Ian Happ's season at the plate would be considered rare for any player, the fact he's become the force at the No. 3 spot in the Bearcats order as a freshman leaves him in elite company.
[UC vs. Seton Hall at Marge Schott Stadium: Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m., Sunday noon ]
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- Only 44 games into his collegiate career and freshman infielder Ian Happ already owns several plays worthy of highlight reels, including one where he caught a foul ball falling backward into the seats at Great American Ball Park.
But that spectacular catch is not the favorite moment of his young career. That moment comes at the plate, in a game against Toledo on April 3, in which he hit a walk-off home run.
"I'd never hit a walk-off home run before," he said. "And that was pretty sweet."
Not only did that home run provide him with a special moment he'll always remember, it was also the point he began an offensive surge. Since the Toledo game, his batting average has fluctuated between .304 and .325 and now settled at a team-leading .317, with five home runs and 30 RBI.
Happ's great offensive month has helped produce an impressive season for any player and rare numbers for a freshman.
He leads the team in seven of 11 offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, total bases and walks. He also leads the team in stolen bases and stolen base attempts with 17 out of 21.
He is tied with junior outfielder Justin Glass in runs scored and RBI, and is second only to Glass in hits. He and Glass are the only players to start all 44 games.
A dominant April culminated in a return to his hometown when the Bearcats played a three-game series at Pittsburgh last weekend. Twenty members of his family and friends gathered to watch him play, and he gave them a show, hitting .462, with two home runs, four RBI and two steals, despite the team being swept.
But Happ downplayed the idea he played well because he performed in front of his family and friends.
"It was good to be home, for sure," he said. "But, it was just seeing good pitches and making good swings; you know, just another series."
This attitude contributed to Happ's special freshman season, not just one series in his hometown.
Head coach Brian Cleary sees a centered, smart player who understands how to make adjustments at the plate.
"I think he's got good ability to focus," Cleary said. "He pays attention to his game. He can figure some stuff out on his own. He's got baseball ability, but he's also got some baseball skills up top."
Much of his success can be attributed to his versatility, especially at the plate. Happ bats as a switch hitter, he's been doing it since he was a kid.
"I was about eight years old when I started working on it," he said. "My first year in high school was the first year that I hit full time switch-hitting in games."
Most switch-hitters still prefer one side of the plate to another. So which side does Happ prefer?
"It depends on the day really," Happ said. "Sometimes I feel more comfortable left-handed, sometimes more right-handed."
His versatility not only helps him at the plate, but in the field too. He plays multiple infield positions and moves around the infield from game to game, playing mostly first, second and shortstop.
Cleary thinks Happ has yet to find his best position, however.
"I think he's really capable at a number of different places and he's got pretty good baseball savvy, so he kind of knows his way around the field," Cleary said.
Finding the best position for him will come with defensive improvement, it's the one area he's still showing residue adjusting as freshman. This season, he's committed 22 errors and while he does get more chances than any of his other teammates, it still averages out to one error every second game. And he knows, it.
Cleary knows it too. But he remains confident Happ will get better defensively with time. He explained that the ball plays faster off the bat in college than it does in high school and the angles infielders take are much different. Even the way a player moves his feet can be different.
"Playing in the infield for a first-year guy is a major change because of the speed of the game," Cleary said. "It takes some getting used to. He'll get better at that the more he does it."
It's not just Cleary who sees Happ developing into a great player. Glass, one of the resident veterans on the team, knows he has only just begun to tap into his potential. Glass says he can see the adjustments Happ has made from fall to the beginning of the season and he's catching on and learning faster every day as the season has progressed.
"The sky's the limit," Glass said. "As long as he keeps working hard and focusing in, he'll do fine."
A return to the New Media Suite with Tom Gelehrter, the Bearcats director of new media and broadcasting for our first offseason podcast of the year.
We discuss Andy Reid's Bearcats farm system, Travis Kelce, Jermaine Lawrence, Gunner Kiel, Bennie Coney, Mitch Pattishall and leave plenty of time to go tangential talking about Kansas City stories, Tommy G dissing my cornhole tournament plus the potential Skippycast.
And what we're learning is that Andy Reid loves the University of Cincinnati. He drafted Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Jason Kelce, also picking up Mardy Gilyard while with the Eagles. Now with KC, he brought Gilyard with him and drafted Kelce in the third round.
Then there was this quote from Reid Friday:
"Seems like every kid we take out of Cincinnati is tougher than shoe leather."
How does Kelce fit in Kansas City? The starter is third-year tight end Tony Moeaki. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after last season, though Reid says he will be ready for training camp. They signed veteran Anthony Fasano this past year.
I've been in the camp that a season under an experience veteran would be ideal for Kelce (or any draft pick really), but this seems to provide that. Moeaki likely isn't going anywhere, though, his took a dip from a productive rookie year (47 receptions, 556 yards) then missing all of the 2011 season due to injury. He caught 33 passes for 453 yards this past season.
Fasano likely will serve as a one or two year safety net in case Kelce doesn't emerge for the Chiefs. But the stage would appear to be set for next year to be the year Kelce could break out as Moeaki's complement. Yet, in the NFL, you really never know.
Elsewhere, no other Bearcats were drafted this weekend, but a number did sign as undrafted free agents. Here's the list:
RB George Winn: Houston
DE Dan Giordano: Arizona
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: New England
LB Maalik Bomar: Jacksonville
--- Have to love the Texans landing spot for Winn. They know a thing or two about the success of undrafted free agents. Arian Foster went undrafted four years ago out of Tennessee but now has reeled off three consecutive 1,200-yard seasons and scored 50 TDs in the process.
Foster is backed up by Ben Tate, but beyond that is wide open. They didn't draft a running back and currently only have those two on their roster.
--- Thompkins fits snugly with The Hoodie in New England. Bill Belichick has never been one to draft wide receivers high and likes to pluck Tom Brady's targets from the odds and ends of the draft and free agency.
Tight ends (Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski), running backs (Danny Woodhead) and converted DBs (Julian Edelman) all helped lead the offense last year. Anywhere where Brady is chucking it, any player can breakout. He'll be joining a cast of Who-Are-They players in NE.
Here's the current list of wideouts: Kamar Aiken, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Jeremy Ebert, Julian Edelman, Andre Holmes, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, Matthew Slater.
Somebody's got to catch the ball, right?
--- Bomar joins the recent list of UC products to end up in Jacksonville. His old partner in crime JK Schaffer landed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent last year and nearly made the team in preseason before ending up on the Bengals practice squad. The year before Armon Binns caught a TD in the preseason, but was cut before landing on the Bengals practice squad. So, we should plan to see Maalik at PBS around October, I guess?
--- You don't think undrafted free agents play a major role in the NFL these days? Here's the number of UDFAs on Super Bowl teams the last three years:
2012 Baltimore: 18
2012 San Fran: 12
2011 NY Giants: 12
2011 New England: 23
2010 Green Bay: 17
2010 Pittsburgh: 12
Heck, the Patriots 2011 team was nearly half undrafted players. Once you arrive in camp you are a rookie in a helmet all the same no matter if first-round pick or UDFA. And plenty survive, as seen by the above stat.
The first round of the NFL draft went into the books Thursday night without much intrigue, as expected for the Bearcats contingent. Travis Kelce should be coming off the board Friday night, though.
Any chance of him staying in Cincinnati was erased when the Bengals saw top TE Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) slide to them at No. 21. There aren't too many bad fits for a player like Kelce, if you were weighing the best spots for him to land. If you were looking for the ideal scenario, my top five best fits would look like this:
1. Atlanta: Great team, playbook centered around TE, learn for a year under Tony Gonzalez before he retires.
2. Philadelphia: Isn't this where all Bearcats go? Most importantly, would join his brother with Eagles and play with Brent Celek.
3. Pittsburgh: Quality QB used to utilizing tight end, set to take over for Heath Miller on the back end of his career.
4. Washington: Up-and-coming team using run-pass option at QB suits Kelce, Fred Davis only legit starter.
5. Cleveland: Return to hometown and ability to play immediately. QB an issue, but Kelce would be counted on from Day 1.
I'd also toss San Diego into the mix of great landing spots and I'm sure that city would work just fine for Kelce. Regardless, anybody that drafts Kelce will have plans for him to become a major part of their system. Should be a great day for the Kelce family. And if he ends up slipping into the fourth round on Saturday, that will be a great day, too, for a family unconcerned by what round they're selected.
Remember to shoot me an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr if you have any questions, comments or ideas for funneling every Bearcats player to the Eagles.
Let's eat ...
--- Elsewhere this weekend, look for George Winn to be the next Bearcats player to hear his name, probably in the sixth round or so. Whoever takes Winn will be gaining a steal, even though with running backs it's hard to know. Still, to gain that type of production, durability and a special teams dynamo that late in the draft brings significant value.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Dan Giordano will be holding on for the later round selections also. Yet, I'm of the opinion if it's the seventh round, while being drafted would be nice, becoming an undfrafted free agent might end up being the better deal at the end of the day. The signing bonus isn't what you would receive as a pick, but the ability to handpick the best fit for you instead of being shipped into a situation seems worth it.
Look no further than Armon Binns and JK Schaffer, although both picked Jacksonville and didn't make it, they'd shown enough to end up on the Bengals practice squad and set themselves up nicely for playing time. Binns will be in the mix for Miami and Schaffer has a good chance to latch on the back of the roster for Cincinnati this year.
Plus, in this day where such a large number of Pro Bowlers aren't selected, there's no shame in the undrafted tag.
--- In NBA draft decision news, this is a few days late, but Russ Smith will be returning to Louisville. He'll be the preseason player of the year in the conference and maybe the country. The Cardinals are still losing a lot (Siva, Dieng, etc.) but will be the team to beat.
--- If you haven't been out to the Sheakley Athletics Center for an event, this weekend will be a prime opportunity. The lacrosse team closes out its season and will be holding a BBQ Bash. Games are tonight at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
--- Is there anything better forNFL Network's Draft ratings than Chris Berman? To be honest, though, the attempts to make the draft this made for TV event have made it a made for Twitter event. Was more enjoyable following it on Twitter with the sound down on the TV last night than in any year in recent memory.
Obviously, all the talk around the Bearcats right now surrounds the Grant of Rights approved by the ACC which appears to shut down anymore conference realignment circus. At least for now. That's by basic logic. Of course, logic hasn't always prevailed in the game of realignment. Money, however, is undefeated. And all the major players seem to be thrilled with their financial plates and now moving to cover it with both arms.
So, where does this leave the program?
Doc wrote about the latest blow and discussed it with Whit Babcock. You can read that here. The column reads as a bit of an obit on UC, one which has been written before in other forms and circumstances. In the case of locking into the college football lottery the big conferences cashed in, the road to that path certainly grew longer. But the path to relevancy, winning and a national profile hasn't gone anywhere.
Basketball is a no-brainer, this effects the conference schedule and little else. As long as the overall schedule is in the top 40 or so each year there will be opportunity to build an NCAA tournament resume and win there. Continue winning there and players like Jermaine Lawrence and the rest of this year's class will continue to commit to UC.
Think being in a top conference is necessary to be a factor in college hoops? See Butler, Xavier, Gonzaga, Temple, Memphis, Wichita State, Creighton, VCU, St. Louis, New Mexico, San Diego State. This list could go on and on. Many of these aren't just relevant, rather perennial powers across college hoops.
Basketball has been and will continue to be fine.
Much thanks to a lengthy email I received from loyal reader, Twitterer Doug, for sparking this conversation. In it, he talks about how all the goals for making a national splash and playing a similar role in the big picture are still available.
These were his thoughts on football:
"Assuming the AAC will be included in the "Group of 5" arrangement, taking the Big Easts spot, this is a great opportunity for UC. Competing for the top BCS ranking with the Sun Belt, MAC, Mountain West and C-USA seems like a very favorable position for the Cats. Once Louisville leaves for the AAC, UC is by far the class of the AAC.
So you're left with this competition (traditionally) for the top BCS ranking:
Boise State (MW)
Whichever team comes out of the MAC
Likely one of the Florida schools from the C-USA
Honestly, probably no real competition from the Sun Belt
I like those odds. It isn't at all ideal, but it certainly does not signal the end to UC's success in football. When you consider UC has probably the 3rd biggest coaching name in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, I think Tommy T makes up a bit for the lack-luster conference. If the renovations to Nippert are ushered along, the Cats keep winning and fan support remains, UC can dominate the AAC and find themselves with a good BCS ranking every year. Will they make a BCS Bowl every year? Probably not. But what team, besides Alabama, does?"
Tip of the cap, Doug. Quality analysis.
The bottom line is every year, you could argue UC will be more likely to end up in a BCS bowl than 75 percent of the programs the newly-aligned power conferences. When you consider the competition nationally, if they were to put together a team capable of running the table and beating a few B1G teams in the non-conference, they'd be looking at a major bowl along with serious consideration for the four-team playoff.
The trade off clearly becomes a conference home schedule with less traditionally attractive opponents. Yet, let's not pretend like the Big East was rolling Alabama and Texas into Nippert every year.
Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville are all nice programs, but as far as on the field success in the last five years how much better have they been then say a Houston, SMU or UCF? They've been better, but the difference is more marginal than most would prefer to admit. Go ahead and take a look:
UCF: 10+ wins two of last three years, including bowl wins over Georgia ('10) and Ball State ('12)
SMU: Four straight years in bowl games, including 28-6 drubbing of Pitt at 2011 Independence Bowl
Houston: Ranked in Top 10 in 2011, going 13-1, beating Penn State in bowl game
Louisville: Enjoyed emergence last season, previously only one shared BE title coming off Kragthorpe disaster
Pitt: Losing record and bowl losses each of last two years, one shared BE title in last five years.
Syracuse: Two winning seasons in five years. One shared title last year.
The perception will be the obstacle for UC, but dominating The American would help squash that nationally while also making for a number of enjoyable, winning fall Saturdays for the Clifton faithful.
Playing in the ACC (or name other major conference here) would be an ideal scenario, but any idea that success and national relevance are out the window in the current format would be misunderstanding the future system.
Send any questions, comments or other thoughts regarding this whole crazy situation to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Let's eat ...
--- Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated came around last week and put together this fantastic piece on Tommy Tuberville and UC. Nuggets like TT heading down to the circus at US Bank by himself are scribe gold.
--- Awards being handed out around UC:
Babcock was named the College Swimming Coaches Association of American Benjamin Franklin Award recipient. It goes to the person whose efforts most promote the student-athlete ideal. Kudos to Whit.
Former UC runner Kathy Klump was named the Cincinnati/NKY Sports Association College Sportswoman of the Year. Congrats to Kathy who closed out her career as a three-time All-American and four-time BE champion in track.
--- Usually the joke sign in front of the bar will read "Free Beer Tomorrow," but UC baseball is erasing the proverbial signs out front to read "Free Baseball Today." A game against Thomas More originally scheduled for Thursday will be played Wednesday at MSS and admission will be free.
--- For those hoping this epic 10-game Reds homestand ends quickly, this song doesn't apply. But it's as catchy and fun of a country tune as you'll find. And I'm the last guy typically pushing country. Have a great day, everyone.
Well, Bearcats, interesting day yesterday. For outsiders, the ACC passing a Grant of Rights deal through 2027 came as a surprise. A common thought existed that it was only a matter of time until the B1G went plucking for more and the ACC was ripe. Well, no longer. With the TV rights now connected to the league, no teams will be going anywhere.
Likely true. The ACC still remains a possibility as they deal with an odd conference number of 15, the chance exists to add one or two more schools to set a more workable number. Mandel pointed out how much of a scheduling and imbalance headache 14 was last year for the SEC. A few seasons dealing with those nightmares could open the door of additions.
"Today's news from the ACC could certainly halt or slow down realignment, at least at the BCS level," he said in a text message. "Time will tell. We will keep doing the same thing we have been. Working hard to move UC forward every day and position ourselves as best we can on a national level."
If you have any comments, questions or concerns about any topic surrounding UC athletics shoot me an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Now then, let's eat ...
--- I wrote about Isaiah Pead yesterday.Hope you will read the story here. Always a great interview, Pead delivered again when I spoke to him. He's open, thoughtful, honest and always able to share a laugh.
You can place me down among those shocked he didn't enjoy success his rookie year. After watching his career here, he seemed destined to breakout in a league where so many teams seek explosive home-run hitters who can do everything out of the backfield. It doesn't always work out that way. Running back certainly is a prickly position to predict, the hardest in my opinion.
He was clearly frustrated -- with maybe that word not being strong enough -- with what evolved during his rookie season. The door appears to be open for him to still make an impact this year with Steven Jackson gone and the job back up for grabs. Though, I'd expect the Rams to draft a RB at some point to jump into the competition with Pead and Daryl Richardson.
There was much left on the editing room floor from my conversation with Pead, here's a few:
On if he'll be paying attention to the draft this weekend:
"Not really. Just because knowing what I know now from being on that side a year ago and being around that now, that day is definitely important and special for them guys and the organization. But that next day is back to reality and starting back from ground zero and you got to make a name. It's still on you. It's not a given."
On how being relegated down the depth chart affected him:
"That's one thing, it shut me up. I just watched everything from Jack to Sam (Bradford) to Cortland Finnegan. Just watching people."
On lessons learned from veteran RB Steven Jackson:
"He would talk to me and let me know that it's a game within a game and everything is evaluated, on the field, off the field, pulling up to a red light. You are always watched, you are always evaluated. You can't ever let them see you sweat."
--- Solid weekend for the Bearcats baseball team which won three in a row before falling in the series finale against Villanova on Sunday.
Ashley Davis documented the offensive rise of these two freshman catchers from her game observations. Here's her note:
Woody Wallace, the everyday catcher, found his swing again Sunday, going 4 for 4 from the plate.
Russell Clark, hitting in the DH spot Sunday, went 3 for 5 with one run scored. Clark has been hitting well lately. He hit his first career home run against Ohio State on Wednesday and Saturday had a hit to drive in two runs. His batting average now sits at an even .300 in 40 at-bats. Cleary has taken notice of his recent success.
"[He] just really started off slow and I think it took a little while to get comfortable in the batter's box," Brian Cleary said. "But he's done a good job with it and certainly we're going to need to take advantage of that bat."
--- Also, freshman Mitch Pattishall continues to drop the hammer. Since scribes are so often wrong, excuse me if I point out a stroy I wrote that's turned out to be right. It seems Pattishall really turned the corner in his development after the game at GABP. He's been phenomenal since that day. He pitched a complete-game shutout on Saturday in the win against Nova.
After one of the greatest careers by a running back in Cincinnati history, Isaiah Pead surprisingly slid down the St. Louis Rams depth chart after being selected 50th overall. He emerges one year later from a year of self-proclaimed misery with renewed hope to live up to lofty NFL expectations.
In the darkest moments, Isaiah Pead sat inside his expansive house tucked in the suburbs of St. Louis and bounced a tennis ball against the wall. Alone.
He'd lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, music playing, with the loneliness only matched by the frustration.
Pead left the Unviersity of Cincinnati known as much for an outgoing personality and contagious laugh as explosive cuts and game-breaking speed.
Yet, one year after being selected by the Rams as the second running back taken in the 2012 NFL draft, he's recovering from a rookie year spent buried as deep within his own mind as his third spot on the depth chart.
"Honestly, I would call it miserable," Pead said. "Miserable life. Miserable four-five months."
High expectations crumbled to a rubble of humility by the time Pead packed his bags at season's end. The moment the Rams completed their 7-8-1 season with his exit interview, he arranged a flight and wasted no time bolting town and an empty house that symbolized unfulfillment.
"I took off and I didn't come back until it was time to," Pead said. "I just wanted to stay out of this area, I came back for a couple days to pack up then all the memories and walking back into my house by myself, had a couple days by myself, I just needed to get out of that area."
The second-round pick and 50th player selected overall sparingly touched the field, surprisingly beaten out by seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson early in the season, both behind veteran Steven Jackson. He played a total of 42 snaps. Pead carried 10 times for 54 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. A mediocre half for him at UC, an entire healthy season in St. Louis.
"I was literally fed up with football," Pead said. "Not a quitter, not quitting, I was just tired of football. Tired of practice for the day and I would just lay there play video games and whatnot because it was so miserable, so stressful."
Pead can't explain how his situation reached these ugly depths. He honestly doesn't know. Twice during the year he says he arrived late for meetings, though, those discretions came after the backup position he thought would be his fell to the 252nd overall pick out of Abilene Christian. Combine disappointment on the field with an unattached life off it living away from a social scene, teammates, without a girlfriend and even having his grandparents take his dog back to Ohio in order to allow keener focus.
In uncertain surroundings and football suffocating every moment, the season snowballed.
Lessons like those learned by Pead last season can't be coached. They can't even be taught by parents. They can only be endured.
Long battles inside his own mind stemmed to simplistic roots. Not necessarily his roots racking up 4,009 yards receiving and rushing with the Bearcats. Or even breaking Archie Griffin's Ohio high school rushing records at Eastmoor Academy. His coping mechanism went deeper.
"I find myself taking all the way back to Day One when I first started playing football," Pead said. "I went through progressions with myself. What is going on? What am I doing wrong? What can I do right? How can I change this situation? (Moved) to the point I just stop worrying about it, just went to practice every day. Did the best I could."
He employed the same strategy as Season 2 began last week in St. Louis. Jackson moved on to the Falcons and a wide open running back room awaits with Pead in position to seize the day. Coach Jeff Fisher believes Pead can easily live up to his draft-pick status. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter even pegged Pead as his 2013 NFC breakout player during a recent interview session with Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Despite all that's gone wrong for Pead, the future remains ripe with opportunity.
"He just didn't get a chance because of the other two," Fisher said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, referring to Jackson and Richardson. "But he'll get his opportunity this year. ... He's got a chance to make a lot of big plays for us."
Few understand better than Pead no position comes predestined, no opportunity given. That's especially true for a player with an empty year anchored to his 23-year-old body.
Months removed from the situation in the supportive grasps of friends and family helped provide perspective. He feels renewed and focused on improving his mental approach. Earlier to rise, earlier to bed, more time in the playbook, less time opting for fast food. All small aspects of being a pro which partially contributed to his disappointment.
"Whole new era, whole new attitude, whole new team, whole new Pead," he said.
Humbled and hopeful, Pead doesn't sugarcoat his expectations. He feels capable of breaking out into the player that made him a fan favorite and national star at UC, but admits no matter how hard he tries the decision ultimately rests in the hands of others.
He's come to terms with an unpredictable reality, only prefers to keep blinders on while tracking his personal finish line.
"Now I'm just getting back to what I know what got me here and that's being the best in the workout that day, going home, coming back and giving my best in the workout that day," Pead said. "My goals, I really don't have one. I want to win every day and be the best person every day."
He views the concept of opening the season as the starter more as a complete 180 than desired accomplishment. His goals don't stretch beyond a championship and a chance. Contemplating anything further drags him in the direction of last year's misery.
"I just want to play," Pead said. "I'm not even asking to be the starter, I just want to play."
Touching the field represents the next step toward officially burying those long nights staring at the ceiling or bouncing the tennis ball against the wall. A declared man of action rather than talk, he's finally able to start running toward daylight.
"I'm not going to sit and linger on something, but I am one to not forget about a situation," Pead said. "I am moving on from last year, last year is last year, but I have not forgot about last year. I wouldn't call it revenge, but the chip that I put on my shoulder is just a little bigger."
I want to hear from you! If you have any questions about Pead, UC or any other topics surrounding Bearcats athletics, shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
So much happening around UC right now, it's been hard to keep around these parts. Yesterday alone yielded the signing of top recruit Jermaine Lawrence, an announced contract extension for Mick Cronin and Brian Cleary's baseball Bearcats topping Ohio State, 5-3, at Marge Schott Stadium.
Time to jump right into it, let's eat ...
--- I wrote about theJermaine Lawrence commitment yesterday pointing out everyone needs to hold perspective on the potential impact Lawrence can provide immediately. He can be a fabulous player and will certainly play a significant role in the 2013-14 Bearcats, but people need to understand the development of the majority of Top 25 recruits and not focus on the three or four that jump from dominant frosh to the NBA lottery (basically, everyone who doesn't go to Kentucky).
Most college hoops fans believe Anthony Davis is showing up at their school every fall. When he doesn't, that does not mean the prospect who did is a failure.
To piggyback on the story and add perspective here's a look at the 2011 class of Scout.com forwards rated between 10-30 coming out of HS (Lawrence was 19 on their list this season). There were five players who transferred among the 11 in that group, I left those out to keep the situations similar.
The numbers are separated between freshman -- sophomore seasons.
--- Notice, only Cody Zeller, who entered a rebuilding situation at Indiana, even averaged double-digit points per game. Nearly all sat around that 9/10 point mark while pulling down about seven rebounds. At somewhere in the mid-20s in minutes per game seems to be the norm as well and while even Cronin himself doesn't know how much Lawrence will play that seems to be a nice jumping off point. It'd be hard to imagine it any differently.
--- Moral of the story, understand the standard impact by any freshman and that one-and-done frosh explosions are rare as hitting a full-court heave.
--- UC popped the surprise extension announcement on us yesterday at the afternoon press conference. I knew something had to be up when the special podium showed up in the media room.
Many things to touch on with this, I'll offer up three:
1) No, these contracts don't amount to much on paper as far as security in keeping coaches. Steve Alford signing a long-term contract extension with New Mexico in the last month before bolting to UCLA 10 days later.
Cronin said it best: "In this business, you are either getting extended or extinguished."
This contract does not mean Cronin couldn't bolt for another school tomorrow. It also doesn't mean he couldn't be bought out by UC tomorrow. What it does mean is Whit Babcock and the administration aren't taking for granted Mick's pronounced commitment to stay as Bearcats head coach his entire career. This is where he wants to be and has never hidden that fact.
Expectations are to win games and make the NCAA Tournament. No contract extension will change that.
"You've got to be a big boy when you take these jobs," Cronin said. "You have to realize that there are expectations and if you don't meet those expectations you won't be running the program very long."
2)By offering this financial commitment (terms yet unreleased) erased any thought Cronin has made poor business decisions by making known his desire to stay at UC instead of holding it back for leverage. Which he could have done.
Coaches hold institutions up for more money all the time. Watch college football every December as all these coaches with bigtime jobs are caught flirting with other schools and suddenly have raises and contract extensions. It's a way to play the game of big-money college athletics. Cronin chose not to.
"I want to reward that (loyalty)," Babcock said.
In fact, Babcock adamantly pointed out Cronin never leveraged for anything or made demands.
3) Hey, even the Reds' Todd Frazier is showing love to Mick after his deal yesterday.
--- Zach Wells of Local12 brought me in to talk about all the ongoings at UC in this Google Hangout last night. Love how relaxed Google went with this product name. Just two dudes hanging out, staring at each other's faces. Easy like Sunday morning. If you have time, pop over to their page to check out the rest of the Hangoutsthey have done, informative stuff.
Regardless, was a good conversation about many of the topics you are reading about now. Plus, you can soak in the breathtaking home decor of my house.
--- Not to promote this too early, but I recently spoke this week with the guy who George Winn replaced last season, Isaiah Pead. Great interview as always and it was incredibly interesting to hear his perspective on a rookie season that fell far shy of expectations. A humbling turn of events for the #BestPlayerOnTheField. Look for that next week.
Pat ranked top 20 in average yards per kickoff (63.4) and percentage of touchbacks (48 percent). When the ball doesn't get into the end zone, bad things can happen. Remember Toledo?
He's moving closer to his family in Miami (Fla.) as he transfers to The U and will likely do well down there. The Bearcats have options at punter with CHCA grad John Lloyd next on the depth chart, but Tommy Tuberville will also be bringing some folks in for a tryout.
This young team seems to be gaining slightly more confidence every game. That was going to be the plan at the beginning of the year to be hitting a stride with so many freshman by the end of the season and with wins like this they continue to be on their way.
More than all that, how about the crowd of nearly two grand at MSS last night. Great night for baseball and great atmosphere.
--- Typically, I open my blog on this day every year celebrating one of my favorite holidays of all time, but with all this UC news, had to push it down here.
Happy National High-5 Day everyone!
Third Thursday in April every year and I plan on breaking out the high-5s all over the place. And I don't want this to disregard the low-5, it has it's place and we shouldn't discriminate on this day of all days. So, slip some skin, hit the 80s sitcom freeze frame, or wind around for the double-up, just remember to distribute those 5s!
Mick Cronin didn't hold back. He didn't need to. With top prospect Jermaine Lawrence officially in the fold for Bearcats basketball, he didn't need to hesitate when discussing a recruiting class now ranked among the Top 25 nationally by numerous services.
"By far the best recruiting class I've had as the head coach," Cronin said.
That's with much thanks to Lawrence, who verbally committed in Feb. 3, but officially signed his letter of intent on the first day of the late signing period Wednesday. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward arrives as the do-it-all specialist who provides the offensive depth on the interior the team searched for and never consistently found last season.
Around the rim he's polished. He finishes, dishes and creates matchup problems with his versatility. On defense, he can block shots with the best of them and play three different positions. Sure, he was ranked as the No. 19 overall prospect in the country by Scout.com, but rankings can be misleading, right? Yes. What's not misleading is his county championship game as a junior when Lawrence scored 25 points with 15 rebounds and 15 blocks.
He turned into a double-double machine that junior year when he averaged 18.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 6.4 blocks at Pope John Paul XXIII HS (N.J.). Suffering through a tendon injury that derailed his senior season, his stats dipped to 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds but he will arrive at UC 100 percent healthy.
The potential is clear.
"He can win a game for you with points," Cronin said. "He can pass, he can rebound, feel for the game, he can defend three positions, he can block shots. He understands how to play."
Searching for comparisons within the history of the program, Cronin couldn't pinpoint one. He's hard to match with players of the past at UC, he's very much of the future mold Cronin has envisioned since taking over seven years ago. His length, versatility and athleticism on the court more correlates to Thursday night's on TNT than grainy UC flashback videos on YouTube.
Cronin said by the looks of him, he resembles Kenyon Martin in many ways, but he doesn't play like him.
"He's a way more skilled offensive player at this point in his career than Kenyon was, if he can get Kenyon's ferociousness then he will not be here very long," Cronin said with a smile. "Which would be OK with me."
The kid can play, no doubt. The question for UC next year is how to gauge his possible instant impact. Thrusting freshmen into the lineup can be a risky maneuver and Cronin repeatedly stumps about veteran teams being the key to sustained success. Lauding praise and expectations can stunt growth and be emphatically unfair to the incoming player. Cronin's taken the development of freshmen with caution as his team depth built during the run of three straight NCAA tournament berths.
When Lance Stephenson and Cashmere Wright debuted together as freshman in 2009 they averaged a combined 47 minutes per game because other options were limited. You can see how the leading freshman in minutes has been much lower in recent years.
2012-13: Shaq Thomas: 10.8
2011-12: Ge'Lawn Guyn: 10.1
2010-11: Sean Kilpatrick: 20.6
2009-10: Lance Stephenson: 28.2
2009-10: Cashmere Wright: 18.5
It would be unfair on signing day to speculate how many minutes Lawrence will play this year and not at all the point in this case. What should be noted is the delicate balance necessary between asking for impact and allowing a player to develop naturally.
Cronin plans to be cautious in not only placing expectations on Lawrence -- something us media types will do enough of -- but in forcing him into an atmosphere where will be a central figure immediately.
"It would be grossly unfair to ask whether it be Jermaine Lawrence or Kevin Johnson or Troy Caupain to come in and be a savior in any way, shape or form," Cronin said. "I will guard against that happening. Jermaine gets the illustrious tag of being the highest rated recruit; I told him you get a box of popcorn with that, too.
"That doesn't translate to immediate success at our level. That doesn't translate to the NBA Draft lottery. Life starts over. You get your first elbow in the chest then we are going to see who gets to contribute the most as a freshman."
Across the country the demand for freshman to become an All-American has grown exponentially over the past decade with everyone on a timetable to the NBA, but that's rarely the path to true success.
Take a look at the 2013 All-Americans, for instance. Not a freshman on the first team -- three juniors and two sophomores. The second team featured freshmen Ben McLemore (Kansas) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), but they come as rare cases. That's the misconception with the early-entry, one-and-done binge. Everyone looks at the select few who end up as lottery picks and misses the vast majority who develop naturally and effectively.
Big East Player of the Year and first team AA Otto Porter went from averaging 10 and 7 his freshman year to 16 and 8 this past season. Teammate on the AA, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, didn't average more than six points until his junior season this year.
Would UC like Lawrence or Caupain or Johnson, etc., to become All-American? Of course, they'd be the first one to do so since Steve Logan. But to expect him or anyone else in this talented freshman class to make that type of instant impact and take all the pressure off Sean Kilpatrick the minute they walk on campus would be misleading and misinformed.
Lawrence can be a productive player and supporting asset to this team this year in Cronin's eyes, but he won't be forced into more than that until he's clearly ready. The coach will be sure of that.
"He has a chance to have a great career, how soon is a matter of how quickly he or any of the guys adjust," Cronin said. "I don't want any undue pressure on Jermaine Lawrence coming in here. I want him to stay focused on developing and becoming part of our team, whatever shakes out shakes out for him."
Cronin completed that statement, before being sure to quickly add an important tagline.
"But he's definitely capable of making an impact."
I want to hear from you! What do you think of the Jermaine Lawrence signing, Mick's extension or any other development around UC? Shoot me an email with comments or questions to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
With positions in need of fortification on the two-deep following spring practice, Tommy Tuberville will be reliant on a slew of junior college transfer to fill the gaps this summer.
CINCINNATI -- Standing yards from the spot he observed nearly all of the 15 spring practices and only minutes from soaking in the final seconds of those sessions, Tommy Tuberville held his vision of the 2013 Cincinnati Bearcats clear in his head.
Beyond the emergence of enthusiasm and potential explosiveness, Tuberville couldn't move past an unavoidable fact in his mind. His team needs an injection of depth.
Rarely at this level of FBS football do freshman deliver the necessary impact on a depth chart the new coach expounded upon through his southern drawl. He instead swerves the conversation to his influx of junior college transfers.
Eight of them in all were signed in February with the mind of providing instant impact. Two months later, Tuberville remains convinced he took the proper tactic.
"We're going to need to get four or five junior college kids in here in the summer we have signed," Tuberville said. "We are going to need to get to the point where we can put them in places and get them to the point they can understand what we are doing on offense and defense."
Acclimation will be most important at the running back position where, beyond starter Ralph David Abernathy and current backup Tion Green, Tuberville seeks runners who can handle the force of a 12-game season. Abernathy, for all his flash and flare, doesn't fit into the every-down mold at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds.
Fortunately, Tuberville loves what he acquired in Rod Moore (5-10, 185) and Hosey Williams (5-11, 205). Moore, in fact, rated as the top JuCo running back transfer in the country by 247Sports.com.
"That's really going to up the tempo when it comes to competition in August," Tuberville said.
The question becomes, how effective can anyone expect a junior-college player to be in his first year? For reference, last year's top RB recruit from 247sports was Marion Grice, who committed to Arizona State. Grice combined for 19 touchdowns for the Sun Devils with 103 carries for 679 yards along with 425 yards receiving.
Any stats within earshot of Grice's numbers would be more than enough to complement RDAIV and take pressure off his small frame, particularly in pass protection. Assuring Williams and Moore know where to pick up blitzes and assignments associated with Eddie Gran's offense will be the challenge of the next few months as they arrive on campus.
The same goes for the wide receiver position where Tuberville observes a need for speed. Anthony McClung can hit the home run, as has been evidenced throughout spring practices, but the collection of athletic big bodies lacks the true elite speed to take the top off the defense opposite McClung.
Cue Johnny Holton. Expectations are for Holton (6-3, 190) to compete for time and provide the same explosiveness that allowed him to average 23.8 yards per reception last season. Exactly one-third of his 24 catches at College of DuPage (Ill.) went for touchdowns.
"This guy can run," Tuberville said. "He's a difference-maker in terms of the deep-ball threat that can help open up the running game inside because you got to cover him with two guys every once in a while."
The primary position in need of instant help on defense would be the secondary where Tuberville estimates one safety and one corner capable of competent snaps would be the ideal fit. He'll likely turn to highly regarded freshman safety Mike Tyson (6-2, 190) along with CB Howard Wilder (5-11, 180).
"They got to come in and learn what's going on," Tuberville said.
Coach's aren't allowed contact with players during the summer. Much of the implementation falls back on teammates to install the details. Core members of team leadership such as Brendon Kay and Austen Bujnoch serve as the default setting as TA's in Tuberville 101.
"It's all about coaching the younger guys up," Bujnoch said. "We have a couple guys coming in, freshman don't play we just teach them the basic fundamentals. For those wide receivers and running backs, Brendon is going to have to take some of them ... and bring them along because we know we are going to need some of them."
Too much is needed of these players immediately to allow an arrival without significant knowledge of the playbook on the first snap at Higher Ground.
"That's the reason you got to have good leadership," Tuberville said. "You got to have guys on your team who can teach. We can't as assistants and head coaches do that. They got to watch film on their own, they got to watch film with the other players. Other players have to teach them what to do. They can't start where we started here in spring practice."
I want to hear from you! If you have any questions, comments or thoughts shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.