Saturday, March 27, 1999

Cleaves, El-Amin considered UC




BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If Mateen Cleaves had been born a few hundred miles south, or if the basketball programs at Michigan State and Michigan had not been what they are, he might have been leading the Cincinnati Bearcats to this year's Final Four.

        “They were in there,” Cleaves said. “They were knocking right at the door.”

        UC coach Bob Huggins also will curse his luck a bit when Connecticut plays Ohio State in the first of today's Final Four games. The Bearcats also were a contender for UConn point guard Khalid El-Amin.

        A McDonald's All-American point guard from Flint, Mich., Cleaves did not decide until the spring of 1996 to make Michigan State his college choice. He ultimately selected between the Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines but said of the Bearcats, “The only thing that really kept me from them was I wanted to stay at home.”

        El-Amin was a star at Minneapolis North, and he, too, thought he wanted to continue close to home. But he changed his mind during his senior year and renounced his junior-year commitment to Minnesota.

        Kansas, Georgetown and UConn were all desperate for point guard help in the spring of 1997. But no more so than the Bearcats, who think they could have gotten involved in that El- Amin chase were it not for the impact of the investigation into Charles Williams' eligibility.

        UConn was recruiting Michael Horton at point at the same time. But when El-Amin's interest in the Bearcats cooled, UC pushed harder for Horton and got him signed.

        El-Amin is pleased to have ended up at UConn and is relieved not to be at Minnesota, which has been hit with accusations of academic fraud.

        “I don't really think about it that much. I really feel like if I'd have gone there, it'd be a much better team,” El-Amin said. “But I didn't go there, and it's really unfortunate what's happened to them.”

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