Saturday, March 17, 2001

Assistant's work is never done

Gameplans keep Cronin busy

        SAN DIEGO — Mick Cronin has two double beds in his hotel room, which is ironic given that lately he sleeps less than New York.

        One of the beds is covered in clothes — what, you mean I have a closet? — because Cronin hasn't had time to hang up anything or put anything away. The UC assistant coach has been here only three days.

        An hour ago, Cronin had room service deliver a club sandwich. The waiter put it on a table covered in Federal Express envelopes into which Cronin would stuff handwritten notes to UC basketball recruits - “Hope you saw our win” - along with a photocopy of the newspaper story detailing the Bearcats' victory over BYU.

        The sandwich sits in its covered dish, moldering. Maybe Cronin will get to it. Maybe not. It's just past midnight Friday morning. Cronin's world is defined by the TV, the VCR and the remote he holds in his hand. He's watching tape of Kent State's halfcourt offense. He'll be watching until 2 in the morning, when he'll go to head coach Bob Huggins' room to build a game plan. “When you head to that room, there's no telling how late you'll be up,” Cronin says.

        In March, you always know where Cronin is and what he is doing.

        You could call Cronin at 5 in the morning and know he'd be watching tape. You could call him in Cincinnati or Louisville or San Diego and know he'd be stretched on his hotel bed, holding the remote. He watches more movies than Ebert.

        “Kent's an extremely well-coached team,” he says. “Very disciplined. They keep the ball in the hands of the guys who can play. Shooters take shots, screeners set screens. They're very simple, but they're efficient.”

        The players get the glory. The head coaches get the shoe contracts. The assistants get the movies. Sleep is a rumor. So is normalcy. If UC keeps winning, Cronin will need crowbars to keep his eyelids up.

        “We've got players saying they're tired. We tell them, you've got all summer to be tired,” says Cronin. “You don't work all year to not put in the time now.”

        Two minutes after UC beat BYU, Cronin was in the rental car heading back to his room. He needed to beat the traffic leaving the gym.

        “Coach Huggins says to the players: "If you guys don't get outhustled, we won't get outcoached. You're going to be prepared.' It killed BYU tonight (Friday) they couldn't call plays and get open shots. Our guys were in their face. We knew what they were going to do. That's preparation.”

        One day last week, Cro nin answered a 4:30a.m. wakeup call in Chicago. He caught a 6a.m. flight to Cincinnati. He stopped by the office. He drove to Louisville, where UC was playing in the conference tournament. He arrived in time for practice.

        He ate dinner, then went to Freedom Hall to scout Memphis and Marquette. He went to the hotel and watched film until 3. A 23-hour day. Talk about Madness.

        “We could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Cronin says. “You could sit here and write letters to recruits all day.”

        The tape spools out, silently. Cronin sits with another UC assistant, Geoff Schimberg. They watch Kent's win over Indiana, noting the Flashes' offensive tendencies.

        “Fifty percent of their offense is built around getting ball screens for their guards,” Cronin says.

        It's mundane, tedious work, unless you're a basketball coach with a team still in the Madness. Then it's as fascinating as fission to a physicist.

        “We've got until after breakfast to prepare a scouting report,” Cronin says.

        He likes Kent guard Trevor Huffman: “He's an unbelievable player. This guy wasn't recruited. He sent Kent tapes. He played in an open gym there. Their players told the coach to sign him. He just took the game over tonight.”

        He likes Kent coach Gary Waters: “He's very confident. He's a 13 (seed), Indi ana's a four. Indiana's got two (potential) pros (Kirk Haston and Jared Jeffries) on the front line. Kent's down 10, and (Waters) is subbing.”

        In a few months, when the games are over and he can't talk to recruits, Cronin and Huggins will take a few days to play golf somewhere. Until then, it's barely midnight. The day is young. The sandwich is lonely. Mick Cronin's eyes are hairline fractures in his face.

        The tape spins.

        “Adrenaline from the winning helps you stay up,” Cronin decides.

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