While all of the citizens out there may be growing more and more restless and frustrated during this extremely odd period of time, we wanted to take a moment and appreciate just how much Bearcats Nation has to be thankful for since the end of the 2019 basketball season. I hope you read this article during your quarantine and reflect on the wonderful year of college sports we were so lucky to enjoy.
Coach Brannen’s Inaugural Season
Let’s jump back to summertime 2019. Mick Cronin packed his bags for spray tans and avocados across the country at UCLA. The newcomer, John Brannen, was settling in after crossing the river from NKU. While Brannen was intimately familiar with Cincinnati culture, having grown up here, would he be a good fit at UC? Yes, he took the small-town NKU Norse to unseen heights and the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, and deservedly so, an eerie cloud of uncertainty weighed heavily over Clifton for quite some time.
Not only did uncertainty exist concerning the incoming coaching staff, there was the mystery of the star player’s return for his senior season. #34 Jarron Cumberland threw his hat in the NBA draft ring for evaluation. With Cronin leaving, what would happen if Cumberland also left? It would make sense after all. His coach left and he had the chance to follow his dream in the NBA.
To add fuel to the fire, due to the newfound transfer portal, droves of role players exited UC. Just look at the list of exiting players:
- Justin Jenifer graduated;
- Cane Broom graduated;
- The talented freshman with so much upside, Logan Johnson, transferred to St. Mary’s;
- Trevor Moore transferred to Morgan State;
- Rashawn Fredericks transferred to UAB;
- LaQuill Hardnett transferred to Buffalo;
- Eliel Nsoseme transferred to Georgia State; and
- Probably the biggest punch in the gut – Nysier Brooks transferred to Miami (FL).
The team Cronin built was nearly gone. Count them – EIGHT players vanished from the Fifth Third Arena locker room within just weeks of Coach Brannen’s arrival.
What felt like a dismal beginning to the 2019-2020 basketball season was somehow uplifted with a cast of new actors. Cumberland also stuck around to finish his college legacy and put his name in the record books. In just his first season, Brannen showed sparks of the high-flying, fast-passed, fun-to-watch basketball we have craved, finishing with a share of the AAC regular season title. What more could we want given the circumstances just one summer ago?
Hats off to Coach Brannen and his staff for putting together a very solid first year with significant strides taken for the 2020-2021 season, with Keith Williams returning for his senior year.
Another 10+ Win Season and Keeping Coach Fick in Clifton
Coming off a vastly improved season, Bearcats fans had great expectations for Mike Warren and Co. Key injuries to the secondary and backfield could have spelled disaster for Coach Fickell’s squad, but through excellent coaching, the team did not miss a beat. Ja’von Hicks masterfully replaced the Freak (James Wiggins). The defense was able to literally carry the team to multiple victories. Mike Warren continued to break through defender after defender. The team was even able to win the East and compete against a very, very talented Memphis team for the conference title, despite having Desmond Ridder at 50% or so for the last few games of the year.
The football team also destroyed a Power 5 squad in the bowl game, making back-to-back bowl wins.
It is no secret Marcus Freeman is one of the most talented up-and-coming defensive coaches in the country. In his role at just 34 years old, Freeman has a clear connection with his players. Not only possessing an unteachable ability to relate to young players, Coach Freeman is a defensive guru. Whether shutting down Navy’s triple option attack or preventing a spread offense from chopping up the field, the man can flat out scheme week in and week out. All of this to say, Marcus Freeman is still the defensive coordinator at UC, having turned down multiple offers from the Tennessee Titans (NFL), Ohio State, Michigan State, and other schools where he could substantially increase his pay.
As in any field or profession, when you do your job remarkably well like Luke Fickell, the big dogs come calling to take you away. Michigan State came calling. Not only did they call, they backed up the Brink’s truck with a $5.5 million annual salary. Imagine putting yourself in his position and having the opportunity to more than double your current salary and the perks of a largescale Power 5 gig. Now imagine sending the Brink’s truck packing and sticking around to build. Not many people…. no no…. very, very few people would have the guts and sheer ability to stay. That’s exactly what Fickell did – he preached the T.E.A.M. mantra and the importance of family and friends. We kept one the top-10 hottest coaches in college football. Can you believe it?
Even the best of us fans tend to take things for granted from time to time. I hope when you read this article, you can take a deep breath, slow down, and remember just how good we have had it over the course of the last year as University of Cincinnati sports fans.
By Andy Smith