It is a rite of passage for Cincinnati's new arrivals, right up
there with their first taste of the local chili. Sure, those who
have committed to play for Bearcats coach Bob Huggins accept the
fact that they must endure what the generous of spirit like to
call tough love (and the less generous might deem benevolent
torture). But as the season draws near and Huggins heats up, the
newcomers begin to seek out tips from the vets on how to
minimize the ranting, railing and reviling they know is to come.
"We basically tell them before they ask," says junior forward
Danny Fortson. "'Don't talk during practice about your feet
hurting. Don't ask for water. Play hard, and don't complain.'"
Adds senior shooting guard Damon Flint, "'Give 110 percent, and
don't talk back because you won't win. I don't care if you're
right--you're not going to win.'"
In his seven seasons at Cincinnati, the 43-year-old Huggins has
forged teams in his own relentless image. Employing a defense
that traps and yaps with equal ferocity, his Bearcats have won
72.5% of their games (84.8% last season), captured five straight
conference tournaments (most recently Conference USA's) and
reached the Final Four once and the Elite Eight on two other
occasions, including last March. But none of Huggins's previous
teams had the potential to win as many games or go as far in the
tournament as this squad has.
"Hopefully we're all smart enough to realize that a Number 1
ranking doesn't mean anything," says Huggins. "It's just people
saying you've done a good job recruiting and they think you have
a chance. Then you have to go out and prove it."
November 15, 1996
Only three of Cincinnati's top six players return, but they form
a formidable--and maniacally competitive--nucleus. Fortson was
named the conference's player of the year last season, when he
averaged 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds and became the first
sophomore in the program's 95-year history to amass 1,000 points
and 500 boards. "Danny's Danny," says Flint. "He's just a
monster in the post."
At 6'7" and 260 pounds, Fortson is an uncommon blend: broad
shoulders, quick feet, soft hands, huge heart. (His size and
athleticism prompted the NFL's New Orleans Saints to drop in for
an interview.) Over the summer he honed his game facing the
basket and worked on his conditioning with Dave Guidugli, who
has also trained some Cincinnati Bengals offensive linemen. Most
of his training with Fortson consisted of boxing, running and,
says Guidugli, "mentally toughening him up. I tell him the worst
thing that can happen to him is, he can die." Fortson has
increased his lateral quickness and his vertical jump; he can
dunk by taking off just inside the free throw line.
While Fortson handles the paint, the 6'5" Flint (page 64) excels
in the open court. Last season he spearheaded a defense that
limited opponents to 38.9% from the field, seventh best in the
nation. He also became a dangerous scorer, averaging 12.8
points. "If Damon had gone somewhere else, he might average in
the 20s," Huggins says, "but there'd be games where people would
write that the team lost because he went 4 for 21."
For pure outside firepower, the Bearcats will rely on 6'2"
senior Darnell Burton, who gets the bulk of his minutes at small
forward. He'll continue to come off the bench--the starter's job
this year belongs to 6'7" Ruben Patterson, whose explosiveness
made him one of the most sought-after junior college recruits in
the country. Patterson averaged 27.1 points and 9.3 boards at
Independence (Kans.) Community College, and his toughness in
pickup games impressed his new teammates early on. "That's going
to give him the green light with Coach from the start," Fortson
Taking over in the middle for the departed Art Long is the
unproven Jackson Julson, a 6'9", 246-pound junior who missed the
1994-95 season because of knee surgery. Julson has a sweet
stroke, but he doesn't have Long's shot-blocking ability. Kenyon
Martin, a 6'8" freshman from Dallas, isn't Long's peer as a
rejecter either--at least not yet. "Art was 250 [pounds], Ken is
205," Huggins says. "But Ken could become the best shot blocker
we've ever had." Maybe not this season, though. He has to retake
the SAT, and the earliest he could play is late December.
It's no coincidence that the Bearcats' deepest penetration into
the NCAAs has come when they've had their most consistent play
at the point--from Nick Van Exel in 1992 and '93 and from Keith
LeGree last season. With LeGree gone, Huggins will hand the ball
to one of two juco transfers, 6'2" Charles Williams or 6'5"
D'Juan Baker. "Bake is the better shooter, and Charles is the
better defender," Huggins says. Williams is also the more
natural floor leader, and that should tip the scales in his favor.
If Martin isn't eligible and Julson stumbles, the Bearcats will
be on the short side. But what they lack in height they make up
for in depth. Huggins has 10 players he's comfortable putting on
the floor, and that reserve strength is vital to sustaining the
pressure in his matchup zone. "When we went to the Final Four,
we had more people," Huggins says. "The difference between this
year and last year is that I have a lot more guys I can play."
Like their coach, the players are taking the preseason hype in
stride. But that doesn't mean they don't like their chances. "If
we play together and play hard, with the core guys we have,
there's no doubt we can get to the Final Four," Fortson says.
Until then, Bearcats, remember: Drink plenty of fluids. And
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Bob Huggins
Career record: 334-135 (15 seasons)
Record at Cincinnati: 166-63 (seven seasons)
1995-96 record: 28-5 (final ranking: sixth*)
*CNN/USA Today poll
C-USA record: 11-3 (first in Blue Division)
PG Charles Williams, 6'2", Jr.
Averaged 11.2 assists in junior college
SG **Damon Flint, 6'5", Sr.
His shooting has improved each season
SF Ruben Patterson, 6'7", Jr.
Star of East team at Olympic Festival
PF **Danny Fortson, 6'7", Jr.
Shot 53.8% from the field, 75.3% from the line
C Jackson Julson, 6'9", Jr.
3.4 points, 1.5 rebounds per game as backup
Dec. 4 vs. Kansas (Chicago)
This year's preseason No. 1 meets last year's
Jan. 18 vs. Arkansas
Bearcats defeated Razorbacks 82-67 last December
Jan. 30 at Louisville
Cardinals handed Cincy only home loss of 1995-96
Feb. 15 vs. South Carolina
Dealing with Gamecocks' big men could be tall order
Feb. 27 at Marquette
The conference title--and an NCAA top seed--at stake
PLAYER TO WATCH
In his three-year career at Cincinnati, the 6'2" Darnell Burton
has started just 14 games--none last season. But in 26.4 minutes
per game off the bench in '95-96, he averaged 14.0 points,
second on the team to Danny Fortson. Burton also nailed 41.4% of
his threes and was voted Conference USA sixth man of the year.
The most accurate three-point shooter in Bearcats history
(39.2%) is also the most active: Nearly two thirds of Burton's
career attempts have come from beyond the arc. The burly Burton
specializes in draining the clutch shot as the clock winds
down--just the thing Cincinnati's oft-aimless half-court offense
desperately needs. Four times last season he either hit the
deciding basket in the waning moments or iced a game from the