Without long-time stalwarts Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker for the first time in four years, The University of Cincinnati basketball team had a very different look at its first preseason practice of the year Saturday.
“There are a lot of adjustments for us this year,” UC head coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s exciting as a coach whenever you are working on new things with new guys. A lot of work to do this preseason, probably more so than what we’ve had around here in four years.”
Headlined by 5-star forward Jermaine Lawrence, UC welcomes the No. 24 recruiting class in the nation. Cincinnati native (Summit Country Day) Kevin Johnson (guard), Troy Caupian (guard), Deshaun Morman (guard) and Jamaree Strickland (center) round out the Bearcats incoming group. However, Strickland has not yet been cleared to play by the NCAA.
UC’s newcomers, along with returning players that don’t have starting experience will need to adapt quickly in order for UC’s up-tempo attack to flourish.
“The thing about tempo is you got to be able to get the ball in the basket,” Cronin said. “You can’t press if you don’t score. You have to be able to sustain defensive pressure and go to be able to have a legitimate 9-10 deep. Hopefully, we are going to be able to develop the kind of depth we need to play at the pace we would like to play. That is going to require some guys stepping up this year, the Jermaine Sanders’, Shaq Thomas’ and Ge’Lawn Guyn’s of the world.”
Guyn and Sanders were two of UC’s most utilized bench players over the past two seasons. Guyn appears a lock to maintain his position as the heir-apparent to Cashmere Wright as UC’s point guard, with his defensive intensity being his biggest strength.
Thomas, on the other hand, was slow to develop last season, but appeared to come out of his shell in UC’s NCAA tournament loss to Creighton. He was arguably UC’s player of the game, notching 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Cronin and his staff have been working to improve UC’s offense, which averaged just 67 points per game last season.
“[We’ve been] introducing new ideas, new concepts to improve our offense and be more aggressive on defense,” he said. “We still have the staples of SK [Sean Kilpatrick] and Justin [Jackson]- guys who have been here forever.”
Jackson returns for his fourth and final year of terrifying, electrifying on court antics and defensive menacing in the greatest shape of his basketball career. Both Jackson and David Nyarsuk have made significant muscle and weight gains that will help them to supply an offensive post presence that UC lacked last season.
“It’s going to help Justin the most,” Cronin said. “He is playing with great strength around the rim, finishing a lot. He’s also a great passer. We’re going to be able to give him the ball closer to the rim and play off him a lot more than maybe we have in the past.”
With numerous questions surrounding the impact of incoming freshmen and UC’s hope for an increased post presence, one thing is clear about the 2013-14 rendition of Bearcats basketball: Sean Kilpatrick will be the heart and soul of the team.
Regarded by Cronin as one of the best leaders of his coaching career, Kilpatrick, who played for Team USA in the World University Games during the summer, returns as the only remaining member of the three-guard trio that was the face of UC basketball for the past two seasons.
“Five years is a long time to be in college basketball,” Cronin said. “What he did this summer with Team USA was great for his career. My concern is to not burn him out. We need to keep him fresh. There’s not much more he needs to learn about college basketball.”
As for Kilpatrick, he’s just excited to see the fruits of UC’s offseason labor.
“I’m just really excited to win,” he said. “This team has a mindset and is buying into everything that coach is telling them to do. Everyone is just really working hard to get there and where we need to be. That’s all that I can ask for as a senior.”
UC plays it’s first of two exhibition games Oct. 26 against Carleton University at Fifth Third Arena. The season tips off at home Nov. 8 against North Carolina Central.