Bearcats show they can get along well

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who played a little ball before settling into the grim business of government, says this about selflessness: “When you're working to produce a championship team, "We won' comes to mean more than "I scored.'”

Melvin Levett, who gets credit for flying and deserves it — when his basketball career is done, Levett could sell himself to CNN as the permanent Play of The Day — says, “We don't care who gets what, on what night.” Same difference.

Former Princeton coach Pete Carril said, “Help someone else, help yourself.” Same message.

Basketball is the best game because no player can go it alone. They all need help, even those named Jordan. UC is 9-0 right now because everybody understands that. As Levett says, “Our game plan isn't set up for one guy to get a certain amount of points. We don't have that guy. With this team, it's spread out and wide open.”

It's all good

It's all good at UC right now. The Bearcats have turned what was supposed to be an early season shakedown cruise into Club Med. They've won three prime-time games on the road. They beat Duke on a neutral floor. They have all winter to prep for March.

Nobody needs to get his 20 points. “Sometimes it's me,” said Pete Mickeal. “Sometimes it's Mel. Sometimes it's Kenyon (Martin). Somebody's going to get it.”

Everybody has bought into Bob Huggins' program, and it's not even Christmas. Said Michael Horton, “Huggs got 'em going. A little hollering. A couple (new) guys asked me questions about him. I said he's for real. He means business, but don't take it personally. He cares for you.”

Lots of years, UC doesn't hit the high notes until March. It can take that long for everyone to get used to Huggins, and to each other. This year, that has already been done.

New year, new team

UC's veterans don't want to go through another year like last year. “Guys suspended, us losing in the tournament on a freak shot at the buzzer,” as Levett put it. “It's time for all that to vanish.”

Huggins brought in some players with solid basketball skills who are also wise about the game. Mickeal is that way. So is the freshman point guard, Steve Logan.

But much of 9-0 is simply this: The locker room is good. Players get along. There is no star. Everyone knows he will play. Everyone knows he will be counted on.

“It keeps everybody in it. They're in there for a reason. When they're in there, they produce,” Levett said.

Nobody needs to get his 20.

“We can't knock Ruben, but he took a lot from us,” said Horton, speaking of the departed Ruben Patterson. Patterson was a great talent, but he needed his 20. “Instead of running our offense, he wanted to get 20 or 30 points a game.”

Before Patterson was Danny Fortson. Fortson needed his 20. With Fortson nearly unstoppable in the low post, the pressing, trapping Bearcats became the halfcourt, pound-it-in-to-Danny Bearcats. It was effective, but out of character.

This team has no stars. In fact, some players have been so selfless, they've had to be encouraged to score. Take a bow, Kenyon Martin. Now, take a shot.

“Guys on this team like each other,” Mickeal explained, and that's about as technical as it gets. Put it this way: It's a lot easier to pull for someone you get along with than for someone you don't. It's a lot easier to get him the ball.

Said Bill Bradley, “On an unselfish team, the passer knows the ball will come back.”

That's where UC is now. The ball always comes back. “We can be special,” Horton said, “as long as we stay together.”

Doc gets his wish

Many thanks to my new, cable-subscribing friends. You responded to my plea in Sunday's column with nearly 60 voice-mails. Now, I've got a place to watch Kentucky-Duke tonight. Dennis Smith of Indian Hill has a 55-inch TV, with Surround Sound. He's stuck with me for the evening.

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.