Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Kirkland has big plans next season

UC reserve's goal is to challenge for starting spot

By Colleen Kane
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UC's Armein Kirkland plans to challenge for a starting spot.
(Mike Simons/file photo)
| ZOOM |
As the summer buzz around the University of Cincinnati basketball team remains focused on its promising recruiting class, Armein Kirkland keeps plugging away - with 200 shots a day - at creating his own noise next year.

The current talk is how transfers James White, Robert Whaley and Nick Williams - rated in the top 10 in the nation - will piece together last year's 17-12 Bearcats. But Kirkland, who came off the bench for the Bearcats last year, talks about where he'll fit into this year's team.

A starting spot?

"Yeah, definitely. I see myself filling (Leonard) Stokes' role at small forward," said Kirkland. "I think I'll contribute a lot more this year."

Stokes was the Bearcats' leading scorer last year as a senior.

As a freshman, Kirkland averaged 3.4 points and two rebounds in 9.2 minutes off the bench. He ended the season with 18 points in UC's last home game, and grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots in the NCAA West Regional against Gonzaga.

He's working to improve those marks by perfecting his jump shot both in and outside of the Deveroes Summer League at Oak Hills High School.

"I'm just a real streaky shooter, so I have to get more consistent," Kirkland said.

He didn't get much practice at Tuesday's Deveroes game. Kirkland, a sophomore from Tyler, Texas, seemed to be taking it easy, but still scored in double digits for Harmon, Davis & Associates (3-3). Kirkland's teammates included Xavier's Will Caudle and Keith Jackson. The team lost 92-84 to Mike Albert Leasing (3-3), which was led by Dayton's Ramod Marshall and D.J. Stelly.

Kirkland wasn't concerned by his lack of offensive output at Oak Hills. He uses the games for defensive practice.

"Offensively, we'll never have a flow because we don't practice with each other. We never see each other; but on defense, all you need is one man," Kirkland said. "It's just you and your man, so that's what I focus on, becoming a better on-the-ball defender.

"I come up here and try to get the shots off, but it's hard to . . . It's hard to get into any kind of rhythm because you might touch the ball twice in a row, but then not touch it again the next five or six times down the floor."

That's where his 200 shots and two-hour practices every day at UC come in. He's also in the weight room, trying to add muscle mass to his 6-foot-8, 195-pound frame. Despite eating hamburgers, french fries and chips four times a day, gaining weight is a challenge for Kirkland.The meals, workouts and jump shots happen all in the name of a starting position - the same position White could have his eyes on. White, a transfer from Florida, averaged 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds off the Gators bench in 2001-02.

"(White's) really a good, athletic player," said junior Jason Maxiell, who returns as the Bearcats' starting power forward. "(The recruits) are a very talented team, but they need some work."

White, at 6-foot-7, and Kirkland are both perimeter players and could fight for the small-forward position or see time together if Cincinnati opts for a bigger lineup. White did not play in Tuesday's game, but Kirkland and other UC players have seen him work at practices.

"He's just another force that we'll have," Kirkland said.

Kirkland and White are slated to face each other when Harmon, Davis & Associates takes on the Slats (1-5) at 6:30 p.m. today at Oak Hills.

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