Cincinnati basketball has come a long, long way in the last three years. It has come a light year in the last five.
Coach Cronin has slowly, pragmaticaly built a program not just individual teams. When Yancy Gates graduates this year the cupboard is hardly bare.
In fact, the current freshmen class has played moderate minutes suggesting a bright future for Jeremiah Davis, Jermaine Sanders, and Ge'Lawn Guyn.
UC has four solid options on the wing. After missing on Andrew White the available recruiting choices looked bleak. The coaching staff has rebounded. They are pushing the prep school/JuCo route hard.
Morris initially verbally committed to South Carolina. When he backed out of his verbal in December several high major schools pounced.
Cincinnati Associate Head Coach Larry Davis continues to inquire about Morris. The Bearcats loved his former AAU teammate Shawn Smith too. Smith eventually signed with Missouri.
None of the UC wing options followed traditional academic paths. Taylor certainly did not.
After three years of high school at Indianapolis' Lawrence North Taylor transferred to Louisville Western High. It was suggested by University of Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino.
Taylor was unable to get a qualifying ACT score in high school necessitating a year of prep.
Taylor landed at Virginia' Hargrave Military Academy. Hargrave Head Coach A.W. Hamilton has grown fond of Taylor's game and his maturation.
"He is the best kid I have ever coached," said Coach Hamilton. "I tell the kids this. He is our best post feeder. He sees the floor. He is one of those guys you can't take the ball from. He is so savvy."
The knock on Taylor in high school was that he was lazy at times and could be difficult to coach.
Coach Hamilton is not seeing any of that.
"We run our program just like a college would," said Coach Hamilton. "We put a major emphasis on the weight room. He went from 20% to 7% body fat. He came in benching 225. Now he is benching 275."
Saturday evening Ryan pushed his Hargrave Military squad to a 97-72 victory. They followed that up Sunday with a 120-56 massacre of RISE Academy.
Taylor played pretty well Saturday. He managed 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. He didn't hit any outside shots, but apparently can.
Taylor is prone to shooting slumps from behind the arc though his game does not suffer. He has good court vision, excellent leaping ability, and solid rebounding agility.
Hargrave Military has won 20+ games without a blemish and that trend should continue with their stacked roster.
More to the point Ryan Taylor is athletically ready to compete for Cincinnati right now. He has the production of Jermaine Sanders mixed with the ceiling of Shaquille Thomas.
Now Cincinnati just needs to get a visit from him.
Taylor takes his second official visit of the year Saturday.
Perched at the pinnacle of their season Wednesday (1/4) Cincinnati hosted Titus Rubles. The 6'8" combo forward left town enamored with the program, excited to possibly join.
His recruitment is not over though numerous posters on the traditionally-reliable Bearcattalk.com asserted as much.
Rubles' older brother Calvin filled in the gaps today.
"He is not committed right now," said Calvin Rubles. "They are the favorite right now."
Several other high major programs are attempting to get Rubles on campus.
"We are talking right now, but we haven't set up any other visits. He has (interest from) Nebraska, Southern Miss, DePaul, Marquette. That is just a few of them."
Where Taylor has been offered at two different points in his career by Cincinnati and Morris has decommitted once Crider is on his second recruitment too.
Markus Crider hails from Dayton, Ohio but played high school basketball for Huber Heights Wayne High School. His starting point guard was current Michigan State freshman Travis Trice.
Trice overachieved with his college choice and Crider underachieved. He considered DePaul but they were undergoing a coaching change at the time.
The new staff did not want him. So Crider verbally committed to Providence. And then their staff was removed.
So Crider wound up at Bridgton Academy in Western Maine.
He is playing well. He is showing himself to be a person of good character. It is just a matter of where he winds up.
"What he has got is offers from every level below the highest," said Bridgton Academy Head Coach Whit Lesure. "He has Atlantic 10 offers. He has Horizon League, Colonial. What is going on, as you can imagine, is that BIG EAST and other types of schools are still evaluating."
Crider is a difficult read as he thrives inside but lacks the height to attract tons of high major interest.
"I have heard from them (Cincinnati)," said Coach Lesure. "They have tracked him since they know him. I spoke with them late in the fall."
Crider would have to be a short power forward or slower wing at Cincinnati.
"If you are undersized at all, you could be an undersized four," said Coach Lesure. "He has a high motor, a nose for the ball. His toughness and ability and IQ are going to make up for two inches in height."
Crider could be a Marcus Sikes type players. He doesn't dribble all that well. Crider's gifts are blocking shots and rebounding with ferocity.
Of course Crider can run the floor. Don't all basketball players do that well these days?
The worry with Crider is not heart, toughness, or attitude. He even has athleticism in medium doses.
And even though Mick Cronin says he doesn't follow the positions that closely every one on the floor has to defend someboday.
Crider is still struggling to defend wings.
"It is going to take continued development," said Coach Lesure of his lateral movement out high. "He has got size 15 feet. When you look at the reasons why he couldn't guard the wing it is cause he still plays on the wing like a kid with bigger feet, like he is growing into his body."
Coach Lesure sees promise in Crider's work ethic and believes he can help a BIG EAST team.
"He is strong enough," said Coach Lesure. "He gaps someone enough. If he grows two inches now it is a moot point because he is a 6'7" 3-4. I think he is going to be ok either way. For me every once in awhile he moves his feet like a guy with 15 feet."
'Go big or go home' is the saying. Christopher Obekpa is the player.
Cincinnati coaches are investing time, resources, and visits on the Nigerian-born power forward. Christopher Obekpa arrived in the United States exactly a year ago, popping out onto the national recruiting stage in Dayton, Ohio.
The lanky, agile center seemed to block ten shots for his newfound school Our Savior New American (NY) during the elite Flyin' to the Hoop tournament.
By the way the same tournament tips Friday. It contains a glut of great basketball talent including Cincinnati Taft, Columbus Northland, Huntington Prep, Trotwood-Madison, and top players from Texas, Illinois, and Indiana.
Six games on Sunday January 16th, seven on Martin Luther King's Birthday. Must see basketball.
Fighting Cincinnati for Obekpa are DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, Texas, Memphis, Georgia Tech, and mostly UConn.
UC has been working long with the Obekpa team but the pack always catches the early leader. How the race finishes depends upon official visits. UC will host Obekpa February 23rd during the Louisville basketball game.
Wrapping the presents
This year's recruiting class can still provide support in the years to come. Missing top recruits happens to every coach. But the Bearcats need a frontcourt player to enter the program soon. Kelvin Gaines is the only low block player committed beyond 2012-2013 when Cheikh Mbodj and Yancy Gates will be gone.
Obekpa is the top target in the paint and these wings each suggest athletic contributions in the BIG EAST.