and sprinted 68
yards for a touchdown.
"I had flashbacks," said Cheatham."It's been a long time since I ran into an
open end zone like that."
Cam's "Pick Six" swung the momentum when it appeared
that the RedHawks might jump out to an early two touchdown lead.
"It was a great call by (defensive coordinator) John
Jancek and I just made a play," said Cheatham."Everybody else was doing their job and I was able to reap the benefits
and make the big play.That's all it
"I'm really proud of him," said head coach Butch
Jones."He's really improved his
leadership skills and he's really taken ownership in the back end of our
defense.He's been extremely consistent,
extremely competitive, and it's a great comfort knowing that you have a corner
who can win in man coverage."
Ironically, Coach Jones unsuccessfully tried to
recruit Cheatham when he was the head coach at Central Michigan but wound up
getting to coach him for three years at Cincinnati.
"It all worked out and I feel very fortunate," said
Jones."I'm very proud of how far he's
come and the improvement that he's made.Each year you could see him making dramatic improvement and he's
well-respected on our football team.Cam's
very polite and quiet and unassuming and then all of a sudden, you put him in
some competitive situations and you see another side to him."
In addition to being handed a defensive practice
jersey at his first training camp, Cheatham was originally given the #2.But he was able to change to #21 in honor of his
hero Deion Sanders.
"If you look at it, Deion Sanders is to the
cornerback position what Michael Jordan is to basketball," said Cheatham."All great cornerbacks come up wanting to
wear #21.He was Prime Time, he had the
shoes, he was bouncing around out there, and he was a lock-down corner.It's on my bucket list to meet him.He's the best to ever do it."
Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in
the NFL and Cheatham has done that twice at UC.The decision to move him from running back to cornerback proved to be a
"It worked out perfectly and I'm happy where I'm at,"
Cam told me."I don't know if I would
have made it at running back.We've had
some great running backs and I don't know if I could have taken all of those
No, the University of Cincinnati's Interim President
isn't looking to work baseball play-by-play into his busy schedule, but like
the Reds' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dr. Ono is willing to have his head shaved
if the Bearcats win 10 consecutive games.
"That is for both football and basketball," Ono told
me at halftime of the UC/Virginia Tech game."I hope that I lose my hair.You
look pretty good, and if they win 10 games, I'll do it at midfield or in front
of the student section.I'll do whatever
I can to encourage the team and the coaches to play at their utmost
abilities.It's not a big deal for me to
lose my hair - I think the students love it, and I love the students.Whatever gets them excited I'm happy to do."
(You can see Dr. Ono pledge to shave his head in the
locker room after the dramatic victory over Virginia Tech)
If you're among the thousands of people that follow
Dr. Ono on Twitter (@PrezOno), you are well aware of his passion for Bearcat
athletics.In our halftime interview
last Saturday, I asked UC's Interim President for his view on the role that athletics
play in the mission of the university.
"I think it's incredibly important," said Ono."I went to college at the University of
Chicago and most recently I was at a D-III school - Emory University - and they're
fantastic universities just as the University of Cincinnati is.But there's nothing like D-I sports to bring
a whole community together.We have 14
outstanding colleges at UC and they have a lot of different identities, but
what galvanizes the community and links us to the 250,000 alumni around the
globe is Bearcat sports.I'm slightly
enthusiastic about it.I'm a big fan and
I think I've tweeted about 11,000 times and have about 19,000 followers on
Twitter and Facebook and I think that's really, really important.It's one of my primary jobs:To connect to the community and show how
enthusiastic I am about what's going on at the University.Not only sports, but the tremendous research
that's going on and the art, architecture, and music that are all part of
Representing the C."
Earlier this year, Dr. Ono took part in a practice
of sorts with the football team and caught some passes from Munchie Legaux.Last Saturday, I asked him to share some
thoughts on his relationship with head coach Butch Jones and the job that he is
"Butch Jones, I think, is one of the best football
coaches in America," said Ono."We
really are privileged in athletics right now at UC to have a great athletic
director, a great team of coaches, and great head coaches across all of the
different sports, but Butch Jones and Mick Cronin, I think, are anchors to our
program.They are people with integrity
and they are people that are really committed to Cincinnati.I love them and I view them as brothers and
partners in Bearcat Nation.We have
something really special here.(Coach
Jones) is really important to the University and he and I really cheerlead and
back each other.I was in the locker
room before the Bearcats came out and he said to the team, 'Do you have my
back?'I think that everybody knows that
I have his back."
He has his coach's back, but if the Bearcats win
their next seven games (the three wins to end last season don't
count), Dr. Ono won't have his hair.