Mick Cronin pleased with current crop of Cincinnati Bearcats freshmen

CINCINNATI -- It is well-documented that Mick Cronin is the son of a basketball coach. But Hep Cronin was also a high-powered scout for the Atlanta Braves.

So when Mick is talking to a former baseball writer, he goes into a baseball analogy to rate his current crop of freshmen. 

“We went 4-for-4 with these guys,” Cronin said. “Building the program the way we do, the challenge is not to miss. You’re not always going to hit a home run. In recruiting, the key is to not strike out.

“Sometimes in recruiting, there’s nothing wrong with a single or double. It’s the strikeouts that hurt you in recruiting.”  

This year’s class -- based on early returns -- looks like at worst four solid singles. It would be shocking if a couple extra-base hits aren’t mixed in. And there’s potentially a home run or two.

UC signed four players -- 6-foot-5 guards Trevor Moore and Keith Williams and 6-foot-9 centers/forwards Eliel Nsoseme and Mamoudou Diarra.

The foursome has been good already in their brief college careers, but the prospect of what’s to come has their teammates excited.

“They’ll look great,” UC junior guard Jacob Evans III said. “To come in and compete in high Division I level out of high school is tough. Skill-level wise, they’re there. With experience and with what they learn on the court, they’re going to help us more.”   

Here’s a look at the class (Note: Cronin does not allow his freshman to speak to the media until the spring semester):

  • Mamoudou Diarra: Pronounced MAMA-doo DEE-are-eh. He’s from Mali, but he played last season at 22 Feet Academy in South Carolina, where he averaged 18.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He’s the rawest of the four. His length and athleticism still made him a three-star recruit. He originally committed to Washington, but backed out after coach Lorenzo Romar was fired.
  • Eliel Nsoseme: Pronounced A-lee-el SO-sem-eh. He’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent last season at Rise Centre Academy in Toronto, where he averaged 14 points, 13 rebounds and 6.5 blocks. He and Diarra have more than their African background in common. Both need to add muscle and learn the nuance of the game. “Eliel and Mamoudou have size and athleticism,” Evans said. “You can see it on both ends of the court. They can create space with their length and carve space on the offensive boards.”
  • Trevor Scott: He’s the sharpshooter of the bunch. He grew up in Houston but spent last year at South Kent Prep in Connecticut. He hit 39 percent of his threes with his Houston AAU team. “He can really shoot,” Evans said. “He has a nice stroke. Coach (Cronin) says he’s the best shooter he’s ever seen. I don’t know about that one. That makes me a little unhappy.” 
  • Keith Williams: He’s the only four-start recruit in the class. He averaged 22.2 points and 10.6 rebounds a game for Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn as a senior. He can create his own shot. He scored 10 points in each of first two games for the Bearcats.  “He’s not afraid. He’s aggressive, offensively and defensively,” Evans said.   

In the one-and-done era, Cronin, back to the baseball analogy, doesn’t swing for the fences. None of the four is a Danny Fortson or Kenyon Martin. But all four have a chance to develop into really good college players. 

“They’re all going to way better in two years, which is the key for the way we do things here, kind of have to do things,” Cronin said. 

Guard Justin Jenifer looks to be an example of the that working. Jenifer average 2.4 points as freshman and 2.8 as a sophomore. He looks to be an impact player as a junior.

While Cronin can’t fill his roster with five-star recruits, he can pick and choose a lot more after seven NCAA Tournament appearances. 

“Recruiting isn’t easy,” Cronin said. “The more you win, the more you can try to get the kind of guy you want, rather than just taking the best guy you can get. When the program is in stable place, you look for certain type of guy. 

“There was a time we were just trying to figure out how to get whoever we could get.” 

As far as this class, Cronin got the guy he wanted -- times four. 

“I love our class because they’re all different,” Cronin said. “They all bring different things to the table. They all have the right attitude right now. They have toughness about them.”

Sounds like the recruiting class of 2017 could be a home run. 

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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