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Thursday / February 22.
  • Cronin Sees Syracuse as Blueprint for Big East Success

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    NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden was rocking Friday night with a mostly orange-clad crowd cheering on Syracuse in a virtual home game in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

    The Orange have been synonymous with Big East basketball and Madison Square Garden since Dave Gavitt formed the league in 1979, but Syracuse is leaving the Big East for the ACC in 2013 and they aren’t coming back.

    “I love Madison Square Garden,” former Syracuse star Derrick Coleman told SNY.tv after his beloved Orange were upset by Cincinnati, 71-68. “I love coming to watch these kids play, man. It’s just going to be a sad time for us.”

    With Syracuse on its way out, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wants his program to follow their lead by recruiting good, tough players like Sean Kilpatrick — the pride of White Plains, N.Y. — who can help the Bearcats succeed in the post-Syracuse, post-Pittsburgh Big East.

    “Syracuse leaving the league, we’re trying to plant our flag,” Cronin said. “That’s my goal.”

    Kilpatrick’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:47 remaining put Cincinnati up 65-55 and essentially iced the game for the Bearcats, who handed Syracuse just their second loss all season.

    “Once [Kris Joseph] played Cash[mere] Wright, I was just wide open…so it was a good thing that Cash caught me,” Kilpatrick, who finished with 18 points, said of the shot.

    The man they call “SK” was asked if he knew the shot was good, and Cronin interjected: “He always thinks its good when he lets it go. Just ask anybody in White Plains.”

    Yes, Cronin has made recruiting tough New York-area kids like Kilpatrick a priority.

    When he first got the job, he asked then-St. Benedict’s Prep coach Dan Hurley for one of his players and ended up getting super glue guy Rashad Bishop, a Paterson, N.J., native who had a highly productive four years and is now playing professionally in Brazil.

    Cronin was in early on Kemba Walker after he asked then-Rice coach Moe Hicks for one of his players, too. Then UConn coach Jim Calhoun swooped Kemba away after he missed out on Brandon Knight.

    Two years ago, Cronin grabbed Lance Stephenson out of Brooklyn Lincoln when no other college would take the risk, and Stephenson ended up being named Big East Rookie of the Year.

    Kilpatrick initially committed to then-St. John’s coach Norm Roberts, but after heading to prep school at Notre Dame Prep he changed his mind and picked the Bearcats because it felt like family.

    Cronin asked him to redshirt his freshman year behind Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn and it paid off big-time this year as Kilpatrick was named Second-Team All-Big East.

    And most recently, Cincinnati has landed freshman Jermaine Sanders from Rice and redshirt frosh Shaq Thomas, nephew of former NBA forward Tim Thomas.

    What do these guys have in common? They’re all tough, hard-nosed New York-area kids who know how to win.

    “Well, we recruit hard up here,” Cronin said. “Sanders is going to be a good player for us. Shaq Thomas is going to be a great player for us, practices with us every day. He’s sitting behind the bench.”

    No one will ever replace Syracuse once it leaves for the ACC. And who knows if Jim Boeheim ever coaches a day in that league.

    Coleman said the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., will “never” match the drama and excitement of the Big East Tournament at the Garden for Syracuse fans.

    “But you know, it’s all money,” Coleman said. “It’s not basketball, it’s football. Trying to generate football  revenue.”

    But with Syracuse’s departure etched in stone, Cronin hopes to take a page out of Boeheim’s book.

    “My goal is to do what Jim Boeheim’s done in his career,  but I’m not staying that long,” Cronin said with a smile. “You know, take my home school and do what he’s done with Syracuse. Recruiting great players on the East Coast and trying to become a perennial power in the Big East. Makes it easier when he’s leaving.”

    Kilpatrick is one of those kids Cronin recruited to be the core of his tough, rising Big East team.

    But despite suffering a minor leg injury late in the game, the pride of White Plains isn’t done yet.

    “Right now, we have one more and we won’t be satisfied until [Saturday] night when we win this game,” Kilpatrick told SNY.tv.

    Spoken like a true Big East warrior.

    Photo: AP

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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