Sunday, May 4, 2003

Cronin's goal is to outfox ex-employers UC, U of L for recruits

College basketball insider

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Mick Cronin left the University of Cincinnati in 2001 to become the associate head coach at Louisville, some UC fans viewed it as an act of disloyalty to coach Bob Huggins, who had given Cronin his first collegiate coaching position.

Cronin viewed it as a chance to pad his resume in his quest to become a head coach.

After two years alongside Rick Pitino at Louisville, Cronin was proven right when he was named the head coach at Murray State University on April 5.

"Going through the interview process, the fact that I had been with Coach Huggins as well as Coach Pitino impressed the committee," Cronin said. "I had been in the state of Kentucky as an assistant. That helped me with this job. Not being confined to a guy who had only been in Cincinnati probably helped."

Cronin is the second of Huggins' former UC assistants to become a head coach on the Division I level. The other is Larry Harrison, who has been the head coach at Hartford for the past three years.

Harrison, who spent three years as an assistant at DePaul after leaving UC, is 34-55 at Hartford but has improved from four wins in his first season to a 16-13 record last season.

Cronin began his coaching career in 1991 as the junior-varsity coach at Woodward under Jim Leon.

"I wasn't a big-time college player," Cronin said. "Guys in this business are happy for me, because they know I've worked my way up. At the same time, I'm still fortunate. There are a lot of guys who put in their time and worked hard and don't get the opportunity."

Cronin, 31, a graduate of La Salle High, plans to employ a running, pressing style at Murray State, which has won the regular-season or tournament championship in the Ohio Valley Conference 12 of the past 16 years.

"You've got to coach your personality," Cronin said. "I like to coach that way. Kids like to be aggressive. The more shots kids get, you play more people and guys get an opportunity. There are more shots and more possessions. If you're going to play that way, you've got to train that way. That's one thing I learned from Pitino."

From a recruiting standpoint, Cronin no longer will compete for the same caliber of player he pursued at UC and Louisville. Coaching at a so-called mid-major program, he'll have to be more creative as he tries to uncover talented players.

"I've got to outsmart them," Cronin said. "I've got to pull the trigger on a guy that Cincinnati and Louisville may be thinking is good enough. While they're thinking, I've got to get him."

RULES CHANGES: Huggins has a suggestion for all those on the rules committee who met in Indianapolis last week to discuss widening the lane and moving back the 3-point line: The game is fine.

Leave it alone.

"I'm not for widening the lane," he said. "We don't have post guys left anyway. It's not like everybody's got Shaq down there. I like our game better than the European game. I don't understand."

There's also a proposal to extend the 3-point line from 19 feet, 9 inches to the international standard of 20 feet, 6 inches and widen the lane from 12 feet to either the NBA distance of 16 feet or the trapezoid used in international competition.

Huggins said the current 3-point distance adds excitement.

"If it's too close, they shouldn't have put it where they did when they first did it," he said. "Where the 3-point line is, it's good for high school kids. It's good for the women. So we're going to move it back for college kids and keep it the same for high schools and the women? Why don't they move the basket up to 11 feet?"

DESTINATION JOB: From now on, when there are discussions about the high-profile coaches in Conference USA, Tom Crean will be mentioned alongside Huggins, Louisville's Pitino and Memphis' John Calipari.

Crean did the league a huge favor by being the first to take a C-USA school to the Final Four, then further endeared himself to the conference by spurning overtures from Illinois of the Big Ten and signing a new contract with Marquette.

For C-USA, which is still trying to shake its image as a glorified mid-major league, Crean's decision to stay at Marquette lent support to its claim that it deserves to be considered a major conference.



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