By Jon Rothstein
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Mick Cronin might be from Cincinnati, but a piece of him is built like he grew up in New York.
Ask him the first thing he likes to do when his plane lands at LaGuardia Airport and he'll tell you instantly about the best grassroots basketball game to attend in the boroughs.
Inquire about where he likes to eat and he'll give you a list, weighing the pros and cons of ambiance versus quality of red sauce.
Cronin is a man who enjoys good living and great basketball --- and the main reason for the latter is because as he enters his sixth season as head coach of Cincinnati, he can rely on the most fertile ground for players there is --- the New York metropolitan area.
"When I got the job in 2006, the first thing I did was reach out to Mo Hicks when he was at Rice and Jimmy Salmon (NJ Playaz AAU) and told them that I needed tough, competitive kids to win in the Big East," Cronin said recently. "Those relationships and other relationships that I had helped me get a kid like Rashad Bishop, who was a big building block for us. Now we're just trying to continue to work off that."
And that process was made easier by the splash Cronin made in 2009, when then Lincoln star Lance Stephenson opted to play for the Bearcats over several other suitors across the country.
While Stephenson wasn't the first major New York area talent that Cronin lured to the Queen City, his commitment added a different wrinkle to the perception of Cincinnati basketball thanks to today's teenage generation.
"Lance was an internet sensation," Cronin said of Stephenson. "Everyone knew who he was at an early age because of the internet and how early kids are ranked. People were aware of his cache and aura. I've had roots in New York since I was an assistant at Cincinnati and recruited Kenny Satterfield when he was at Rice, but getting Lance obviously served as a spring board."
In addition to Stephenson, Cronin also has several players on his current roster from the New York area in Sean Kilpatrick (White Plains), Jermaine Sanders (Rice), and Shaquille Thomas (NIA Prep). Kilpatrick could be one of the breakout players in the Big East this season while Sanders and Thomas figure to be quality four-year players that should reflect the style Cincinnati's worked half a decade to build.
Cronin also added to his New York presence in the summer of 2010, when he added Darren Savino as an assistant. Savino had already spent time in the conference as an assistant at both Rutgers and St. John's and was instrumental in the recruitment of both Sanders and Thomas.
"I know to have success in the Big East you need to recruit the best in the New York area," Cronin said. "Hiring Darren only enhanced our ability to do just that."
Savino is also the point man for 2012 shot-blocker Chris Obekpa from Our Savior New American, the interior presence the Bearcats are targeting to replace Yancy Gates.
"Working for Mick gives us a head start on things because he's so respected in New York," Savino said. "Everyone in New York knows who Mick Cronin is and what he's done."
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