Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Image isn't everything, especially UC's

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There it was again: Oh-point-oh. On ESPN, Thursday night. The TV network got it from the newspapers, who got it from the NCAA headquarters, where they know a lot about numbers and rules but not much about people. Oh-point-oh.

        That would be the graduation rate of the University of Cincinnati basketball program. The fine print explains that the rate applies only to freshmen who stay four years. It does not include junior college players who transfer in and get their degrees at UC. Nobody reads the fine print.

        You believe what you want. The Bearcats wear black. They lift weights all year. They don't back down. Their coach yells a lot. At the officials, the referees, the world. Whoever's around. Therefore, they are bullies. They are outlaws.

All about oh-point-oh
        They don't graduate anybody. Look there: Oh-point-oh. Cincinnati doesn't teach its players anything beyond a halfcourt zone trap. Cincinnati doesn't care.

        It doesn't seem to matter that, on the whole, the players who have worked for Bob Huggins are generally productive people. It's all about oh-point-oh. I checked the list. Of the 33 players who finished their eligibility under Huggins, 13 have degrees. Nine are playing pro ball. Two are enrolled at UC or elsewhere, finishing degree requirements.

        They aren't bankers, lawyers or CEOs. They didn't go to school for that. They are salesmen, accountants and ballplayers. They live useful lives.

        We use the numbers because the numbers are easy. It is simpler to stare at statistics and exclaim “Ah-ha” than it is to find out what is really happening.

        I've talked with most of Huggins' players while they were at UC. I've seen a lot of them after they've gone. Terry Nelson, Tarrance Gibson, Danny Fortson. Even Art Long, horse-whapper.

Better for experience
        They're all better people for their experience in Clifton. They've all learned a bit of what it takes to get along in the world.

        Collectively, they bear this sheepskin albatross on their backs. Oh-point-oh.

        I greatly admire the coaches whose players routinely finish what they start: Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Skip Prosser. Dean Smith. John Thompson. To perpetuate the student-athlete ideal, we need coaches like them. I wish there were more.

        But oh-point-oh is not right. It's not fair. It misrepresents what has happened at UC during Huggins' term. To paraphrase a famous quote: There are lies, damnable lies and basketball graduation rates.

        To big-time basketball players, college is trade school. For them, it is not a place for broadening intellectual vistas.

        They don't figure on becoming better-rounded people. They think if they play well — if they ace basketball — they'll get a good job. They'll find work in Europe or Asia or the Continental Basketball Association or in rare cases, the NBA. It's a narrow view. But is it much different from those of us who go to school to be teachers, lawyers or sports writers?

        I didn't go to college to become a Renaissance man. I went because I wanted a decent job when I got out. Isn't this what basketball players do?

        The class of '92 was Huggins' first at UC. Herb Jones is the only player without his degree; he's playing in Spain now. The other four — Anthony Buford, Jeff Scott, Mike Reicheneker and B.J. Ward — all have degrees.

        Go down the list, you see players playing in Spain, Belgium and Cyprus. You see productive people, doing useful things.

        Obviously, UC should do a better job graduating basketball players, if only to save itself renewed embarrassment when the next misleading survey hits. But it doesn't mean Huggins doesn't want to graduate players, or that he doesn't care. I have my beefs with Huggins. It's a big list. This isn't one of them.

        I left a message Monday for Tarrance Gibson. He last played in 1993. He couldn't get back to me right away. He was working. They love him at JTM.

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


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