Checking In With Cronin

After the departure of seniors Deonta Vaughn, a two-time all-Big East performer, and Steve Toyloy, along with freshmen Lance Stephenson to the NBA, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team will look to some new faces as they work towards a return to the NCAA Tournament.

The off-season didn't start great as guard Cashmere Wright went down with an apparent knee injury. Preliminary indications were that he would be out three to six weeks, but due to medical issues, all head coach Mick Cronin could say was that "he's going to be alright."

The Bearcats suffered another blow in the off-season, but this time to their coaching and recruiting staff. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, Tony Stubblefield left for a job with the Oregon Ducks coaching staff this week.

"Tony and I are close friends and I love him," Cronin said. "He loved this city and he actually turned the job down (at first)."

As far as the coaching search goes, Cronin said, "It's exciting to be in the position to infuse new ideas and new things (into the program). We are moving quickly and most likely it will be somebody from the east."

After his suspension from the team before the Big East Tournament last season, the future of forward Rashad Bishop is still up in the air.

"He is in a probationary period and has a list of things to accomplish and adhere to, to become a member of our team again," Cronin said. "He could have left, but he wants to be here and he's trying, but there are no guarantees. I love him and nobody wants him to be here more than me."

One of those new faces will be red-shirt freshmen Sean Kilpatrick. He averaged over 25 points per game his senior year of high school and will have four years of eligibility remaining at Cincinnati.

"(Sean) is doing great and he is going to have a great career here," said Cronin. "I don't want to say too much about him, but he is a great player and does a lot of things without the ball. My concern is he will be anxious and the game is going to move very fast for him, but when he settles in he will be great."

Two more of those new faces will be incoming freshmen.

First, is ESPN Top 100 recruit Justin Jackson. Jackson comes in a 6-foot-8, 210-pound power forward who averaged 15 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots per game his junior year.

"Justin is ready to play right away," Cronin said. "He was coached by two of the best coaches in Florida and his father was an athlete and taught him the game as well. He has all the intangibles, an unbelievable motor and plays as hard as anybody that has played here."

6-foot-10, natural born shot blocker Kelvin Gaines will add depth to the front court for the Bearcats. Gaines is a very raw talent with tons of athleticism and a very high ceiling.

"Gaines is very under-coached and a small town guy with great athleticism," Cronin said. "He is a gifted shot blocker and is by far the best shot blocker in the gym right now. He needs a lot of fundamental work in all other aspects of the game. Lots of teaching will be going into him and he needs to be a sponge."

The biggest key for the Cats in the coming season could be junior Yancy Gates. Coming off a season where he drew plenty of criticism, Cronin says it is up to Yancy to set the bar for himself.

"(Yancy) has to take ownership of his production and body; motivation from the outside only does so much," said Cronin. "His sacrifices will determine the type of player he is. At his current level he knows what he can achieve, but we have to see more for him to improve upon that. He has to show discipline in what he eats and how he trains and that is not going to be easy with his body type."

The conference schedules were released this week, and the Cats face DePaul, Georgetown and St. Johns in their home-and-home series'. They get the University of Louisville and West Virginia at home, but face a tough road schedule as the travel to take on defending Big East champion Syracuse, Marquette, Villanova, Pittsburg and Notre Dame.

"The road slate looks tough, but the one thing I've learned is that you just never know in the Big East," Cronin said. "There are going to be some wild cards, but it's always tough."

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