CINCINNATI -- Mick Cronin knows how Mick Cronin often sounds in postgame press conferences. In a word: Unpleased.
But Cronin, removed from the heat of the battle, is very clear on how pleased he is that Kyle Washington is playing for his 20th-ranked University of Cincinnati Bearcats.
“Trust me, if I could do backflips to prove how happy I am that he’s in our program, I’d do ‘em,” he said. “I just can’t do ‘em.”
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound North Carolina State transfer appreciates the tough love and he knows Cronin appreciates what Washington brings to the team.
“He shows by it being critical of me every day,” Washington said. “That’s what you want. Once a coach stops nagging you, that’s when you know he doesn’t care. As long as he’s on me, I’m happy.”
Washington’s impact on UC is apparent in the numbers. He is the second leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and the leading rebounder at 7.6 per game.
But Washington means a lot more to UC than just the numbers. This is his first year playing with the Bearcats, but he has a scorer’s mentality. That’s missing in veterans Gary Clark, Troy Caupain and Jacob Evans III at times.
“Aside from his ability to score and get us baskets, his confidence is huge,” Cronin said. “He gives us a confidence. There was a possession in the second half against East Carolina. He makes a baseline jumper. where other guys might have been thinking: ‘They cut it to six. I’m worried.’ He could care less about the crowd. He could care less if he missed his last shot. If you give him a shot that he’s confident in, he’s going to shoot. We need that. Sometimes Troy is way too conscientious, so is Gary, so is Jacob.
“(Washington) gives us talent and he gives us confidence.”
There is another factor, evidence by Washington nearly running over Cronin during the game at East Carolina to celebrate Nysier Brooks’ blocked shot.
“He is by far the energy-giver on our team, which is a huge thing,” Cronin said. “He’s always fired up . . . That’s who he is. In the course of a season in team sports, guys like that -- their value is so much more than their statistical value.
“It uplifts everybody. Everybody needs somebody to lift him up.”
Cronin compared Washington to former stars Francisco Garcia at Louisville or Kenyon Martin at UC for the energy they bring.
“They always have intensity,” Cronin said. “They’re always excited to play basketball. They bring everybody up around them.”
Washington remains a work in progress, particularly as far as rebounding and defense are concerned.
“As frustrated as I get with Kyle with some of the things he doesn’t do well, if he did them great, he wouldn’t be here,” Cronin said. “With a guy his size and the things he can do, he probably wouldn’t be here if he didn’t have some things to work on.”
When Washington was deciding where to go after transferring from North Carolina State, it was Cronin’s coaching style that attracted him.
“I looked at other places,” Washington said. “But after my visit, it was very clear that I had to come here. Not only that I wanted to come here, but I had to come here if I wanted my career to flourish.”
The year Washington didn’t play gave him a chance to work on those things.
"I was preparing myself to sit out a year and really get prepared — understanding what I had to get better at, which is defense and rebounding. I think I’m getting better every day.”
Washington and Clark give the Bearcats something a lot of teams don’t have in the 3-point shot era: Two inside scorers who can pass.
When Washington was struggling before the Christmas break, Clark sent him a pick-me-up text.
“Really all of us are like that,” Washington said. “We’re all supportive. That’s why we’ve been as successful as we’ve been.”
UC is rolling right now. The 15-2 Bearcats go into Wednesday’s home game against 10-9 Temple on a eight-game winning streak and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. That pleases Washington more than his numbers.
“We just have to keep getting better as a team and keep moving forward as a unit,” Washington said. “It really doesn’t matter about the individual as much. If we keep moving up the rankings, keep getting wins, everybody will be successful.”
If that happens maybe Cronin should work on those backflips. And, again, away from the postgame presser, he’s very happy with Washington.
“At times, you may think I’m frustrated with Kyle,” Cronin said. “Trust me, I couldn’t be happier that he’s at Cincinnati. He does so much for our team. I can’t tell you how much he’s changed our team this year.”