Saturday, June 08, 2002

Bearcats have eyes on sheepskins

By Michael Perry,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From left, UC basketball graduates are Leonard Stokes, Jamaal Davis, Rodney Crawford and Donald Little.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Naturally, University of Cincinnati senior Jamaal Davis wants to earn his college degree for himself. But a part of him also wants to graduate for coach Bob Huggins and the Bearcats basketball program.

        In fact, five players from last season's team either participated in graduation ceremonies Friday or expect do so this weekend.

        “It should change the perception,” said junior Leonard Stokes, one of the five. “This is a big deal for the program. It's kind of like turning the tide.”

        UC has received criticism nationally for having a zero graduation rate, which comes from the NCAA's statistics most often publicized by the media. Those statistics do not count transfers, walk-ons or players who take more than six years to earn degrees. The NCAA does release numbers that count transfers, but those statistics rarely get media attention.

        Prior to this weekend, 15 of Mr. Huggins' players graduated. They are pictured on the wall in the UC basketball office, along with Jackson Julson, who left UC after four seasons (including one he had to sit out because of injury) then graduated from Georgetown (Ky.) College.

        In addition to Mr. Stokes and Mr. Davis, Jimmy Hubbard, Donald Little and Rodney Crawford are expected to graduate.

        UC students participating in this weekend's commencement ceremonies don't know for sure whether they have completed their requirements. Final exams were taken this past week, and final grades won't be posted until next week.

        All five Bearcats were invited by their colleges to participate because they had reasonable chances of completing their requirements in the spring quarter or this summer.

        A closer look at each:

        • Mr. Stokes would be the first Bearcat under Mr. Huggins to earn his degree in three years. Mr. Stokes needs summer-school classes in liberal arts, then will begin taking classes toward a master's degree in the fall. He missed Friday's ceremony to attend his brother's high school graduation in Buffalo. Mr. Stokes said he planned to walk with Evening College classmates Sunday.

        • Mr. Little expects to earn his degree in liberal arts. He would become just the second freshmen recruited by Mr. Huggins to graduate in four years (Keith Gregor was the first in 1996). Mr. Little was dismissed from the program in April after being arrested and charged with felonious assault and kidnapping. His hearing is set for July 1.

        • Mr. Hubbard, a junior, is in position to be the first junior-college transfer to earn his degree in one year. He needs two summer-school classes to complete his degree in criminal justice, then he plans to begin taking graduate-school courses in labor and employment relations.

        • Mr. Crawford, a Withrow High School graduate, came to UC from Bakersfield (Calif.) College. He expects to earn a degree in criminal justice.

        • Mr. Davis, who started his college career at Purdue and came to UC from Barton County (Kan.) Community College, expects to earn his degree in criminal justice. He missed Friday's ceremony to attend a basketball workout in Louisville. He hopes to play basketball professionally.

        “Graduating depends on the person,” Mr. Davis said. “You're either going to do it or not. I think it helps people know (Mr. Huggins) really does care. He was on me all the time. He was on me more about graduating from college than playing basketball.”

        When NCAA statistics from this class come out in two years, the only player who will count according to the most-often-cited NCAA stats is Mr. Little. Mr. Davis, Mr. Crawford and Mr. Hubbard are junior-college transfers, and Mr. Stokes is a member of the Class of 2003.

        UC was featured in March on ESPN's Outside the Lines. On the program, Mr. Huggins talked about what he believes to be a flawed NCAA graduation-rate formula.

        “We've had a lot of guys graduate; we just haven't had five at once,” he said this week.

        Plenty of credit for the program's academic success can be traced to the hiring of Geoff Schimberg in summer 2000. A former UC video coordinator, he was brought in as assistant to the athletic director for basketball operations and charged with overseeing academics for the basketball program.

        His office is just steps away from Mr. Huggins'. He monitors players daily and reports to athletic director Bob Goin.

        Mr. Schimberg, currently a candidate for a similar position with the University of Miami (Fla.) basketball staff, said three UC underclassmen — sophomores Rod Flowers and Field Williams and freshman Jason Maxiell — are also on pace to graduate in three years. Taron Barker and B.J. Grove, who will be seniors in the fall, are on target to graduate next year.

        “Schim's done a great job,” Mr. Huggins said. “ He's not a 9-to-5 guy. He's there pretty much whenever he needs to be in there, whether it's early in the morning to check on 'em or whether it's staying at night.

        “And I think there's a lot greater commitment from our administration.”

        Brian Mand — senior associate athletic director for academics, compliance and student services — said UC has done a better job recently in getting players to attend summer school to help them progress toward degrees instead of just to maintain eligibility.

        “Hopefully, we've changed the climate,” Dr. Mand said. “We've made a concerted effort each year to tweak what we're doing as far as the level of support.”

        Since Mr. Goin took over as UC's athletic director in October 1997, the overall budget for academics has increased from $267,060 to $440,109 in 2002.

        “A card my dad gave me as a young boy says: "What you've done in the past is splendid, but there's so much more to do,' ” Mr. Goin said. “That's a pretty good theme that I've lived by.”

        “If you think we've gone from a one-bedroom apartment to a nine-bedroom suite with a fireplace in every room, we haven't. What we're doing is better, but we haven't scratched the surface.”


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