Sunday, February 21, 1999

Levett sad for final show at the Shoe




BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This will not be the last Melvin Levett sees of the Shoemaker Center. Tuesday, Wednesday and however many times the Cincinnati Bearcats are in town before concluding their season in the NCAA Tournament, he will practice here. But this will be the last “the Shoe” sees of Levett.

        The audiences who held their breath each time he left his feet — either to soar and dunk a lob pass or tumble over front-row chairs in search of a stray basketball — will have this one last chance to collectively demonstrate their appreciation of his skills and style.

LOUISVILLE at UC
• When: 3:30 p.m. today
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: Louisville 16-7, 10-3 C-USA; UC 22-4, 9-4 C-USA
• TV: Channels 9, 2
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
• 6: Louisville's winning streak
.504: Louisville's shooting percentage during the winning streak.
.602: Percentage of baskets off assists during the streak.
• 2: Road wins during the streak.
        No. 9 UC (22-4, 9-4 Conference USA) will play Louisville (16-7, 10-3) in a 3:30 p.m. game today that will put the winner in position to claim the C-USA regular-season title. Before tipoff, Levett will be recognized at Senior Day along, with classmates Michael Horton, Shawn Myrick and Alex Meacham.

        Leading the Bearcats with a 14.7 scoring average, Levett is the only one in the group that has been a part of the program for four years. He is not the best player to play for the Bearcats in the past decade, although he's not far down the list. Coach Bob Huggins agrees he may be the most popular player to perform at the Shoe.

        “I knew it was coming one of these days. I didn't expect it to come this soon, but it's been fun,” Levett said. “Coach Huggins ... going through practice like it's a game and him screaming and yelling ... the crowds ... there's been some real good moments in the Shoe.”

        Levett's No.21 jersey will not be retired by UC, but it seems unlikely there'll be another wearing it who'll inspire as many young fans to buy replicas. When Levett himself is walking through the city's streets or in a shopping mall, he is approached as commonly and as reverently as if he were already playing in the NBA.

        “It's real special. I never thought I'd get accepted anywhere like I got accepted here,” Levett said. “I never thought I'd be in this position.”

        Levett was second-team all-conference as a junior and could claim first-team honors this season. He ranks eighth in C-USA in scoring and sixth in three-point percentage and is one of 37 players in Bearcats history to score better than 1,000 points.

        He owns the school single-game record for three-pointers in a game, set with 10 against Eastern Kentucky in 1997-98. At the Shoe, of course.

        “Every time I come out of that locker room and there's people waiting to slap my hands or somebody that wants an autograph, that's the biggest thrill to me,” Levett said. “This is going to be a special day, a day to kind of celebrate but also of sadness. Leaving this place, with all that's happened here. ...

        “But there's still basketball to be played, more games to be won.”

        The Bearcats will play their final two regular-season games at South Florida and at Memphis, then travel to Birmingham for the Conference USA tournament and who knows where in the NCAAs.

        If only Levett could take along the Shoe, or whatever it is about the place that makes him so comfortable: the fans, the rims, the lighting. If only it were the NCAA men's tournament regional being staged in the building, instead of the women's.

        The difference between Levett at the Shoe and Levett just about anywhere else remains startling and sometimes can be debilitating for the Bearcats.

        He has had more memorable games this season away from home, such as when he scored 25, missed only three of his 14 shots against top-ranked Duke and slammed in the game-winning dunk. He was the only Bearcat who reached double figures in scoring in last Sunday's loss at Saint Louis, getting 19 to match his season road high.

        Levett still scores nearly six fewer points per game away from the Shoe, though, and has had only one solid three-point shooting game in another building: 3-of-5 at UNC Charlotte.

        “I think he's played pretty well on the road, in certain circumstances,” Huggins said. “I think a lot of it is he shoots the ball more in preparation for the game here. We've got to get him shooting the ball more when we leave.”

        Levett and his classmates can leave the Shoe with many great memories but almost no recollection of what it feels like to lose in his home.

        Horton, Myrick, Meacham and Levett have a chance to close the season with a 32nd consecutive victory at the Shoe, a homecourt winning streak that began after a loss to Arizona State Nov. 21, 1997 and now is the fourth-longest in Division I.

        “That would be great,” Levett said. “I watched Raef LaFrentz and those guys at Kansas, their senior night, how everybody there threw out roses because they never lost a home game in four years. It'd be so nice to go out and only lose one game in two years. That'd be a pretty good feeling.”



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