Russell: UC hoops coach Mick Cronin gives his early impression of the incoming Bearcats

And which players he expects to step up this fall

CINCINNATI -- About three months ago, the University of Cincinnati men's basketball team wrapped up a 30-6 season in the NCAA tournament and bade farewell to seniors Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson.

The returning core of veterans has generated significant buzz for 2017-18. With four of the top five scoring leaders back in Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, Gary Clark and Jarron Cumberland, the Bearcats have become a staple in multiple offseason polls.

Coach Mick Cronin also welcomes a four-man recruiting class in addition to Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, who sat out last season.

Cronin recently sat down with WCPO.com to talk about the NBA draft and what's next for the Bearcats.

Caupain wasn't projected to be selected in the 2017 NBA draft in Brooklyn and was not taken, despite being the only Bearcat in school history to amass more than 1,300 points and 500 assists. Did that surprise you?

University of Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin and Troy Caupain.

MC: No, no. His shooting percentage probably got him a little bit, the depth of the draft, and he's young. I still think he's going to make it. He can have a long career playing. Where will depend on improvement of his perimeter shot, I think. That's probably his biggest challenge. It's really, really hard if you don't shoot over 40 percent, the NBA tells you. But he's only 21, so he's got a chance to play a long time.

Who knows what will happen, now that he doesn't have to go to school anymore. A lot of it changes for these guys. Some guys get drafted and never play. Other guys don't get drafted and end up making it. It all depends on their commitment level, the type of adult they are. I think he's got a chance, but he could play a lot of places. We've got guys playing and making a lot of money and having really good lives, all abroad.

Do you expect Caupain to play in the NBA Summer League?

MC: It all depends. Some guys, like Yancy (Gates), chose his route and he went for the money right away and he loves his life. He plays the majority of his time in Israel, lives on a beach. And Sean Kilpatrick said, "No, I'm going to fight it out in the D League." That will be a decision Troy will have to make… I told SK to go for the money. He bet on himself. He had like $300,000 as a rookie to go to Europe and he turned it down to make $500 a week in the D League. But it's paid off.

What's next for Johnson?

MC: He has an agent and he's planning on playing. Now, he knows that he probably is going to play abroad. It's just a matter of where. With those guys, the process is the draft happens and then the free agency happens. And then they see which veterans are getting filtered out of the NBA. Europe starts snapping them up and then they start filling the rest of their rosters.

The young guys just out of college, like Kevin, or two years out of college, they're the last guys to go. There are only so many spots. They only play two or three guys on those teams. So they're going to try to get proven guys that were maybe in the NBA and didn't get picked up in free agency. That's how that goes. Kevin won't know until probably early August.

What were your impressions of the draft, particularly the fact that 16 of the 30 first-round picks were freshmen?

MC: It doesn't surprise me. It's just like … there was a year where Ohio had three or four McDonald's All Americans and then you don't have one for five years. You just never know.

It was known that there were a bunch of pros in that 2016 high school class. Everybody said that for a while. Being on this side of the country, you heard about (Lonzo) Ball, but you didn't really see him. I knew (Markelle) Fultz, but I didn't really see (De'Aaron) Fox much. He was down in Texas. (Lauri) Markkanen came from out of nowhere. I heard about (T.J.) Leaf … You heard about that class for a long time.

The NBA is not taking them because they're freshmen. They're taking the best players.

I personally, on that topic, think that they should be able to go out of high school. I don't think guys should be in college that are just there because the system is forcing them there. Some coach said, and I'm not sure who, that players were using the system. No, no. They're not. The system is forcing them to go to college. If they don't want to go to college, they should not have to go to college. It's ridiculous. It's beyond ridiculous.

Fans have been looking forward to seeing point guard Broome, the Sacred Heart transfer. How will he impact the team with his speed?

Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the UCLA Bruins during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 19, 2017 in Sacramento, California.

MC: In fairness, I would say Justin Jenifer had 35 assists and three turnovers in conference play. He didn't get to play a lot because our team was built around playing a bigger guard strategically on the defensive end. Because he and Cane are smaller, we're already starting to work on stuff. We've got to make some changes. We could switch Troy onto a center and we can't do that with Justin and Cane. The flip side of that is we'll be much faster.

The biggest change for us that Cane and Justin bring to the table is their speed. They're polar opposites from Troy, so it was very hard for Justin because our team wasn't trained to fly down the floor. They were used to playing with Troy. Then he would come in and he really wasn't playing a style that fit him, whereas he will this year.

And then our press. We couldn't press the way we wanted to. It just wasn't conducive to Troy with his foot speed and playing major minutes, and having him trying to press a guy like Justin or Cane. And he's 6-feet-4-inches. It was bad strategy, so we had to fake press and we had Kevin Johnson do as much as possible. But with those two guys, we'll be able to really pick up the pace.

Cane's a guy who's exciting because he's got great quickness and speed. We did sprints the other day and we went end to end and I think he did it in 2.4 seconds. He's very crafty with the ball. What I would tell you is that his assists will go way up here and his points will come down from his Sacred Heart days, and that's just from watching him in practice. He's a great passer. I think at Sacred Heart he had to score so much because that's what they needed.

He and Justin, with the pace and that, we'll give up more points next year because we're going to score more. The other team's going to have more possessions against us, but that's OK. It's give and take. We'll just play much faster.

Who do you think will show the most improvement from last season to next season?

MC: Jarron (Cumberland) is going to make a big jump. He got fans excited because he got better at the end of the year. What happens, especially a kid like him, he comes in from a small town where he didn't really understand what being in shape was. He had no clue what playing hard all the time was. He had no clue what practicing was.

Some guys coming in from high school, if they don't feel well that day, they're like, 'Coach, I don't feel well. I'll sit over here on the side.' At this level, how to practice, how to work, the dedication it takes (is immense). Some guys never adjust. They can't take the training. Jarron can take it.

At first he was like, 'What's going on? I've got to practice three hours every day and get in shape? I've got people yelling at me.' Where now he's already lost 15 pounds this offseason (and we're) just trying to get him faster and working on his ball handling. He's having a great offseason.

Is your new class here yet? (Guards Trevor Moore and Keith Williams, forward Mamoudou Diarra and forward/center Eliel Nsoseme)

University of Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin.

MC: Trevor's here, Keith and Eliel will be here (this) week and Mamoudou will be the last guy to get here. That takes us up to 13 scholarships for the first time in a long time. We're usually not at 13, which means there could be redshirt candidates, obviously. Trevor's a great shooter, Keith's a great player and the other two are long and can block shots. But Mamoudou can shoot. Eliel's more of an inside guy.

What's next for you and your coaching staff?

MC: We get eight weeks in the summer, so we're in our second or third of our weeks that we get to work these guys out. We're just getting ready for July (recruiting).

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