Point is, Flint was best man for the job

The difference in Damon Flint is as obvious to the ear as it is to the eye. All his doubts have been dispelled. All his hesitance is history.

The University of Cincinnati's fallback-position point guard has emerged as the loud-and-clear leader of college basketball's top-ranked team. Danny Fortson is clearly the Bearcats' star, but Damon Flint may be their soul.

''If those guys listen to me,'' Flint vowed Friday afternoon, ''we'll win. I'm going to tell them what they want to hear and what they don't want to hear. I'm going to tell them the truth.''

Not long ago, consecutive sentences from Flint would have constituted a monologue. Today, you can scarcely shut him up. He has gained confidence in his game and authority in his voice. He has ceased to be Bob Huggins' scapegoat and become his surrogate.

''The first year, I was just coming down (the floor) playing,'' Flint said. ''I didn't know how to get the offense started or yell at guys. I didn't know how to do all that. I was tired bringing that ball up the court. Now, i'm in pretty good shape. I can yell at guys and say basically whatever I want.

''I know what he (Huggins) wants. He calls the play from the side. And if I tell him it's not going to work, he'll work with me and let me run it, or we'll talk. In the past, he'd say, 'Run this play and that's that.'''

A point guard is presumed to be his team's coach on the floor, but Flint has sometimes accounted for more chaos than order. Moved to the point two games into his UC career, he made more turnovers than assists as a freshman. His shooting suffered. His reputation eroded.

''I would rush,'' he said. ''I thought, 'I've got to get this many points, this many assists.'''

Flint was Ohio's co-Player of the Year at Woodward High School, but his game has always had more range than refinement. He could handle the ball and shoot and run the floor and rebound, but he didn't do any one thing so well that he fit perfectly at any single position.

Danny Fortson is an archetype. Damon Flint is an amalgamation.

''I thought he was an off-guard,'' Huggins said. ''We just had to throw him out there (at the point) when Marko Wright got hurt. But Damon likes to win. He has come to grips with his game. He came in thinking he was a great shooter and a great scorer, but Damon's strength is that he can do everything.''

Flint is probably the only point guard in Division I who has led his team in blocked shots, dunks and steals in various seasons. As a senior, he says, his chief concern will be assists.

''I love to pass the ball,'' he said. ''It seems to me that's better than scoring. Guys who score the most are the guys who get looked at. But if you're the playmaker, you're making everybody else happy.''

Hoping for another solution

Huggins still believes his team would be better served if he could afford to use Flint at the off-guard position. That would give the Bearcats two quality ball-handlers in the backcourt and the three-point threat of Darnell Burton coming off the bench.

But Charles Williams and D'Juan Baker, the junior college players recruited as point guards, are not yet trusted to run the show on a regular basis. One of them may win the job as the season progresses - as did Nick Van Exel during UC's Final Four run in 1992 - but Damon Flint will not be easily budged.

''You have to know your players,'' he said. ''When Danny's in the paint, I know you can't bounce it in there to him. If you bounce it, that gives the littler guys the chance to slap it out of his hands. A lot of guys don't understand that. They keep throwing it all over.

''That's why I ended up at the point - no matter what they said about this guy coming in or that guy coming in. I just know what has to happen out there on the court.''

Damon Flint has not always felt this way. ''At first it was rough,'' he said. ''But now it's like this ... ''

He snapped his fingers.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Nov. 23, 1996.