When center Robert Whaley, a transfer from Barton County C.C. in
Kansas, first met power forward Jason Maxiell in July, they were
in the Bearcats' weight room, and Maxiell chastised Whaley for
being two minutes late. "That was the last time I was late,"
Whaley says. Maxiell's tutelage continued through summer pickup
games ("He told me when I was playing soft," Whaley says), fall
workouts ("He showed me how to play help defense") and in idle
moments during practice ("Even when Coach is talking to the
guards, Max is like, 'Let's see what he's saying'").
"Whatever Jason does, he acts professionally," Whaley says. "He's
everything I dream of being."
The 6'7", 250-pound Maxiell sets an example for the entire team.
"He's the hardest-working guy we have," coach Bob Huggins says.
"If you tell him to work on something, he'll go do it." As a
freshman who averaged 8.1 points and 6.8 rebounds a game two
years ago, the Carrollton, Texas, native was named Conference
USA's sixth man of the year. Surrounded by less talent last
season, Maxiell still produced but struggled a little bit with
his shooting as a result of increased attention from defenses.
(His field goal percentage dropped from 55.2% to 44.5%.) The
addition of Whaley and four other talented newcomers, plus
another year of dogged work on his game, have Maxiell poised for
a breakout season. "His skill level has improved tremendously
from the time he got here," Huggins says.
Maxiell's skills and leadership will be crucial on a team with
five new faces. The best of that group are Whaley, a two-time
junior college All-America, and James White, a 6'7" sophomore
swingman who transferred from Florida and doesn't become eligible
until Dec. 20. If the Bearcats can get steady play from point
guard Nick Williams, another juco transfer, and sophomore backup
point guard Chadd Moore, it will allow Cincinnati to play at the
frenetic tempo Huggins favors.
"We've practiced hard, but we're tired of beating up on each
other," Maxiell says. "We're ready to beat up on someone else."
He used to be a quiet kid--"In high school, I hardly ever said a
word," Maxiell says--but now his disposition is more like his pet
rottweiler's. "She's gentle, but if you put your hands on me,
she'll get after you." Remembering all too well the
disappointment of going 17-12 last season, Maxiell has his
teammates ready to make every game a dogfight. --S.D.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO TO THE MAX Having developed his skills and leadership qualities for two seasons, Maxiell is coming on strong just in time.
2002-03 RECORD: 17-12 (9-7, T4 in Conference USA)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Gonzaga in 1st round
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF James White 6'7" Soph. 6.1 ppg*
PF Jason Maxiell 6'7" Jr. 11.9 ppg
C Robert Whaley 6'10" Jr. 7.7 rpg+
SG Field Williams 6'4" Sr. 11.6 ppg
PG Nick Williams 6'4" Jr. 12.1 ppg+
an opposing coach's view
"Offensively they were one-dimensional last season--JASON MAXIELL
is the only returning frontline player who can score. Now they
have ROBERT WHALEY, who should be an inside force, plus a
potentially great slasher in JAMES WHITE and a top shooter on the
perimeter in NICK WILLIAMS.... Even though they have a lot of new
faces, there will be no difference in their style of play. When
you play them, it's an issue of manhood. They play so hard
defensively, and you know they are going to bump you around....
The offensive stuff they run is very simple. You just have to
know that, when the shot goes up, there are going to be four guys
crashing the boards like kamikazes."
Wins last season for the Bearcats, the fewest for a team coached
by Bob Huggins since his Akron Zips went 12-14 in 1984-85.