Tuesday, January 26, 1999

UC's Land fighting uphill battle

Playing time depends on 'D'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Freshman Eugene Land had 10 points against Marquette Jan. 4.
(Craig Ruttle photo)

| ZOOM |
        The record books say Xavier has won the past two Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootouts. And they are correct, because they are speaking strictly in an upper-case, corporate-sponsored sense.

        Eugene Land, though, was a crosstown shootout all by himself, recruited by both the Musketeers and the UC Bearcats in one of the few head-to-head, got-to-have-the-local-guy battles the two enjoined this decade. The Bearcats won that shootout and plan on using Land's basketball skills to someday win the one played on the court — perhaps even this one.

        “I always watched it and pictured myself in the game,” said Land, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound freshman forward. “It's something I've been waiting on for a while.”

        When he pictured himself playing in the Crosstown Shootout, Land was wearing a UC uniform, as he will when the fifth-ranked Bearcats (18-1) and Musketeers (15-4) play Thursday at the Shoemaker Center at 9:30 p.m. “I think I always knew. I always knew where I wanted to play.”

        How often Land and his No.33 jersey will be on the court for the Bearcats is unclear. He is averaging 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds. His minutes have dropped to single digits in each of the past five games. He scored only one basket in that period, after averaging 5.1 points and getting 10 or more four times in the first 13 games.

        Coach Bob Huggins calls Land “still one of our better offensive post guys. It would be nice to be able to play him more minutes.” Huggins lauds his freshman for making “tremendous progress.” Although he made just one of his past six shots, Land is one of three healthy UC players shooting .500 or better from the field, along with center Kenyon Martin and forward Pete Mickeal.

        The problem is with defense, and Land knows this as well as anyone. In a six-minute appearance against Saint Louis, he got caught by a backscreen and was beaten for a basket. That ended his stay on the court. Most of his problems involve setting up behind players he is assigned to defend, which is the way most athletic big men operate in high school.

        “It's just like the little nooks and crannies of defense,” Land said. “It's those types of things that you have to be 100 percent aware of at all times. I guess I haven't been aware of it.

        “It's hard to play through that, because there's always somebody on the bench to take your place. It's all through trial and tribulations out there. After you go through it so many times, you're going to know to look the next time.”

        UC power forward Ryan Fletcher

        struggled as a freshman, also, although he described his problems as more physical. It's tougher to make up that part of it quickly; Land, on the other hand, has the body and skills to succeed now.

        What makes Land dangerous to opponents in his present condition is they may come to believe he poses no threat.

        But he remains a potent offensive player, capable of using his jumping ability to get off shots in traffic and his soft touch to make them.

        “He still has to learn things that are going to keep him from getting backed into the basket or keep him from getting pinned two feet away from the basket and giving up a layup,” Fletcher said. “As time goes on, he will. It takes a lot of people a year to figure that out.”

        Land is hardly being singled out for his mistakes. Both Land and sophomore Aaron McGhee have seen their playing time diminish since junior Jermaine Tate became eligible.

        “They have to be better in practice than what they've been,” Hug gins said. “If you're getting beat in practice on something you're going to see in a game, it's awful hard for someone to have confidence in you.

        “Early on, they got beat, too. I didn't have a choice. Now, I have a choice. They haven't learned yet the value of preparation. But sitting over there a while, I'm sure they will.”

        Land does not think much about what it would be like to be on the Xavier side, where the hunger for inside help might have made him more of a factor this season.

        He said he only came close to choosing the Musketeers once, after making his recruiting visit in the fall of 1997. “Then I came here and knew I wanted to go here. My eyes were opened back up,” Land said.

        “I know how they think, and I know how we think here. I think I have a little edge on everybody. I think I have a little more to get hyped up for than everybody else. You've got to look at the real side of this now. You can't be all dreamy about it. You can't be like, "Oh wow, it's here.' You've got to be ready to play.”


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