Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin took some time out of his busy summer recruiting schedule to chat with Chad Brendel of BearcatLair.com at the Peach Jam. This is the first of a three part series.
In the first of this three part series Cronin gives us his thoughts on building off a Sweet 16 birth last year, the value of working out the team over the summer and the leadership of senior guards Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker.
Chad Brendel: After two NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 birth last year, let's start with the position of the program now that it is back on solid ground.
Mick Cronin: That's the job I was hired to do, so obviously we're excited we've had a couple of great years in a row. As you know I'm always looking forward and never looking back. That's how I try to run the program, always trying to improve from the staff to the players and the facilities.
I think we've got a chance to take another step forward this year because of the leadership of our team. Obviously its going to be a great challenge and there's a long way to go. I try to caution people that last season was last season. Just because you went to the Sweet 16, it doesn't mean you get to go to the Elite 8. You start totally over and you've got to build a whole new basketball team, but that's the exciting part of being a coach and putting together a new team each year.
CB: You're into the third group of guys that have been through the program for 4 years. How big is the stability aspect in terms of where you had to come from?
MC: You can't win without it. If you look at the last three years of the tournament, the 48 teams that have been to the Sweet 16 look at how long each coach has been at their program. For instance it could have been a guy like Jamie Dixon at Pitt,he was there as an assistant. Continuity of coaching staff, and continuity of players is very, very important. If you don't have guys that have been with you two, three and four years it is really hard to win at a high level. It takes a while to develop a kid into a winning player. There's always the exception to the rule if you get the #1 and #2 draft picks and they are freshmen, but that's not 99% of our college game.
The key for us has been to get that talent, Rashad (Bishop) and those guys, you know, and get them to their senior year where they had juniors and those guys have paid their dues and they're ready to win. That's why I'm optimistic that we can have another great year because of our returning players.
CB: The NCAA lifted their restrictions on summer workouts this year. How important is it to be able to get in the gym with the guys and have an impact on their development through the summer?
MC: I think it's huge. You've got to remember that everybody has that same advantage, but from the guy that is responsible for his program, the more access we get to our players the better job we're going to do of monitoring them. It helps you develop the closeness. I don't have a vacation home, so this is what I love.
Now the 8 hours a week, 2 hours are basketball but I think the most important are the 6 non basketball because we've got a new strength coach Mike Rehfeldt. We're really trying to change the body fat of a lot of guys on our team and become more athletic. Obviously you can get more done in 6 hours than you can in 2 and you don't want to burn guys out on the basketball court. Now we're working hard out there and we're trying to develop some things offensively and you can never shoot the ball enough. I think the 6 hours of trying to become faster, more athletic, better athletes is the most important part because that prevents injury as well.
MC: Poor JaQuon can never go 6 months without an injury. He had a rib injury, but he's back after missing one workout. He and Cash, those guys go about leadership two different ways. Cash became more vocal last year during the suspension situation. It was great for him. It was one of those things where adversity created opportunity for him to grow as a leader of our team. That's an area where I'm always asking him to improve. Take ownership of our team.
JaQuon is a lead by example guy, but for the first time I've really tried to ask him to be more vocal and to help his teammates. To help the younger guys. He's always positive and he's always the hardest playing guy in the gym, but you just try to be more of a vocal leader because the guys love him and have tremendous respect for JaQuon because of how hard he works.
I'm very optimistic about our year and I've never had a group of guys I enjoy being around more than this team. In the brunt of what happens I can't wait for practice, I can't wait for ways just to be around these guys because they are so in to being good teammates and working hard. It's hard to get upset in practice with these guys because they are always giving their best effort.
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