UC Loses Special Seniors

The University of Cincinnati men's basketball program suffered a tough loss Saturday and no, I'm not talking about their overtime loss against Seton Hall University. I'm talking about Connor Barwin, Mike Williams, and Branden Miller.

Barwin hasn't played in a UC basketball game since Feb. 28, 2007, and Cincinnati sports fans may always remember him most for his football accomplishments, but Barwin's role with UC basketball should not be overlooked.

During Barwin's freshman year, the departure of then-head basketball coach Bob Huggins left interim coach Andy Kennedy with a heavily depleted roster. Following the season-ending injury of Armein Kirkland and in need of an additional player, Kennedy turned to then-head football coach Mark Dantonio. During Dantonio's recruitment of Barwin, the coach had traveled to watch Barwin play basketball while at University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Barwin was a two-time all-league selection during his high school days. At UC, though the team struggled to reach a .500 record over the course of the two seasons Barwin played, the experience was one he will always think fondly of, as he told this reporter during this past football season.

"It was probably one of the coolest things I've done in college, definitely," said Barwin. "I'm so thankful for it. I know it would have never happened probably if I would have gone anywhere else. It was just a huge blessing and a lot of luck, but I'm really happy and thankful that I got the opportunity to do it."

Barwin averaged just 1.2 points per game as a member of the Bearcat's basketball team, but the helping hand he gave to both Kennedy and current head coach Mick Cronin went farther than any stat sheet could ever show. After Saturday's game, Deonta Vaughn attested to how helpful Barwin was during his time in the UC basketball locker room.

"Connor, besides football, when he played basketball Connor was there for people who didn't really know what to do out there on the court when they first got here," Vaughn said. Williams was honored Saturday despite the fact that he may still be able to return next year. After this season, Williams and UC will present their case to the NCAA regarding seeking an extra year of eligibility for Williams, who has missed two full seasons due to injury during his college career.

"Hopefully Mike gets another shot at it. He's had a rough go of it his entire career. He needs to catch a break and get the extra year," Cronin said.

After spending two years on Cincinnati's campus before finally being able to step onto the court, Williams has become a dominating force down low for the Bearcats. If his case is denied by the NCAA, the Bearcats will certainly miss his consistent 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. His automatic mid-range jumper would earn him a spot on my team any day, and if he's not back next season he will truly be missed.

While Williams' status for next season is still uncertain, it can be said in all certainty that UC's final senior, Cincinnati native and Indian Hill High School alum Branden Miller, will be gone next season. While he may not have been the highest of scorers, Miller will forever be remembered as the first four-year player of the Cronin era.

"Branden Miller had four years through tough times, and loved every minute of being here," Cronin said. "I think that's the most important thing. I think a lot of guys maybe would have said, ‘Hey, I'm not going to deal with all of this. I walked on to play for one guy, I played for another guy,' then the next thing you know in the first nine months he had three coaches. He's a great kid period, end of story. We need to replace him because he brought a lot to the table in practice."

Miller's most important contributions to the Cincinnati basketball program didn't come in front of crowded arenas or against conference rivals. Instead it came in empty gyms against his own teammates, grooming them into better players, at times being a true player/coach.

"Branden was there to help people out. He helped me out," said Vaughn. "He helped me with my shot when he told me for the last couple games he was watching, to don't fade back. I think that's how I got some good shots (Saturday) and I hit some shots, because I wasn't fading back. Branden was a great player and he helped us out in practice a lot."

Miller's hard work, determination, and dedication to the growth and development of UC basketball go so much farther than what any stat line could ever read. As a thank you for his four years of service, he was granted his first career start Saturday.

This class of seniors may not be the most remembered in Cincinnati history, but it should be one to whom we as UC basketball fans owe much thanks.

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