BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For one more game, he is a fan. Jermaine Tate will choose an outfit for the evening, just like all the other spectators, then settle into a seat that is, at once, the best and worst in the Shoemaker Center.
Jermaine Tate, right, guards Aaron McGhee in practice Friday.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
It's some view he has, right there at courtside on the Cincinnati Bearcats bench. No one blocking his sight, unless it's a player or official or coach Bob Huggins. No companion to tell him it's a good time to leave early and beat the traffic.
It's awful, really.
"It's the hardest thing to ever do," Tate said. "For a player to be sitting there so long - it's the hardest thing."
When Tate watches tonight's 6 p.m. game between the No. 4-ranked Bearcats (5-0) and Southwestern Louisiana (3-2), it will be the 16th time he has sat at courtside for a UC home game, waiting for his opportunity to join the team as a power forward and backup center. And it will be the last.
SW LOUISIANA at UC
When: 6 p.m. today|
Where: The Shoemaker Center
Records: SW Louisiana 3-2; UC 5-0
TV: Channel 19
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
10.6: UC's average turnovers per game.
3.4: Bearcats' blocks per game - less than the 3.7 center Kenyon Martin averaged in the last two months of 1997-98.
.688: Freshman guard Steve Logan's percentage on shots taken inside the three-point line (11-of-16).
He is eligible to join the Bearcats for Monday's game against Nicholls State at the Shoe, then will accompany them on a crucial road trip to Minnesota and UNLV next week. Tate (6-9, 230 pounds) averaged 14 points and seven rebounds in his sophomore season at Ohio State. He will deepen an already rich front line.
"I'm fine. It's just for some reason I forgot how to shoot," Tate said. "For some reason, I can't get it down consistently. And I can't jump the way I used to. I think that will come. Most of it is mental. It's like starting over."
In fact, Tate's absence from competitive basketball has lasted nearly two full years. He was forced to leave the Buckeyes after 16 games of his sophomore season because of a heart ailment, and there were fears he'd never play again. But he has full clearance to compete and has practiced with the Bearcats since last January.
He said the toughest games to watch were the first he missed while at Ohio State, when his future seemed uncertain, and those at the Shoe last season when the Bearcats cut down the nets in celebration of their Conference USA regular-season and tournament championships.
"I just didn't feel like I was a part of it," Tate said.
In fact, he was. UC needed someone to challenge center Kenyon Martin and forward Bobby Brannen in practice, and Tate was a terror, taking advantage of the lack of pressure to learn or produce.
He has been less dominant this fall, as his return approached, but has such quickness for a power forward that UC looks forward to what he can add.
"He's very athletic. I think he can help us defensively," Huggins said. "He's active. He'll help our rebounding, and he'll give us another dimension offensively. Jermaine's more of a face-up guy than a back-to-the basket player."
It is likely Tate will challenge junior Ryan Fletcher for the starting power forward job, but Fletcher is an important factor in the Bearcats' 5-0 start.
He has made perimeter jumpshots to loosen the defense and used his bulk to great effect against Duke's Elton Brand and Rhode Island's Luther Clay. Fletcher has shot only .414 from the field, though, and averaged 5.6 rebounds. His statistics do not reflect the whole of his contributions, but they do point out where Tate might help.
"The one thing our guys understand, deep down, is that whoever deserves to play, plays," Huggins said. "I don't get involved in personalities."
Tate believes he will blend with the Bearcats. "It shouldn't take long," he said. "Whatever the rotation may be, I should fit right in."
Southwestern Louisiana, which competes in the Sun Belt Conference, will get a head start on mixing in some new players to its lineup. The Ragin' Cajuns have five players who may compete tonight but have not yet played this season, including 6-5 guard Billy Jones, a transfer from Pepperdine, and 6-6 sophomore forward Shea Whiting, who averaged 5.0 points his first season.
The Cajuns play a physical man-to-man defense.
Tate might be useful against this team, perhaps in defending 6-8 forward Reginald Poole (16.8 ppg.), but will not get the chance. One more game.
"We're winning games, and I want to be a part of that," Tate said. "I've played enough as the No. 1 or No. 2 player on the team, and now I just want to be part of winning games."
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