Fay: Signing Jarron Cumberland was a huge coup for UC. Now he has to meet expectations

'He's just scratching the surface'
Posted at 7:57 AM, Jan 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-09 07:57:20-05

CINCINNATI -- When Jarron Cumberland signed on the dotted line and officially became a University of Cincinnati Bearcat, UC was getting much more than a very good player.

Cumberland is that -- a four-star recruit and the best player in Ohio last season. But, to UC, landing Cumberland meant the Bearcats had gotten the best player in the area for the first time since Withrow's Yancy Gates signed in 2008.

"It was huge," said UC coach Mick Cronin.

Not getting the top local guy hasn't killed UC. The Bearcats have gone to the NCAA six straight years.

But if you want to get back to the Final Four or the Elite Eight, you've got to be able to get the best player out of your hometown on a regular basis.

The Bearcats have tried.

"We fight a lot of stuff in recruiting," Cronin said. "Obviously, the new arena will help. But our facilities have been behind the times since the day I got the job. We're surrounded by people with new facilities. To be able to get Jarron is huge for us."

That's because Cumberland had his pick of those schools with the better arena and facilities.

"He could have gone to West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Xavier, Purdue -- all people with beautiful practice facilities, beautiful arenas," Cronin said. "For us to be able to get him to come here -- in my mind he was hands down the best player in Ohio, a top-60 player in the country -- was big for us."

Cumberland, a 6-foot-5 freshman, is from Wilmington. He averaged 29.6 points 7.4 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 3.20 assists as a senior. He shot 57.4 percent from the field and led the Hurricanes to the Ohio Division I Final Four. 

"Fortunately for us, he and his family weren't into the facilities," Cronin said. "They were more concerned with the way he was going to be coached and cared for as a person. They didn't care about our locker room. Fortunately, his family was worried about substance and making him a better player and person."

Cumberland says it was Cronin that allowed him to look past the arena and its trappings.

"Coach Cronin was what attracted me," Cumberland said. "And I like the style of play. My parents felt a great vibe with coach Cronin. We talked about it.

"The facilities weren't important at all. It's what's best for my career. I thought and my parents thought UC was the best choice for me."

Cumberland kept the fact that he was signing with UC to himself. People around him were a bit shocked when he announced it on social media.

"They were surprised," he said. "They were, like, 'Why didn't you go to this school or that school?' I said, 'I'm not going to go because of the name. I'm going to where I can improve.' "

Getting a player like Cumberland will help assure the Bearcats success while the infrastructure catches up. Fifth Third Arena will undergo an $87 million renovation as soon as this season ends. It will be complete for the 2018-19 season.

"It's going to be great in 2018, but it isn't right now," Cronin said. "That's hurt us in the three-state area of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. It's been a battle since I got the job."

Again, that's why getting Cumberland to come to Clifton was a coup. He's already shown what he can do. He's averaging 6.8 points over 15 minutes a game. When he's on, he's one of UC's best threats. He has a 17-, 18- and 19-point game already. His 3-point percentage -- 41.7 -- is second best on the team.

"He's just scratching the surface," Cronin said. "Jarron is a basketball guy. What I mean by that is some kids play the game because they're big. They play for fun. Jarron's a basketball guy. Basketball, like a Sean Kilpatrick, it's who he is.

"He loves the game. He knows the game inside and out. He's always thinking the game."

That is not to say Cumberland doesn't have things to work on. He's powerful at 218 pounds but his conditioning isn't up to UC standards.

"We've got to get his body fat down," Cronin said. "He's getting his work capacity up where he can play harder longer. It's what all young guys go through. We want to get him to the point where he's a Sean Kilpatrick later in his career."

If that happens, getting Cumberland will be a coup indeed.