Cincinnati has handled the aftermath of the Crosstown Knockout about as well as you could possibly imagine.
Mick Cronin hid his players in the locker room while he made a strong statement to the media about the future of the program. After levying the suspensions on Sunday, he brought both Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj up in front of the cameras and the reporters to apologize — without reading off of a statement — for their actions. It seems like he’s done an adequate job of driving home his point that his players are going to understand just how valuable it is to have the privilege of being a scholarship basketball player; Gates, the guy that was tough enough to throw a sucker-punch that dropped Kenny Frease, was in tears as he apologized.
“My actions were just not what I’m about as a person, as an athlete. I’m sorry for the embarrassment I put on myself, the University of Cincinnati and the city of Cincinnati.”
Not choked up. Not sniffling. He cried.
“I don’t know about the environment. I can take responsibility for my actions,” Gates said. “I should have grabbed the freshmen instead of going out there throwing punches. Some people are going to say it’s fair, some people are going to say it’s unfair. That’s not up for me to decide. All I can do is take my punishment.”
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the only mistake that Cronin has made is that he may have come out too strong after the game. He got our hopes up. We were expecting blood. And when all we got was a pair of six game suspensions, we went nuts and some very good writers landed blows that were just as powerful as a right hook from Yancy Gates.
Xavier, on the other hand, did not.
Dezmine Wells sparked the melee when he shoved Ge’Lawn Guyn with 9.4 seconds left, but we were only in this situation because Tu Holloway decided to yell the Cincinnati bench that “this is my city”. Then he decided to spout off in the press conference as well, calling his team “gangstas” — which, ironically, is what every racist white person that witnessed the fight was calling him as well — and saying that they “zipped ’em up”. You know, as in Xavier put Cincinnati in body bags.
Mark Lyons was up there as well, talking about how retaliation and not allowing someone to put a hand in your face, specifically referring to Yancy Gates. The irony there is that, if you watch the entire fight, Lyons — who threw a couple of haymakers at one player on Cincinnati’s bench — is the only guy that actually settles down Gates, patting him on the chest after getting in his face.
In case you didn’t realize it before hand, but putting two young men — or, rather, old kids — in front of the national media in the internet age while the testosterone of a full-blown brawl still flowing through their veins is a bad idea. Of course they said something stupid. Obviously they didn’t show any remorse. You could see it coming a mile away.
And while their apologies the next day seemed genuine, it shouldn’t be surprising that they couldn’t control themselves with the media. The guy that recruited them to Xavier, coached the seniors for a year and was the head of the program before Chris Mack took the job couldn’t either. From the Arizona Daily Star:
Sean Miller said he was not surprised Saturday’s Xavier-Cincinnati intra-city rivalry game featured a brawl that resulted in eight player suspensions.
“Happens every game. I’m proud of those guys, I really am,” Miller said of Xavier, his former team. “I would fully expect there to be a fight.”
“If Cincinnati tries to do what they did (Saturday) they’re going to get a fight,” Miller said after UA beat Clemson on Saturday. “So I’m proud of those guys.”
“They have a chance to win it all,” Miller said. “It’s just such a great story. I’m really proud of those guys and I watch them any time that I can. No one’s going to bully those guys.”
Sean, buddy, what the hell are you doing?
I know that you still love Xavier and you have a bond with the people in the program, but do you really need to come out and say it publicly? That’s the kind of conversation you save for the fifth round at your local bar sitting at a table full of your drinking buddies.
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with what he said. I know how heated the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry is, and I know that when you’re dealing with a bunch of fiery and competitive kids, you run the risk of this happening. Sean clearly knows it too. And given his history, I don’t expect him to pick sides. But the quotes he gave can easily be twisted. He can easily be criticized. And even with the understanding that he was asked about it and that we don’t know the context of what he said, it just makes him look bad. He later issued a clarification, but it clearly came too late.
Is it any surprise that a program couldn’t control what their players said to the press when the guy that mentored their current head coach and recruited the upperclassmen couldn’t control what he said 2,000 miles away?
“It’s bad for the sport.”
“I hope no one is hurt badly.”
It’s that easy, Sean.