Thursday, March 14, 2002

UC women get practice push from men




By Gary Estwick gestwick@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Glen Bruce-Harris doesn't get fringe benefits for practicing with the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team.

        Bruce-Harris doesn't get free season tickets.

        He doesn't get to travel with the team.

        And he doesn't get workout apparel.

        What he does get, though, is a chance to make the Bearcats better on game day.

        Bruce-Harris, a junior accounting major, is one of five male practice players. He participates in scout team drills, catches balls out of the net and motivates the Bearcats to get stronger and faster.

        “Whatever needs to be done,” Bruce-Harris said.

        This is the first year men have practiced with the basketball team, joining programs such as Tennessee, Connecticut and LSU.

        Before this season, Bruce-Harris didn't follow the team and had never attended a game. Now he goes to all of them. “I don't miss any,” he said.

        The sixth-seeded Bearcats, who will play 11th seeded St.Peter's (25-5) Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Columbia, S.C., added male practice players because the team was short on healthy players early in the season. Merelenea Dozier and Portia Flournoyhad offseason knee surgery, and Laura Wilder broke her hand during the first week of practice. The experiment worked out so well the Bearcats made it part of their daily regime.

        “They're committed to the team, and they know what their role is,” coach Laurie Pirtle said. “They're a part of this as much as anybody else.”

        Pirtle said she has tried to find male players before but couldn't find the right avenue to get them.

        The practice players have helped UC improve its offense (75.1 points a game from 68.0 last season) and defense (58.3 from 60.9). Turnovers are also down (401 from 476).

        “Guarding them has truly helped us,” senior center Tamara Douglass said. “We can get to spots on defense a lot quicker.”

        Bruce-Harris, a Dayton native, originally tried out for the men's team in October; there weren't any positions open.

        Then he got a call from assistant coach Chris Moore. Bruce-Harris was one of the original nine men who were recruited. Since then, the group has slimmed down to a dedicated bunch of five.

        The men are mostly guard-size with quick hands, good jumping ability and stamina. The tallest is 6 feet 3; Bruce-Harris is a muscular 5-9.

        Bruce-Harris also has tried to motivate the team after losses.

        “The next practice, I'm coming in all over them, getting their confidence back,” he said. “When they get mad, I know they're starting to get their confidence back because they start pushing me back.”

        Even though Bruce-Harris won't be with the Bearcats on the tournament road, he knows he had a part to play in their success.

        “I've got confidence in them,” he said. “They'll keep their heads and go all the way to the Final Four.”

       



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