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Cincinnati senior guard Damon Flint's arms--much like, well,
Damon Flint--go on and on and on. In his 23 years, the
loquacious Flint has never actually measured his sleeve ("All I
know is, it's long," he says), but then a couple of harmless
digits wouldn't be a fair indication of how much damage those
limbs can inflict on an opponent. At 6'5" and 201 pounds, Flint
can obstruct a point guard's line of vision, strip a shooting
guard of the ball or block a small forward's jump shot. In his
crouch he resembles nothing so much as a spider moving in on a
helpless fly; as a junior he led the Bearcats in steals and was
voted the best defender on what was then one of the best
defensive teams in the land. "I can stop whoever I feel like
stopping," he says.

Flint put his bedeviling D on national display last season in
the NCAA tournament Southeast Regional semifinal, in which he
harassed Georgia Tech playmaker Stephon Marbury into 4-of-13
shooting in Cincinnati's 87-70 victory. About the only time
Flint's grasp failed to match his reach was when a loose ball
slipped through his fingers as both he and the ball bounced
out-of-bounds at midcourt where the CBS broadcast crew sat on
the sideline. As Flint scrambled to his feet, he smiled and
extended his hand to commentator Billy Packer. "If I got that
ball, it would have been a highlight for you," Flint said as
they shook.

From manhandler to glad-hander, there's no role Flint won't
fill. Last season he averaged 12.8 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0
boards per game. "He can play any position he wants to," says
Bearcats forward Danny Fortson. "He's a forward, he's a point
guard, he's a shooter, he's a passer. And he's got the longest
arms I've ever seen." Adds Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, "Damon
came here with the idea that he's a great scorer. Now he knows
his strength is in his versatility and his unselfishness--all
the little things he can do to help us win."

Although it may appear that Flint plays with his heart on his
sleeve, he actually has it drawn under his uniform. Inscribed in
Magic Marker on his game T-shirt is the name of his mother,
Donna Walker, and the number 1. Damon was at his mom's bedside
when she died of cancer on Aug. 3, 1991. "She was right in my
face when she died, and I couldn't do anything about it--that's
what hurts me so bad," Flint says. "If it wasn't for basketball,
I don't know what I'd be doing. Every day she's on my mind and
on my body."

He pauses. "I've been thinking about getting a tattoo," he says,
"but I'm kind of scared."

With the support of his grandparents, James and Katherine Allen,
Flint persevered through his mother's illness and death and, as
a senior at Woodward High in 1993, was named Cincinnati's player
of the year. He considered going to UC but took careful note of
Huggins's less-than-personable courtside demeanor and decided to
sign with Ohio State. After the NCAA found the Buckeyes guilty
of violations in Flint's recruitment, however, he was released
from his letter of intent. So he reconsidered, joined the
Bearcats and almost immediately regretted his decision.

As a freshman he was thrust into the point guard spot, where he
averaged 3.4 turnovers a game and shot just 37.5% from the
floor, even though one out of every six of his field goals was a
dunk. A turf-toe injury hobbled him throughout his sophomore
year and led to prolonged shouting matches with Huggins over his
effort and the state of his health. (It was only after the
season ended, when a friend of Huggins's pointed out that turf
toe had ended the career of Pittsurgh Steelers middle linebacker
Jack Lambert, that the coach realized Flint might have been more
badly hurt than he had thought.)

Flint sat and sulked in his room for hours at a time. "When I
get healthy, I'm coming back strong," he would say, "and the
NCAA better watch out." The highlight of his season came on
Christmas Eve, when his daughter, Kala, was born. Her mother,
April Hedges, has been Flint's girlfriend since 10th grade. "It
felt great to have a child who looks just like my mother," he
says. "Seeing her made me work that much harder."

The payoff from that hard work came in the NCAAs last season;
during the first three games of the tournament Flint averaged
19.3 points and nailed 37.5% of his threes. But it all
disintegrated quickly in Cincinnati's 73-63 loss to Mississippi
State in the regional final. While Flint made his defensive
presence felt in that game, shutting down 6'1" point guard
Darryl Wilson before switching assignments to stop 6'7" small
forward Dontae' Jones, he almost single-handedly short-circuited
his own team's attack. He made one shot--a layup--in 12
attempts, and went 0 for 7 from beyond the arc. In 35 minutes,
he scored two points.

The game also stopped any talk of Flint's skipping his senior
year to go pro. "I just told Damon that if he was ready for the
NBA," Huggins recalls, "then I was going to make a comeback."

True, Flint's flat lefthanded J does often go astray, but his
spectacular open-court skills and hounding defense ensure that
he will one day play for pay. Then he'll be able to go into a
tony men's store and get properly fitted for a jacket, rather
than relying on his current method of fast-breaking from rack to
rack, hoping for the best. "It's hard for me to shop, I'll tell
you that," Flint says. "The stuff may look like it's the right
size, but those arms, man, they hurt me."

Try telling that to the guys who have to dribble around them.

--Hank Hersch

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER A national title is within the grasp of Flint, Cincinnati's garrulous guard and the long arm of the Bearcats' defense. [Damon Flint]