Cronin all smiles after Stephenson commitment

July, 27, 2009
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin can't seem to wipe the grin off his face. He knows he has a good thing going after adding Lance Stephenson to an already surging team for 2009-10.

Picking up Stephenson, one of the top players in the high school Class of 2009, has changed the look of the Bearcats on the court and altered recruits' perception of the program.

At least that's what Cronin already is hearing this month.

"Lance brings a lot to the table with the 2010 and 2011 class," Cronin said Sunday while watching the AAU Super Showcase at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex.

"When you talk to [recruits], they all want to know if he's on campus, where's he's at, how he's doing," Cronin said. "He's almost a legend among the players, and hopefully it will have a positive effect on recruiting."

Cronin said the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Lincoln High (Brooklyn, N.Y.) got acquainted rather quickly with the Bearcats' strength program. He said the strength and conditioning coaches tried to bring him down, but "he didn't throw up or pass out. They were impressed with his level of toughness."

Cronin said Stephenson weighed in at 223 pounds but would like him to drop to 215 by the time the season starts.

"We found out he's in better shape, even though he could be a bit leaner," Cronin said. He added that former Bearcats players wanted to see him play during pickup games because of the excitement factor. The plan is to have Stephenson as another driving option with point guard Cashmere Wright, who missed this past season with a knee injury, and returning scoring guard Deonta Vaughn.

"I don't know if we're going to waste any energy with him bringing the ball up court," Cronin said. "What you're going to see from us is what we did at Murray State when we had three guys who could create offense. We've got other guys as well. But you'll see us spreading the floor and attacking the rim."

The Bearcats have lost only one key player -- Mike Williams -- off a team that finished 8-10 in the Big East, 18-14 overall. Cincinnati is expected to be one of the sleeper teams in the league and could earn a top-six finish and an NCAA tournament berth.

Stephenson cleared one hurdle to play for Cincinnati when he agreed to a plea deal two weeks ago and won't serve any jail time in connection to a sexual assault charge. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and had to perform three days of community service for an incident with a 17-year-old girl that occurred in October outside Lincoln High. Stephenson and another player, Darwin Ellis, were charged with groping the girl.

The NCAA also is expected to look into Stephenson's amateur status because of his role in a documentary called "Born Ready" and a tour of the Under Armour clothing factory while on a recruiting visit to Maryland.

Those are two of the reasons a number of coaches told they stopped recruiting Stephenson.

Cronin doesn't seem too worried about Stephenson getting through any amateur investigation or, ultimately, the NCAA's eligibility center.

"We're not going to comment on that or the whole amateur status thing," Cronin said publicly. "We're working through our compliance department, and hopefully it will be done sooner than later."

Stephenson's arrival has increased the wow factor for the Maui Invitational tournament. If he's eligible, Stephenson will make his nationally televised debut against a field that includes Maryland, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Gonzaga and Wisconsin during Thanksgiving week.

• A source close to Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik told that Bzdelik talked with Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn about becoming a top assistant, not the head coach, for the franchise. The talk took place two weeks ago while Bzdelik was in Las Vegas to watch some former players in the NBA's summer league. The source said Kahn discussed with Bzdelik that he could be the trusted aide to whoever lands the job. The source said he was told that the list featured mainly ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson, Houston assistant Elston Turner and Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis. Bzdelik is still actively recruiting for Colorado, but if Kahn comes back with an offer that Bzdelik can't refuse sometime in the next month, the Buffaloes' coach likely will take the gig.

Coaching basketball at Colorado is arguably the worst job in the Big 12, as the school has facilities that don't match up to any of its competitors in the league. Before taking over at Colorado, Bzdelik took the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs and had a successful run at Air Force. One of the main reasons he wanted to stay in the Denver area after he was fired as the Nuggets' head coach in 2004 was that his daughter had a brain tumor. She since has recovered well and is a freshman at Wake Forest, so Bzdelik could move out of the state if need be.

If Bzdelik were to get the offer and accept, the timing probably would make top assistant and former Wyoming head coach Steve McClain the likely successor for the Colorado job. The source said Kahn likely would make the decision as to whether Bzdelik is on the bench. Having management, not just the head coach, decide on assistants isn't out of the norm in the NBA.

• Kentucky coach John Calipari would love his team to play Duke in a game in front of 40,000 or so fans at a venue like Atlanta's Georgia Dome, but he doesn't think Duke will agree to the proposal any time soon.

• Calipari also is trying to get Kansas to play a major game in St. Louis in the near future.

• Cronin and Dayton coach Brian Gregory discussed looking at a Cincinnati-Dayton series starting sometime in 2011. Both coaches said on ESPNU that they were open to the idea of creating more of a rivalry between the schools.

• Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis didn't hesitate to say that the Owls have a shot to be a Sun Belt contender because of 5-7 point guard Ray Taylor. Jarvis said the American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.) guard is much like the diminutive but highly productive Shawnta Rogers, whom Jarvis coached at George Washington.

• Hard to imagine that it has been two years since the untimely passing of former Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. He died of a heart attack after leaving the AAU Super Showcase in Orlando and heading back to Wake Forest for a basketball camp. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Nancy, and sons Mark and Scott during this time.

• I can't and wouldn't want to compare my flying experience this past week to the harrowing flight my colleague Gene Wojciechowski had from London to Chicago. As Gene detailed so well in this column, his United flight had to make an emergency landing in Iceland.

The flight I was on from Hartford to Orlando had to make a diverted landing on Long Island. The five-person crew acted professionally and responsibly during the emergency landing, which was due to the smell of something burning near the bathroom. The response from the local authorities was responsible and professional as well, with 10 ambulances and fire trucks greeting the plane. They had no idea what they would find and did their due diligence of ensuring no one was feeling ill. Two women were checked, and then we had no issues traveling on our rescheduled flight to Orlando.

Despite the two-hour delay in getting to Orlando, there was no real drama. It was a good practice for folks at the airport in Islip, N.Y., if a dangerous situation occurs there in the future. Southwest does earn good marks for how it handled the situation and ensured everyone got to Orlando in an orderly fashion.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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