Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Leader a quiet force for UC


Junior gives team solid foundation it can depend on

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jason Maxiell scored the 1,000th point of his University of Cincinnati career Saturday afternoon on a jump shot in the lane five minutes into the second half of the Bearcats' victory over Memphis.

[img]
Jason Maxiell leads UC in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
(AP photo)
No one stopped the game to award Maxiell the ball. There was no announcement during the game, no mention of it afterwards in the post-game press conferences, and only a brief reference to it in the paper the next day.

Maxiell, a 6-foot-7 junior forward from Carrollton, Texas, didn't even know that he had reached a milestone only 40 other players in the 102-year history of the proud UC program have reached.

"I had no idea," Maxiell said.

Maxiell's accomplishment was lost amid the hoopla over a UC victory that enabled the Bearcats to forge a five-way tie for the Conference USA championship, amid Tony Bobbitt's game-winning shot, and later amid the controversy surrounding the Bearcats' No. 3 seed in this week's C-USA Tournament at U.S. Bank Arena.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon, when Maxiell showed up for practice at Fifth Third Arena and was informed by associate athletic director Brian Teter, that he realized what he had done.

Some players might have been upset that more of a fuss wasn't made over such an accomplishment. Not Maxiell. In his case, it seemed almost fitting that nothing was said about it until he showed up for practice two days later.

From the day he first arrived at UC, Maxiell has been a hard-working player in practice. You rarely hear UC coach Bob Huggins complain about Maxiell's work ethic the way he complains about some other players. In fact, Huggins rarely ever raises his voice to Maxiell.

"He's a guy I never really had to get on because he works," Huggins said. "He came in here and he was very fortunate because he was surrounded by good guys like Lenny (Stokes) and (Immanuel McElroy) and (Steve Logan), those guys who just played like crazy in practice. He just kind of fit right in."

Maxiell, who leads UC in scoring (14.2 points), rebounding (7.0) and blocked shots (55), was named second-team all-Conference USA on Monday. He has been the steadiest player on a 21-6 team that has had its share of ups and downs this season.

He's also the quietest.

In an age when so many players mug for the camera so they can be seen on SportsCenter, Maxiell prefers to keep a low profile. It would be wrong to call his game workmanlike, because he makes so many spectacular plays, but his approach certainly is.

He doesn't shun interviews, but doesn't embrace them, either. Unlike senior Tony Bobbitt, the media favorite who always has something funny or interesting to say, Maxiell answers questions with burst of a quick sentence or two, rarely ever exposing his inner feelings.

"I'm a shy person myself," Maxiell said. "I wouldn't like the light on me all the time. Let Tony be the spokesman of the team."

"He's very unassuming," said assistant coach Andy Kennedy, who works with the UC big men. "I don't think he'd have it any other way. He comes out and does his job."

Maxiell's job was supposed to be a little easier this year. The plan was for 6-10 center Robert Whaley to prevent opposing defenses from double-teaming Maxiell they way they did so frequently last season. But Whaley didn't play up to expectations and left the team on Feb. 23.

As a result, Maxiell still finds two defenders towering over him almost every time he touches the ball on the low block.

"With him gone, it hurts a little bit," Maxiell said. "But I have other post men who can create offense. It really doesn't matter."

Maxiell has expanded his game in several areas this year. He has learned to put the ball on the floor and step out and hit the 12- to 15-foot jump shot. Most importantly, he has learned to pass out of the double team to create perimeter openings for Bobbitt and Field Williams, who needs 23 points to reach the 1,000-point mark.

And if he can't find the open man quickly enough, he has been instructed to turn and shoot over the double team; the UC coaches figuring that either Eric Hicks or Kareem Johnson will then be left free to secure the offensive rebound.

If Maxiell averages 15 points per game this year and the rest of next season, he would finish with more than 1,500 points, a plateau only 10 other UC players have reached. That would put him among such elite company as Oscar Robertson, Jack Twyman, Steve Logan, Danny Fortson and Ron Bonham.

"It feels good," Maxiell said, "but a lot of those other players have been to the Final Four and the Elite Eight, things like that. I want to hang that on my belt, also. I don't care about the points or what I did. I want to do my part for the team to get to the Final Four."

Maxiell magic

Highlights for Jason Maxiell this season:

• Leads team in scoring with 14.2 points per game, rebounding with 7.3 per game and blocked shots with 2.0 per game.

• Recorded his fifth double-double of the season Feb. 18 vs. UAB with 13 points and 12 rebounds. It was the 14th double-double of his career.

---

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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