BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By his own admission, Xavier's Maurice McAfee was not much of a leader last season.
As a freshman, he didn't think it was his place to tell upperclassmen where to go on the court. But as a point guard, that was his job.
It was mostly a confidence problem. McAfee wasn't physically strong enough, struggled with some decision-making, dwelled too long on mistakes and didn't always react well to coach Skip Prosser's criticism.
"He's going to get on your case if you do something good or bad, just to see if you're mentally tough," McAfee said. "It took me a year to see that . . . Now when he yells at me, I don't listen to how he says stuff, I listen to what he has to say."
While anything McAfee provided last season was considered a bonus, the Musketeers need him to be productive this year.
The 6-foot sophomore is 10 pounds heavier, stronger, and most important, more confident. McAfee, the backup to four-year starter Gary Lumpkin, has shot well in preseason, been more vocal on the court and worked to become the kind of leader XU needs.
Prosser calls McAfee the X-factor. McAfee is the most experienced returnee after Lumpkin, Lenny Brown and James Posey.
The coaches are looking for McAfee to provide energy off the bench, like Sherwin Anderson did as a senior in 1996-97.
"We think that when he comes in the game, the other team's point guard is dragging, pulling his shorts, and Moe can come in and really get after him," Battle said.
Last week against BC Danone Honved of Hungary, McAfee struggled with his shooting (1-of-7 from the field) and finished with three points, three assists, three steals and just one turnover.
McAfee averaged 2.7 points last season. He shot 32.3 percent from three-point range, had 23 steals, 20 assists and 33 turnovers. There where times when he could not physically complete a play. He noticed that, and committed himself to lifting weights every day over the summer. "I started being serious," McAfee said. "When I was here during the year, I lifted because I had to, and in the offseason I lifted because I wanted to."
It is not unusual for a point guard to struggle as a freshman. It is especially hard at Xavier because Prosser is toughest and most demanding on point guards.
Lumpkin went through growing pains. So, too, has McAfee.
"This year, I can go out there on the floor and if someone's not in the right spot, I feel more confident that I can tell them, 'You get here and you get there,' " McAfee said. "Last year, I wouldn't step up and take that role. I shouldn't have been looking at it like that."