April 2019 brought the end of an era for basketball in the Bearcats’ corner of Cincinnati. Mick Cronin ended his 13-year tenure in Clifton, and now we embark on the John Brannen era as the upcoming season prepares to flip the calendar to 2020 and a new decade of uncharted territory.
When an unheralded, small-school coach from Akron took over this program 30 years ago, he quickly embarked on a 10-year period that saw 246 wins—the most in program history at the time. Now another unheralded, small-school coach grabs the wheel, tasked with following up a decade that saw 254 wins—a new record.
The 2010s were kind to Bearcat fans. In addition to those 25.4 wins per year for ten seasons, UC made the tournament nine times, reached the top 25 in nine seasons, hit the top ten in three seasons, won two conference regular season championships, and two conference tournament championships. They did it with the guiding hand of Mick Cronin, whose rebuild came to fruition in 2010-11. But they also did it with scores of fantastic players.
Being the guy I am, I decided to pick the ultimate 2010s Cincinnati Bearcats starting lineup, along with a second team. The fact that this was so difficult speaks to how good this program has been in recent years. We’re blessed.
Here we go.
Troy Caupain — PG
Top 25 in points scored, top five in games played (137 consecutively—third-most in program history), third all-time in career victories, fourth in career minutes played, and three all-conference selections. Oh, and one time he played 56 minutes in a single basketball game, scoring 37 points without committing a turnover. Oh, and another time he went coast-to-coast for a buzzer-beater that forced OT in an NCAA Tournament game.
Caupain was the perfect connective tissue between the Big East era and the AAC era. He was recruited to play against the likes of Syracuse and Louisville but arrived at UC in a cruel world that demanded road games against Tulane and ECU. As a freshman he found himself playing 19 minutes per game (more than starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn), riding the Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, and Titus Rubles rocketship to 27 wins, a top-10 appearance, and a share of the conference title.
Troy’s star shined in 2014-15. He lost his fellow starting guard to a season-ending injury in November and lost his head coach to an arterial dissection in December. Suddenly the Bearcats found themselves with a team that had just one senior in the rotation, no double-digit scorers, and no head coach. Caupain, only a sophomore who had not started a game as a freshman, led the team in assists and steals, was second in scoring, and third in rebounding. He powered Cincinnati to 23 wins and an 8-seed, where his buzzer beater against Purdue forced overtime and allowed the Bearcats to pull out the win, their first in the tournament since 2012.
Troy’s junior team never got off the runway, losing seven times in OT and/or by two points. It was a brutal campaign, but Caupain led the team in scoring and assists, helping to salvage 22 wins and a tournament appearance from a season that seemed cursed from the start.
College players cement legacies with senior seasons, and Troy’s served as a perfect passing of the baton to the next generation of UC basketball. Gone were the Big East bruiser types, in their place a collection of skilled weapons like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans, and Jarron Cumberland. A perfect illustration of how drastically the program morphed in Caupain’s tenure: His 9.6 points per game as a sophomore were nearly tied for the team lead. His 10.5 points per game as a senior were fourth. Troy was always the type to deliver just what the doctor ordered, so when Cronin finally had a handful of offensive weapons, Caupain took a step back in scoring and found guys like Evans, Washington, and Clark who could carry the offensive load. As a senior, he was the far-and-away assists leader and finished narrowly behind Evans for the team lead in steals.
He started with Kilpatrick, Jackson, and 27 wins. He carried the load for two years. He finished with Cumberland and 30 wins—the most by a Cincinnati team in 15 years. If you look back at the 21st century of Cincinnati basketball, it’s easy to overlook the perilous gap that the Bearcats jumped between the Big East and the American. Without Troy Caupain, they may not have survived it so brilliantly.
Sean Kilpatrick — SG
SK was one of the no-brainer selections for First Team All-Decade because he is one of the ultimate Bearcats. Glance at his UC stats, and you’ll see 9.7 points per game as a freshman in 2010-11. It’s something nobody has done for the Bearcats since. He was an instant success, right?
What you don’t see is his recruiting profile—high school graduating class: 2008. After graduating from White Plains High School north of Yonkers, New York, Kilpatrick attended a year of post-graduate school at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts. When he finally reached Cincinnati in 2009, he stood in the shadow of future NBA star Lance Stephenson. Cronin asked him to redshirt and wait yet another year to start his collegiate career. He would be two seasons removed from high school graduation before he set foot on the court at UC. The 9.7 points per game—21 in his very first outing—weren’t the mark of an overnight success, but the culmination of a long, slow grind. It’s the same story for all of Kilpatrick’s career.
Kilpatrick’s freshman team won 26 games—the most since 2002. They reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005, scoring a victory over Missouri in their opening game.
The 2011-12 season would have to clear a bar that was suddenly higher than the newly rebuilt program was accustomed to. Things did not start well. The ‘Cats lost to Presbyterian. Then Marshall. Then got stomped by Xavier in a game punctuated by an on-court brawl and several UC suspensions. Cronin quickly pivoted to a four-guard lineup centered around the team’s leading scorer: Kilpatrick. Cincinnati was reeling at the time, sitting at 5-3 and suddenly playing shorthanded, but the move paid off. The Bearcats won 10 of their next 11 games, culminating in a miraculous road win over #13 UConn thanks to an SK game-winner from deep with 2.5 seconds remaining. It was the third road win against a ranked team since the Crosstown Shootout for a team that would eventually lead the nation in wins against the top 25. The Bearcats later knocked off #12 Georgetown and #3 Syracuse en route to the Big East Tournament Championship. In the NCAA Tournament, they beat Texas before taking down #10 (3-seed) Florida State, punching a Sweet 16 ticket—Cincinnati’s only trip to the second weekend in the 2010s. Kilpatrick finished the year with the team lead in scoring while leading the conference in three-pointers. He earned Second Team All-Big East.
He did it all again a year later, earning Second Team All-Conference after scoring 17 points per game. A team that started the season 12-0 wore thin down the stretch after a nagging injury to starting point guard Cashmere Wright. Regardless, the ‘Cats managed 22 wins and a tournament appearance in the Big East’s final season before its collapse.
Kilpatrick’s senior season dazzled. It’s easy to forget—knowing what we know now—that the success of the 2013-14 Bearcats was not a foregone conclusion. A team that didn’t totally click the previous year lost three starters: Wright, JaQuon Parker, and Cheikh Mbodj. They also lost depth when Jeremiah Davis III and Kelvin Gaines transferred. Tasked with aiding Kilpatrick was a pair of big men who’d averaged a combined 9.7 points the previous season. They were picked to finish fourth in the inaugural AAC preseason coaches poll, and even that felt generous at the time, considering the ammunition Louisville, UConn, and Memphis were bringing back.
The team took off. After back-to-back emotional December losses—one at New Mexico and the other against Xavier at US Bank Arena, the ‘Cats exploded for 15 consecutive wins, surging to 22-2, #7 in the AP Poll. Kilpatrick was averaging more than 20 points per game—a first by a Bearcat since Steve Logan in 2001-02. He rode his hot streak to 2,000 career points, joining Oscar Robertson as the only Bearcat to do so.
Cincinnati faltered against an underrated Harvard team in the tournament but succeeded in laying the groundwork for the future. Thanks to Kilpatrick’s leadership and stellar play in 2013-14, the Bearcats survived (and thrived) in the transition to the AAC. While other programs stumbled in the new league, the Bearcats never missed a beat. SK deserves a lot of the credit there.
Not only is SK one of the all-time great Bearcats, but he was also the cornerstone of the program’s rebirth under Mick Cronin. He (along with Justin Jackson) was the first Bearcat to make four NCAA tournament trips since Jason Maxiell. Over the decades, the Bearcats have become known as a tough, defensive-minded program, but while the ’90s were marked by high-flying swagger, the 2010s were defined by these kinds of gritty, hard-working underdogs that bound together to return the program to national success. Kilpatrick is the embodiment of that. He was a slept-on recruit that waited two years between high school graduation and his UC debut, but he left Clifton as a First Team AP All-American and the second leading scorer in the storied history of Cincinnati basketball.
Jarron Cumberland — SF
I remember the day Jarron Cumberland committed to UC because it felt like a big moment for the program. 2014-15 was a tough year for the Bearcats. Gary Clark had finished his freshman campaign, which was promising. Jacob Evans was on his way to UC, which felt good. But those two were still relatively unknown commodities. It felt like the 'Cats needed a big fish, and they got it with the four-star local kid. When the news broke, I told a friend, "Wow. The Bearcats just got the next Sean Kilpatrick." At the time, it felt a bit hyperbolic. I recognize I'm a homer more than I am a scout. And doing what SK did is hard. But four years later, I think it was reasonably prophetic.
It feels weird to be placing a kid on the all-decade list while he's still an active player (as of this writing) but what Jarron has done in three years is worthy of First Team All-Decade distinction. Rather than write a soliloquy on his defining career moments (which may get further additions yet), let's talk about how quickly the kid they call Teddy has slid up UC's record books.
Consider this: Cumberland's 18.8 points as a junior are most by a UC non-senior since Danny Fortson averaged 20+ twice before leaving early for the NBA. Nobody else since 1992-93 racked up as many points as a junior, not even Kilpatrick. SK had the luxury of more early playing time than Teddy, but even still, his freshman-to-junior point total is just 81 ahead of Jarron's. I think it's easy to underappreciate what's in front of you, especially in college sports where players usually aren't given the "WOW WE ARE SO LUCKY TO HAVE YOU" treatment until their senior year. But don't lose sight of the fact that Cumberland has only played three seasons—and just two as a starter—yet sits top-20 in scoring at a program like Cincinnati. That's incredible. Of the ten players on this list, Teddy is fourth in career points, and that's without his showcase senior season.
Should he choose to return to Clifton, he has 2,000 square in his sights. Even assuming UC plays the bare minimum of 32 games, he needs to average 19.9 points—a realistic number considering last year's 18.8 and the fact that Cumberland will likely carry a more significant scoring load as a senior and play in a more score-happy offensive system. When SK hit 2,000 that afternoon against Louisville, it felt so special because I wasn't sure I'd see it again for a decade or two. (I mean, nobody had done it since 1960 until SK.) The fact that there's a chance we could see it within the next year is not lost on me.
Teddy is special, and we may have the blessing to watch him another year. Appreciate him. He's one of the best of the decade.
Gary Clark — PF
This was my second First Team All-Decade no-brainer. I already waxed poetic about Gary Clark—my favorite Bearcat ever—so I won't drone on here. Gary was perfect.
In a decade coached exclusively by Mick Cronin, there are a few things Cincinnati could count on in those 94 feet: Defense and veterans. Cronin loves some defense, but he also loves upperclassmen. One of the biggest reasons for UC's sustained success under Mick was the deep-rooted culture that eliminated costly transfers and led to continuous veteran leadership. If there was a position battle, a safe bet for fans was to assume the victor would be whoever had spent more years in the system. There weren't many freshmen contributing significant minutes.
Just three rookies in the 2010s played more than 750 minutes: Lance Stephenson, Jacob Evans, and Gary Clark. Across ten seasons, only two started more than 11 games: Stephenson and Clark. Lance, in his lone UC year, started 32 of 34 games. Gary Clark started all 34. Gary was the only freshman to earn complete trust from a coach obsessed with experience.
It's a testament to who he is as a person that you could find an army of supporters for the kid even if he were average for four years. But look at the UC record books, and you'll see a kid who left an indelible impact on the program on the court as much as he did off it.
Here's just some of what Gary did: Joined Jack Twyman and Oscar Robertson (likely the two best players in program history) in the 1,400-point, 1,100-rebound club. Earned an AP All-American Honorable Mention as a senior. Won more individual league honors than any player in program history (AAC Player of the Year, AAC Tournament MVP, unanimous First Team All-AAC, two AAC Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and an AAC Sportsmanship Award). Became one of two players in program history to lead the Bearcats in rebounding for four seasons. Played in more games than anyone but Sean Kilpatrick, and never missed one. Started fourteen more games than the next closest Bearcat, and won more of them than anyone but Steve Logan. Finished third in program history in rebounding. Blocked more shots than all but four Bearcats and recorded more steals than any UC big man ever.
He pioneered the soaring, perimeter block before Zion stole it and popularized it. He blocked a shot shortly after being seated. He erased a shot to help seal a conference title. He finished one of the better alley-oops I’ve seen. He sunk the free throw that won the conference tournament.
Exhausted? Gary Clark is the kind of player whose accolades are exhausting. He's Cincinnati's best power forward of the decade.
Yancy Gates — C
I think Yancy Gates may be the most underrated star of the 2010s.
It may seem impossible that a former five-star local product who chose the Bearcats over programs like Georgetown and Indiana went underappreciated, but I think it's true. It's the Gunner Kiel Syndrome. It's not that Kiel’s career was terrible (and I've vouched for the opposite), but the lofty expectations placed on him by others were nearly impossible to meet.
No, Yancy was not an unstoppable force. He wasn't turning in SportsCenter Top 10 plays regularly, and he wasn't an NBA lottery pick. Yancy didn't single-handedly power the team in any of his four years. But I don't think any of those were his responsibility, and I think he was still a damn good college basketball player.
Perhaps most important to Yancy's legacy was his role in re-establishing Cincinnati basketball in the wake of the Bob Huggins fiasco and the untimely move to the Big East. After two rough seasons to open the Cronin tenure, Yancy's teams had a winning record all four years. When he committed to UC, the team had 24 total wins in the previous two seasons. As a junior and senior, his teams won 26 games each, also winning three tournament games in that span—as many as 2002-2010 combined.
Yancy finished strong. His senior year—and unfortunately his legacy as a whole—will forever be tied to the Xavier brawl and his role in it. However, after his six-game suspension, he came back focused. In March of his last season (specifically, the six games leading up to the Sweet 16 matchup against Ohio State) he averaged 15.2 points. In a double-overtime epic against Georgetown to open the Big East Tournament, he played 46 minutes, scoring 23 points and reeling in eight rebounds. The following night in an upset of #2 Syracuse, he added 18 and seven. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Texas, he chipped in a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Yancy's best games were in the last month of his career, and it's no coincidence that many of those games were also Cincinnati's biggest wins of the decade.
The impressive finish shouldn't undersell his career numbers, though.
He’s top 15 in career scoring. He's just the second player since 1992-93 to average double-digits four consecutive years (joining Deonta Vaughn) and the first player in program history (later joined by Gary Clark) to lead the team in rebounding four straight years. As a senior, he averaged 12.2 points and 8.9 rebounds. These numbers may not sound otherworldly, but they put him in elite company. Since 1992-93, the only Bearcats to equal or surpass those averages are Dontonio Wingfield, Danny Fortson (x2), Kenyon Martin, and Eric Hicks (x2).
I lived in the same building as Yancy during my freshman year in 2011-12. Passing him in the lobby was like seeing Bigfoot. For his senior year, UC listed him at 6'9" 260lbs. For reference, that's the same size as LeBron James. Yancy looked like two people had been taped together; like you had taken a normal man and hit him with a reverse shrink ray. I'm a reasonably tall person. As a freshman, Yancy had me by six inches (which is strange) and about 100 pounds (which is surreal).
It's part of how I remember him. A statue in motion; bawling before Senior Day and a blitzing of #8 Marquette; powering the Bearcats to a 2OT victory to set up Cincinnati’s most magical win of the decade.
Some fans may not feel he met the five-star expectations placed upon him, but he didn't ask for those. He just showed up and helped the Bearcats win at a time when they were desperate for just that.
Cashmere Wright — PG
Cashmere Wright was behind the eight ball from the start. He suffered a brutal ACL tear in his first collegiate practice that threatened to end his UC career before it started. Eight years later—to the day—the same injury ended his pro career. Throughout his time in Clifton, especially at the end of his senior season, he was nagged by the injury bug. You’d hardly know, looking at his numbers. He played the second most games in Bearcat history and sits top 25 in scoring. For a guy named Cashmere, he was anything but soft.
But when he wasn’t being razzed by Sean Kilpatrick and Larry Davis, he was the life of the party on the court. He went off for 22 points and six triples in a massive home win over Louisville in 2012. His runner in the lane served as the game-winner in a double-OT Big East Tournament game against Georgetown. The following December, he hit one of the most electric shots of the decade in a win over Alabama and Crimson Tide assistant John Brannen. I struggled with whether or not to include Cashmere in the First Team, as he and Caupain were extremely tight in many categories (they finished tied in career points). I obviously ended up going with Troy, but I wouldn’t knock anyone who sees Cash as the best point guard of the decade. He was that good.
Dion Dixon — SG
He started 37 games as a senior—most in program history. He appeared in 137 total games, fourth-most in UC history. Dion Dixon was kind of just always there. It led to some fun.
He’s a man responsible for two unforgettable, iconic moments. The first was when he absolutely baptized Public Enemy No. 1 Chane Behanan at The Shoe, leading to an incredible photograph. The second was his steal and dunk to give Cincinnati the lead over Florida State and eventually punch a Sweet 16 ticket.
His 1,281 career points are nothing to scoff at either, and scoring more than Kenyon Martin is no small feat, especially in the Old Big East. For years, Dixon was one of Cincinnati’s rocks. The fact that he had pogo sticks for legs made him all the more fun to watch.
Jacob Evans — SF
Jacob Evans was a four-star recruit, so his success was never really a shock to me, but I’ve gotta say the first time I realized he was going to be something special was when he put the exclamation mark on a big win over the UConn Huskies as a freshman in 2016. Big Game Jake was born. Whenever there was a big moment to be had, it felt like Evans was there to come through.
He hit an absurdly ballsy shot against Marshall. He hung a W in an ugly, comeback win in Philly. In the 2018 de-facto regular season championship game at #11 Wichita State, he blew out an ankle and immediately hit a massive three-pointer to re-gain the lead.
He shot 37.7% from deep in his UC career, fifth-best by a Bearcat. Despite forgoing his senior season, he racked up 1,233 career points, good for 32nd in program history. He was drafted by the defending-champion Golden State Warriors in the first round, the first Bearcat to go in the first since Jason Maxiell in 2005. In three seasons, he became one of the best Bearcats of the decade.
Justin Jackson — PF
I dunno how it worked out this way, but the Second Team is nearly just a list of my most beloved Bearcats.
Kids these days don’t realize the cultural impact Justin Jackson’s senior season had on the program and fan base. As a sophomore, JJ played a supporting role on the Sweet 16 team. His production dipped as a junior, and he shot just 42% in 19mpg, averaging a nondescript 3.8 points. For his final go in Clifton, his job was to help Preseason All-AAC guard Sean Kilpatrick. To be honest, it was a tall task, and you couldn’t fault skeptics who didn’t see how 2013-14 could be fruitful.
But Jackson exploded onto the scene. He was dunking like a maniac, blocking shots like his life depended on it, diving over scorer’s tables and making #JustinJacksonMeanFace such a recognizable thing that UC actually got permission from the NCAA to print t-shirts of a current player to be handed out for the Louisville game. I still can’t believe that happened, especially for a guy who’d never averaged six points per game.
I’ve seen better individual seasons, but I don’t know if any player was as fun to watch over the course of one year as senior-year JJ was.
The 2013-14 Bearcats shocked the country, winning 27 games and peaking at #7 in the AP Poll in February—UC’s highest ranking in a decade. They could never have done it without their Dennis Rodman, Justin Jackson.
Kyle Washington — C
He was an All-Conference Honorable Mention as as senior and made the All-AAC Tournament team en route to UC’s highest NCAA Tournament seed in 17 years. His offensive aptitude was overshadowed by Gary Clark, but he was otherwise the most offensively capable big man UC had in years. He quietly averaged 12.1 points as a Bearcat and did it while shooting a brisk 53% from inside the arc and 36% from deep—great for Bearcat bigs that are typically more of the dunking type (see 2014’s “center” above, who didn’t attempt a single three as a senior).
I never thought I’d include a transfer player on an All-Decade team, but Kyle Washington was not your normal transfer. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an “outsider” become so endeared to the fan base in two seasons. Whether he was “just networking” or hitting one of the biggest shots in years to tie the AAC Championship Game in the final minute, he seemed to be part of four years’ worth of memorable moments in half that time. For a guy who was always laid-back, charming, and funny off the court, his on-court demeanor was often boisterous. More than a year removed from the end of abbreviated UC career, I was still feeling his loss. He’s one of my favorite Bearcats. I wish we had four seasons of him.