Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Learning curve tricky for UC's Hicks

With brother's help, freshman searches for niche

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

By now, Eric Hicks figured he would be rebounding and scoring and blocking shots for the University of Cincinnati. Just as he did in high school.

The runner-up for state high school player of the year in North Carolina last season was one of UC's prized recruits, an athlete with jaw-dropping talent and the potential to make an immediate impact in college.

But so far his impact at UC has been negligible.

In the early stages of his college career, Hicks has learned the hard way that his glittering high school credentials don't mean a thing on the Shoemaker Center practice floor. What matters to UC coach Bob Huggins is how well Hicks competes in practice, not how many points he scored in high school.

That explains why the player who was nicknamed "Helicopter" in high school because of his uncanny leaping ability has played only 21 minutes during UC's first five games.

"He didn't understand the sense of urgency that you have to have," Huggins said. "But he's getting there."

Hicks, a 6-foot-6 freshman forward from Dudley High School in Greensboro, averaged 30.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 blocked shots as a senior last season.

You would think on a UC team that has trouble scoring, especially along the front line, a player with those numbers would have received an opportunity to show what he could do by now.

But Hicks is still waiting. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Huggins is still waiting for Hicks to show he deserves a chance to play more frequently.

"That's all I want is a shot," Hicks said. "I'll take it from there. In practice lately, I've been playing better. I've got to play in practice. I realized that after the first couple of games."

Hicks isn't the only member of the family who's getting a little anxious about Eric's lack of playing time. His older brother, Derrick, is wondering, too.

Derrick Hicks, who graduated in May from North Carolina A&T, moved to Cincinnati when Eric decided to play for UC. He lives in a Clifton apartment, works a construction job and attends practice when his schedule allows. It's an unusual arrangement, but both Hicks brothers say it works, and Huggins says he has no problem with Derrick being around so much.

"I wouldn't want my brother hanging around all the time," Huggins said. "But I'm not Eric. In a lot of ways, it helps him. Derrick tells him a lot of good stuff."

It was Derrick who convinced Eric to choose UC over Tennessee; now he's urging his brother to remain positive.

"Me and him had an agreement," Derrick said. "Whatever school he went to, I was going to relocate with him. He didn't want to come this far away from home, but I sat down and told him the pros and cons of UC. He said: `That's eight hours away. You've got to go there with me.'

"It's not that he's getting frustrated. He just wants an opportunity to play. He's just got to make the most of the minutes he gets. When he gets in there, he has to produce and be special."

Having his brother nearby has been beneficial, Eric says. When he's bored or feeling a little down, he can visit Derrick and receive the support that others in his situation can get only over their cell phones.

He's still convinced he chose the right school, no matter how tough things are now.

"I came here because I knew I could get better here," Eric said. "The stuff the other schools were telling me sounded good but it sounded too good."

Hicks' progress has been hindered by his recovery from the knee surgery he had in August to correct torn knee ligaments he suffered during his sophomore year in high school. Derrick estimates the knee is 90 percent of what it was and Huggins agrees that Hicks has yet to regain the explosiveness that made him effective in high school.

But that's not what's keeping him off the floor at UC.

"His knee is not even a factor no more," Derrick said. "When you're in the locker room and the adrenaline is flowing, the adrenaline is blocking out the knee pain."

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