Thursday, October 23, 2008
Possible understatement: It's not easy rooting for Cincinnati area teams at the moment.
Admission: I screamed the 'F' word multiple times upon hearing the devastating (yes, devastating) news that UC freshman point guard Cashmere Wright had torn his left ACL.
It's been nothing but crap luck for the UC basketball program since Kenyon Martin snapped his leg in the 2000 Conference USA tournament. Let's briefly examine a few examples, starting with said injury, which was a punch to the gut I'll likely never recover from (so how do you think Bob Huggins feels?):
1. Kenyon Martin breaks leg. Let's not forget, UC wasn't a good team in 2000, they were the best team in the country, and no sane-minded individual can say otherwise. They were loaded with guard play, depth, experience, and of course, Kenyon Martin - the national player of the year and one of 100 best college players of all time, according to TSN's Mike Decourcey. Trust me, that team rolls into the Final Four, where the talent level was borderline pathetic (including Wisconsin, the worst Final Four team of the past twenty years). Only the Tom Izzo-led Michigan State squad, with Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell on the perimeter, could've given the Cats some trouble. But their interior was garbage, and I just don't see anyone who would've kept Kenyon Martin from tossing up a 26/14/6 game on the biggest stage.
2. 2002, second round loss in double overtime to UCLA. I'll sound whiny here, but it was bad luck that UC, an overachieving No. 1 seed, had to tangle with the shockingly talented No. 8 seed Bruins. UCLA, who had a habit of going through the motions and playing hard come tourney time under Steve Lavin, did it again in 2002. That particular team sent six guys to the NBA (Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes, Dan Gadzuric, Ced Bozeman, Andrae Patterson and Dijon Thompson) - a huge number for even the most accomplished teams - while the Bearcats only had one guy who ever played a minute in the league...freshman Jason Maxiell, who wasn't even a starter in '02. And I'd like to add another thing: Bob Huggins gets labeled a "choke artist" quite a bit, and that game contributes to that title, but was it his fault his inferior unit almost took down the supremely talented Bruins?
3. The Huggs fallout, and everything that came with it. Including...
a. Devan Downey's eventual transfer. If you've forgotten how he good he was, consider that he nearly led the SEC in scoring and steals last season...as a sophomore. It's a shame he was only a Bearcat for one season.
b. The giant red stop sign Nancy Zimpher threw up in regards to recruiting - which was the main contributor to Downey's departure. At the time Zimpher decided to ruin the program, it just so happened that the current team was led by seniors James White, Eric Hicks, Jihad Muhammad and Armein Kirkland, as well as junior Cedric McGowan. After that, no players were left. Nothing in the pipeline. Had UC-caliber players been brought in, and had Downey stayed, the program wouldn't have dropped off much at all.
c. I'm not sure why I'm listing this third, as it's far more important than anything listed above, and it's directly related to point B...but the Huggs fallout officially ended the chase for Bill Walker and Todd's brother - not to mention, considering the way it played out, the recruitment (thievery) of Michael Beasley. Somehow I think a roster of Downey, Todd's brother, Walker, Beasley and an assortment of typical Huggins bruisers would've been firmly planted in the top ten all last season.
4. With rock bottom waiting for them at the end of the '06 season, interim coach Andy Kennedy plays the "Us Against The World" card to perfection, only to be kicked in the groin by a cheating Irishman and a group of grizzled men who either (a.) didn't watch the college hoops season, (b.) overvalued Armein Kirkland's injury or (c.) hated Bob Huggins and took it out on undeserving mammals like Eric Hicks and Devan Downey. Explain.
Gerry McNamara traveled before sinking his desperation 30-footer in the '06 Big East Tournament. He did. If the violation is called, or if he misses the shot, the Cats probably punch their ticket. But that shouldn't have mattered, as UC was one of the top 30-35 teams in the country. Anyway, it mattered, somehow. Despite ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi having UC safely in as a freaking 9 seed (by far his biggest miss to date - remember, he's paid to be bloody accurate), the selection committee disagreed and left 'em on the outside looking in. I threw chairs and screamed like a maniac. I complained day and night with Mo Egger, who might be the only person on the planet who takes that slight harder than I do. It never did any good, and I'm still not over it. If I ever find out that Kirkland's injury kept the Bearcats out of the NCAA tournament, I swear to Christ I will lose it. He was the fifth best player on the team and someone who was a disappointment from the word GO...not someone who should give the high and mighty selection committee a reason to penalize a gutsy team like the '06 Cats. Whatever. That was crappy luck.
5. In walks Mick Cronin, which was (and remains) a great thing. But it's been no picnic for the pint-sized redhead. Let's continue with the alphabet game...
a. Top recruit, and much-needed big man Hernol Hall sees his eligibility washed away prior to the 06-07 season. Any hope for a good season was thrown out the window.
b. Mike Williams, a former McDonald's All American who transferred from Texas about twenty years ago, blew out his Achilles' tendon on the eve of the 07-08 season. Cronin didn't hide the fact that Williams was the team's second best player (behind Deonta Vaughn), and the only guy who could provide solid interior play. And since recent history isn't on UC's side, let me just go ahead and predict that Williams will not be granted a sixth year of eligibility.
c. Cashmere Wright blows out his ACL less than a month before the season opener.
If you've been with me long enough, you undoubtedly know that I rarely steer you wrong with player projections. I take great pride in my ability to assess talent, and I can tell you - based on only three trips to the Deveroe's Summer League - that Cashmere Wright was a player. He's a pass-first point guard with high-end athleticism and oh, by the way, the ability to score from deep. He's not perfect by any means - he needs to gain about twenty lbs. and he's a bit careless with the ball (it was summer league, though) - but that's about it. Vaughn is clearly the best player on the team, but Wright would've been the most important, if that makes any sense. For the team to reach it's potential this season (which ultimately might be the last for Mike Williams), Wright's ability to play 30 minutes per game in the Big East was mandatory. The only thing nearly as important is the progress of superfreak Darnell Wilkes (which still might be a year away) or someone grabbing a wing spot and running with it. But none of it matters. Not Vaughn moving to the two, Williams' health or Wilkes growing up...none of it. They might be decent, but they won't be dynamic - not without a jet-quick point guard. The Cats had that guy ready to run the show for the next four years and complete the Bearcat transformation from lifeless to relevant. But now we have to wait a year to watch the kid play. That's twelve months. Well, twelve months, assuming nothing else goes wrong.
-Brad Spieser (Brad@TwinKilling.com)
Posted by Twin Killing dot Com at 11:22 AM