Thursday, March 11, 1999

Mickeal ready to be team leader


Tired of losing, forward takes charge of UC

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — He has seen enough. Pete Mickeal has seen the Cincinnati Bearcats lose five times, five times to inferior opponents, five times more than he'd lost in his previous 87 basketball games, five times more than he could stand.

        This is what he says.

        “It's time to stop coming out not ready,” Mickeal said. “We need a big-time leader, and I'm ready to be that leader. We're not leaving that locker room until I know everybody is ready to play.”

        The unusual chemistry that occasionally has unsettled this UC basketball team threatens to send it toward another early NCAA Tournament exit. The No. 3-seeded Bearcats (26-5) open the East Regional with a first-round game Friday at the FleetCenter against George Mason (19-10), with the winner advancing Sunday to play the winner between Kent and Temple.

        What does a No. 3 seed mean here, though, when a No. 1 seed in the Conference USA tournament was so easily misspent a week earlier? Ability and accomplishment will not be enough to get the Bearcats successfully through this weekend.

        They will need more. They will need what Mickeal promises to deliver — what no one conjured when the Bearcats visited DePaul or Marquette or Saint Louis or when they encountered UNC Charlotte in the semifinals of the C-USA tournament.

        “We missed a big-time opportunity,” Mickeal said. “We need to worry about ourselves.

        “We have to be mentally focused on the whole day. That's what it took for me with the championships I won. I know it's not the same level, but it's still the same preparation.”

        One of the principle problems as the Bearcats have sporadically pursued their potential through nearly three months since their victory over top-ranked Duke is a lack of defined leadership.

        Who can convince senior guard Melvin Levett to build his offensive game from the inside-out, as he did in the Duke game, when he leaves the Shoemaker Center (and leaves his three-point shooting touch behind)? As a senior, Levett is supposed to be a leader.

        Who can squeeze a more aggressive approach and less annoyed approach toward officials from junior center Kenyon Martin, whose production has declined since February dawned? As a veteran starter, Martin is supposed to be a leader.

        Who can nudge freshman Steve Logan toward employing more energy in the operation of the UC offense? As point guard, Logan is supposed to be in control.

        Logan believes he learned a lesson from his experience in Birmingham. UC lost the UNC Charlotte tournament game by one possession, just as they lost second-round NCAA Tournament games by one point in each of the past two years.

        “Every possession counts,” Logan said. “It could be diving on the floor for a loose ball, hitting free throws. In a 40-minute game, you have to make every possession count.”

        Mickeal said he planned to talk to Martin about finding a way to get him back to the player he was in January, when he blocked 29 shots in nine games.

        “If I was struggling,” Mickeal said, “he'd talk to me.”

        When they scouted him, UC's coaches admired Mickeal for his leadership skills in helping to lift Indian Hills Community College to consecutive national championships. But it's easier for a shooter to enter a new team and start popping jumpers than for a leader to join a new team and take charge.

        “We haven't been coming out to play,” Mickeal said. That was particularly noticeable when Martin allowed UNC Charlotte forward Tremaine Gardiner room to shoot from the outside despite a scouting report — and two prior experiences — that indicated he was a perimeter threat.

        “Everybody knows their roles now,” Mickeal said. “We have to have a mindset that we're scoring, not that we're going to sit back and let somebody else do it.”

       



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