January 2014

Jim Boeheim and the Duke Miracle Play

In anticipation of Saturday’s big Syracuse vs. Duke game at the Carrier Dome (expected to draw 36,000 fans), here’s an old gag involving the two programs from my TV days in Syracuse.

The Love Village

Leave it to a guy who has become famous for his “mean face” to coin an expression for how close-knit the Bearcats basketball team is this year.

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 “We’re a love village,” said Justin Jackson with a grin.

That gave Mick Cronin a big laugh when I passed along Jackson’s comment, but there’s no doubt he would agree.  Cronin says he’s never been closer to his players in 11 years as a college head coach.

“I respect them so much, and they know it, because of how hard they play,” said Cronin.  “That’s what we try to be all about – control what we can control and don’t let other people define us.  They’ve really bought in to that part of what I try to instill in our program more than any guys that I’ve coached.”

But at the age of 42, with more than a decade of head coaching experience under his belt, Cronin has changed too.

“Only a fool would not try to become a better coach every year,” Mick told me.  “With experience hopefully comes a tad bit of wisdom, and also maybe a tad bit of patience.  You understand that the game is not all about you, it’s about the players.  I think the more you make it about them, the harder they’re going to play, the more they’re going to play to win, and the more coachable they’re going to be.  At the end of the day, that’s really what this is all about – their education and helping young people grow up.  Obviously you have to win games and we’re all competitors, but I really think that’s the way to win.”  

“He wants the best out of everybody,” said Jackson.  “That’s the reason why I came here.  You can tell that he wants the best for you – not just in basketball but in being a better person and a better man.  That’s what I wanted to be.”

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One thing I’ve found interesting about this team is how the players react to criticism.  Our broadcasting location is frequently close to the Bearcats bench and even in those situations where Coach Cronin is reading players the riot act, they rarely seem to get upset.

“We all know that it’s his love for the game,” said Sean Kilpatrick.  “For that five seconds that he blows you up, you shouldn’t take it like he’s going to take you out of the game for a long time – he’s trying to teach you.  At the end of the day, he still loves you and he’s going to get his message across.”

“He’s a winner and that just shows how much he wants to win,” said Jackson.  “Every coach has a different way of expressing that.  Some coaches are quiet and some coaches are loud.”

And while TV cameras are drawn to sideline flare-ups, Cronin makes sure to provide plenty of praise as well.

“If somebody makes a bad play, he’s quick to say, ‘Why are great players making bad plays?’” said Kilpatrick.  “If he didn’t believe in us to be great players and take their game to the next level, then he wouldn’t say nothing at all.

“Everyone is happy to come to practice and everyone is willing to play hard.  If you have a coach that’s on you 24/7, you’re probably going to say, ‘Come on, cut me some slack.’  He wants what’s best for you and that’s something that helps us a lot.”

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“They give me great effort and they really care about winning,” said Cronin.  “It’s allowed us to play smart.  When guys are mentally focused and their mind is on winning, it allows you as a coach to make adjustments and it actually makes you look like you know what you’re doing at times.  That doesn’t happen when their minds are not on winning and they’re tuning coaches out because all they care about are individual statistics.  With this group, they want to win and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win.  They give me great effort – not just physical effort but mental effort as well.”   

As a result, the Bearcats “Love Village” is 19-2 and ranked 13th in the country heading into Thursday’s showdown at #12 Louisville.

“We’re not always pretty, but I think you have to appreciate how much the kids want to win,” said Cronin.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Future Bearcat Posts Quadruple Double

A quadruple double?

Gary Clark (440x330)

Future Bearcat Gary Clark, a senior at Clayton High School near Raleigh, North Carolina, had one on Friday night as he finished with 22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocked shots, and 10 assists in his team’s 67-46 win.

“Gary Clark is dominating,” UC head coach Mick Cronin told me.  “From what everybody tells us, he’s probably on track to win Player of the Year in North Carolina – and there are some McDonald’s All-Americans in North Carolina.”

Clark is from the heart of ACC country, and while he reportedly had offers from NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, he verbally committed to Cincinnati after visiting campus in September.  The 6’7”, 215 pound forward officially committed to UC in the early signing period in November.

“I really loved the guys – they were just awesome,” said Clark.  “And Coach Cronin is a great guy.  The whole coaching staff was really hands on with me and talked with me every day.  I talked to Coach Davis probably as much as I talked with my mom – I love that guy.”

UC associate head coach Larry Davis worked in the ACC for several years at Wake Forest where he famously signed a lightly-recruited prospect that developed into a two-time NBA MVP – Tim Duncan.

“Larry Davis did an unbelievable job identifying Gary early,” said Coach Cronin.  “We put a lot of belief in him early that he was going to be a great player.  Every now and then you can sneak one in on the recruiting guys where they don’t have him ranked nearly as high as he should be for whatever reason – he developed late…he hasn’t been as exposed as other people…whatever the case may be.

“Gary got recruited – NC State is 45 minutes up the road and tried to get him and Pitt was waiting at the airport when he got home from his visit here.  So it’s not like he wasn’t recruited.  But Larry Davis did the best job.  He got in there first and did a great job of developing his relationship with Gary.”

“Gary’s been a relationship guy from the beginning,” said Clayton High coach Denny Medlin.  “I thought that Cincinnati did a good job.  They’ve been here for a couple of years now watching him play and they didn’t feed him a bunch of lines.  In the beginning, Coach Davis came down and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play harder.’  It kind of made Gary mad to begin with, but at the same time I think Gary has always appreciated honesty.  Gary got better and that helped me out because Gary started playing harder.  And the harder he played, the better he got.  Now he keeps playing harder and harder all of the time, and keeps getting better and better all of the time.”

For the season, Clark is averaging 24.5 points and he recently had a game in which he scored 31 in less than a half in a blowout victory.  The 15 blocks on Friday night tied a career high, while his personal best for rebounds is 24.

“He’s a guy that was vastly underrated for different reasons and probably learned to play a little harder the older he’s got,” said Coach Cronin.  “Some guys develop later than others.”

“He’ll be a four-year guy there and by his junior year in college, he’s going to be really, really good I think,” said Coach Medlin.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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A Lesson From Lefty?

Phil Mickelson visited the wrong locker room.

Mickelson at game (440x247)

The San Diego native was at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and saw his beloved Chargers stun the Bengals 27-10.  Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com tweeted the above photo of Lefty outside the visitor’s locker room after the game.

But Mickelson would have been the perfect person to address the Bengals after their third straight one-and-done trip to the postseason.

Remember when he was golf’s Marvin Lewis – the guy who could win PGA tournaments but always came up short in major championships?

Or remember when he was golf’s Andy Dalton – the guy who made crucial mistakes in the biggest events because he took unnecessary risks and didn’t execute under pressure?

Mickelson was 0-for-46 in the majors with eight second-place or third-place finishes before finally winning The Masters in 2004.  This past year, he suffered a devastating loss in the US Open only to bounce back a month later to win the Open Championship (British Open).

The choke artist who supposedly didn’t have what it takes to win golf’s biggest events, now has five major championships.

Dalton on run (440x298)

I obviously don’t know if there will be a similarly happy ending for Andy Dalton.  Frankly, it’s impossible not to have doubts after seeing the three turnovers he was responsible for on Sunday.

But I do know that he’s led the Bengals to 30 wins in three seasons, gone to the playoffs every year, and showed considerable improvement this season – particularly in throwing the deep ball.  Like Mickelson, he needs to cut down on crucial mistakes that make it impossible to win.  I disagree with the notion that at the age of 26 Dalton is as good as he’ll ever be.  With a year left on his contract, Andy will get at least one more shot to prove that he can deliver under a white-hot spotlight.

Marvin playoff loss (440x304)

As for Marvin Lewis, he put it best on the Wednesday before the game when he said, “Every time you don’t get what you want, it makes you come back hungrier.  There’s no doubt about it.  You come earlier.  You come harder.  That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

That won’t appease folks who want his head on a platter.  Many cite the Reds’ dismissal of Dusty Baker as the necessary course of action for a team that hasn’t been able to get over the playoff hump.

If the Reds have postseason success under Bryan Price, it will prove to be a wise move.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Whacking Jack McKeon after the Reds fell from 96 to 85 wins seemed like the right move in 2000.  But the Reds didn’t have another winning season until 2010 (with Baker as manager).  Meanwhile, McKeon won a World Series title with the Marlins in 2003.

Mike Brown stuck with Marvin Lewis when it wasn’t a popular decision in 2010 and the Bengals have been a consistent winner since.  We’ll see if coaching continuity ultimately pays off.

As bitterly disappointed as we all were on Sunday, the Bengals have clearly gotten better over the past three seasons.  They have a deep and talented roster and a drama-free locker room.  And nobody in the NFL will add a better player to its roster next year than Geno Atkins.

So while I understand the skeptics who doubt whether Cincinnati will ever have postseason success without changing coach or quarterback, there was a reminder outside the Chargers’ locker room last Sunday that sometimes those skeptics get it wrong.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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