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April 14, 2011

UC lands big man

"He signed the scholarship and national letter of intent this morning," said Grayson County College Head Basketball Coach Pat Rafferty.

There is no more speculation. After his official visit Saturday/Sunday Cheikh Mbodji becomes the final piece of the Class of 2011.

What can this mystery man do on the basketball court?

"I kind of classify him as a hybrid four," said Coach Rafferty. "He has great size and length, long arms. He can play facing the basket. He can pass. He can defend out on the floor and also get some things done around the basket."

Ideally UC will be able to use him out on the floor, helping with the full court press. Much of the Bearcat success in 2010-2011 derived from the implementation of the full court press.

Justin Jackson and Darnell Wilks were able to help pressure the ball in the backcourt. Players like Biggie McClain and Ibrahima Thomas were not. UC Head Coach Mick Cronin is wisely signing pieces that will fit into his puzzle.

Octavius Ellis, Shaq Thomas, and now Cheikh Mbodji all form fit, edging in nicely.

Unlike powerforward Ellis and small forward Thomas, Mbodji will be ready to play immediately.

As a junior college transfer Mbodji has two years of eligibility remaining. And UC plans to use them. With Yancy Gates entering his final season the UC frontline is thin.

Coach Cronin has Gates, Jackson (primarily a 3), redshirt candidate Ellis, Mbodji, and Kelvin Gaines on his roster now.

Gaines spent this past year redshirting and will be competing for time all summer long. Mbodji gives both size, length, but also the imperative quickness. Cincinnati likes his lateral movement and high energy.

Final decision

In the end it came down to two schools for Mbodji.

"It came down to San Diego State and Cincinnati," said Coach Rafferty. "Those were his two final choices."

San Diego State also plays an uptempo style. Head Coach Steve Fisher mounted a startling 34-3 season before ultimately falling to, sound familiar, the Connecticut Huskies.

The visit

Mbodji made his visit over the weekend. Upon his return he shared a glowing report with Coach Rafferty.

"I think it was an all-inclusive thing," said Coach Rafferty. "The things that stood out to him were academics. They mapped out his academic track."

At the Awards Banquet Coach Cronin proudly touted his team's academic success. Players like Ibrahima Thomas recorded outstanding grades in the classroom on top of competing daily on the court.

"He met with the president," said Coach Rafferty. "The president made time for him. (Ibrahima) Thomas, they have a history together. And how he could reflect on his experience there in the program and how he has been treated."

Thomas was an invaluable recruiter in the process. He shares a common past with Mbodji, as both came to United States with college dreams.

While Mbodji has a familiarity with Thomas, Coach Rafferty knows Coach Cronin well. In the end this came down to relationships.

"I had a kid play for Huggs in the late 90's named D'Juan Baker," said Coach Rafferty. "It was a different program at that time. Mick was just transitioning into the program. This was 1995, so that was when I first became acquainted with Mick."

Coach Cronin had accepted his first college coaching position.

"And I have known Darren (Savino) for awhile," said Coach Rafferty. "So there is some comfort now. But when it come down with it, it was what the kid was comfortable with."

Cincinnati gets younger and quicker with the signing. Coach Cronin absolutely needed a frontcourt player, but more than that he needed a game-ready player. Ellis is a few years of weight training away. Mbodji is the immediate future.

Cincinnati NEWS


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