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Thursday, March 5, 1998
Brannen's numbers lie
Leadership makes Bearcat MVP

The Cincinnati Enquirer

There was only one vote for University of Cincinnati forward Bobby Brannen, but it was not a quiet one.

''He's the MVP in this league,'' said Marquette coach Mike Deane, employing his particular gift for the statement of opinion as fact.

In one of the season's most unusual plays, Bobby Brannen tackled Michael Horton to keep Horton from fighting with South Florida's Brian Lamb last month.
(Tony Jones photo)
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Conference USA does not name a most valuable player, however. The award presented Wednesday to UNC Charlotte forward DeMarco Johnson was for player of the year, which many view as cause to emphasize statistical achievements as well as importance to one's team. Deane does not recognize the distinction.

Aside from coach Bob Huggins, Deane believes there is no one more responsible than Brannen for the success of the Bearcats, the league's regular-season champion and only ranked team. This is regardless of his 9.3 scoring average over the final nine games, or the fact his 14.4 season average makes him the lowest-scoring player to become first-team All-CUSA.

''We're in this business for one reason, and one reason only - and that's to win as many games as we can,'' Deane said. ''Bobby Brannen is a winner in every sense of the word. He's dealing with a lot of expressive personalities, and he keeps them under control.

''There's no doubt in my mind who has held this team together.''

Brannen, a 6-7 senior, will start his 29th game for the No. 14 Bearcats (23-5) when they open at 7 p.m. today in the Conference USA tournament at the Shoemaker Center. He is the only player who has been in the lineup for every UC game and the only starter who has not been suspended.

He was the leading scorer in eight games, the leading rebounder in 11, a leading defensive force for a unit that held opponents to .389 shooting from the field. Mostly, he has been a leader.

''I think this is the most resilient group that I've ever been around,'' said Huggins. ''It's kind of like the old thing about, it's not a shame to get knocked down, it's a shame to stay down. They keep finding ways to get up and keep going. Bob's at the core of that.''

It seemed as though Brannen spent his year's allotment of mistakes on the final minutes of the Bearcats' loss at South Carolina.

He committed two turnovers against the Gamecocks press, including one with 1:03 left and UC trying to protect what little was left of a lead that once stood at 23 points. He made a move to the goal with the lead at one point and five seconds left, which served as a cue for the Gamecocks' Antonio Grant to dive and earn a charging call.

It was the one time this season that Brannen needed someone else's leadership. He spent most of the plane ride home punishing himself for letting that game get away.

''After the game, he said, 'I've never done anything that stupid in my life,' '' said Bearcats center Kenyon Martin. ''I told him, 'You've got to let it go.' He was down himself. I just said, 'Don't worry about it. It's over.' ''

Brannen admits it took a while for him to get past that episode, and there have been other obstacles in the past month. Defenses have recognized two things about defending him: They can double-team him effectively because of his height, and they must.

''My numbers kind of went down at the end of the year, and you try not to worry about things like that,'' Brannen said. ''You still think about it.

''That's fine, as long as we're winning. As long as they're doubling me, someone's open.''

Brannen's left knee has begun to bother him, making it tougher to play as much as in November and December, when he only once fell below 30 minutes in a game and went above 40 against Massachusetts. The Bearcats knew they could be better this season than some predicted, but even they wondered what was possible when Patterson was hit with his half-year suspension.

''The way people talked, we didn't have a team without him,'' Brannen said.

Instead, UC went 12-2. Brannen averaged 18.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in those games.

''What does the player of the year do?'' Huggins asked. ''To me, I think the player of the year is the guy who gives the most and contributes the most to the team's success. Where would the team without him?

''I don't think it's all necessarily in scoring points, although Bobby did that for us when we needed it. Bobby's a very good post defender, has great feet, passes the ball. He's the guy we throw it to on the press, the guy we throw it to at the end of the game. He's the guy we make changes on the court with. I don't know what else you ask a guy to do.''

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