There have certainly been plenty of story lines surrounding the Cincinnati basketball program over the last week and a half.
Cashmere Wright (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)
From the fight to suspensions to the new and exciting four-guard offense there has been plenty to talk about. The one development that is starting to emerge as the main topic going forward is the emergence of junior point guard Cashmere Wright as the vocal leader of this team.
Fresh off a career high 25 point, 6 assist and 0 turnover game against Radford on Saturday, Wright has not only stepped up his game on the court, but has become the face of the program with senior Yancy Gates serving his six game suspension.
It is a side of Wright that head coach Mick Cronin has been trying to extract from his floor general all year. Get him to be the quarterback of this team and become a coach on the floor with the ball in his hands.
While it took the unfortunate events at the end of the Crosstown Shootout to get there, this team is playing with a sense of purpose that didn't exist prior to Wright stepping up to fill the void created with Gates out.
While Wright feels he is just keeping the top dog seat warm, his coach and teammates see things differently.
“This is Yancy's team, so right now I'm just holding the fort for him,” Wright said. “Maybe I stepped in early as I probably would have did this next year. I will be the leader of the team next year, but I just stepped forward right now and just play.”
While Cronin knows he is just trying not to step on Gates' toes down the road, he is adamant that this Cashmere Wright has to be here to stay for the team to reach its potential.
“He's the point guard,” said Cronin. “Yancy will tell you that. Yancy can't call plays coming up the floor. The point guard is the quarterback. He's being a team guy by saying that.”
From the first practice after the penalties were handed down Wright has been the guy everyone on the team has looked to for their new path going forward. Cronin has seen everyone jump on board, and his team has grown as a result.
“What happens is when one guy steps out in front like that and says we're winning, we're staying together, we're going to be more of a team then other guys have followed,” Cronin said. “What he's done is he's caused a chain reaction of Dion following him, of SK (Sean Kilpatrick) following him and now Justin (Jackson) following him and really Yancy and Cheikh in practice.”
With Wright inspiring confidence in his teammates, they have been a totally different bunch on the offensive end. No one has benefited as much as sophomore wing Sean Kilpatrick who averaged 18 a game last week, and credits his improved consistency in large part to Wright boosting him up.
“It's very important,” said Kilpatrick. “With him being the vocal person that he is now, I mean he was like that before but he's really showing that now. He said I've got to step up. When he's talking in the huddle now everybody's listening to him. He's the main piece right now of this whole team.”
It was instinctual for Wright as he saw his team at rock bottom after not only the brawl but also three early loses including the 23 point blowout that ended in a brawl. He showed up that Monday morning ready to be the guy that pulled the team up and pushed everyone forward.
“I figured the only way we were going to win was somebody had to do it,” Wright said. “Somebody had to take control of the team and get everybody up, get everybody ready for the game and make sure everybody knew their job and was confident.”
Wright came in a shy kid from Savannah, Georgia that played mostly as a scoring guard before starting his career at Cincinnati.
He was content to blend in and allow the veterans ahead of him to be the voice on the floor, but make no mistake about it. That is his job now, and it isn't going to change when Gates returns.
“I tell guys all the time you don't have to say a word,” said Cronin. “You're either leading people one way or the other. You don't say a word, but as a coach you've got to have one guy talking. Going around making sure Kelvin doesn't hang his head, making sure Justin is concentrating. Cash can do that, he's got that in him.”
Getting to this point has just been part of the journey, and while the circumstances surrounding his transformation were unfortunate there is no turning back now. The shy kid is gone, and now a leader and true floor general stands in his place.
“When I came in I felt I had to prove myself to people,” Wright said. “Now I feel like I've got the pieces around me so all I've got to do is tell them. Just tell them they're good. Get the young people to know they are confident and you trust them to know they are going to make the shot. Like Jermaine right now, I tell him every day you're going to make every shot you put up because you can shoot.”
The confidence he has instilled in everyone over the past week has been the remedy for what ailed this team in November, and if there is to be success pushing through the meat grinder that is the Big East Cronin knows he has to continue on the current path.
“It's got to continue to be him from a talking standpoint,” said Cronin. “Other guys I tell them you're leading people in the right direction just by how hard you play, but you've got to have your quarterback out there being vocal.”
When pressed with his coach’s wishes of being the main guy even when Gates returns, Wright finally gave in a little and realized his role has changed for good.
“I can just keep doing what I'm doing,” Wright said. “Keep giving positive notes to everybody. Keep everybody smiling, make sure everything is happy in practice and make sure we're going hard.”
Cincinnati returns to action Wednesday night against Arkansas Pine-Bluff at 7 pm inside 5/3 Arena.