By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Andy Kennedy makes no attempt to downplay the importance of this summer's recruiting work.
With the University of Cincinnati set to move into the demanding Big East Conference for the 2005-06 season, it's more important than ever that UC attract talented players to its program if it hopes to compete successfully with the likes of national champion Connecticut, Pittsburgh and the other members of a league that some experts say will be the most competitive in the country.
"This is the first class that's going to be in the Big East, so this was going to be groundbreaking," said Kennedy, UC's recruiting coordinator.
Assembling that class became more difficult with the indefinite suspension of head coach Bob Huggins on Saturday, but Kennedy said he's confident the Bearcats can overcome it.
"Huggs is the cornerstone of it all," Kennedy said. "It won't be easy. The biggest problem is overcoming everyone saying he's not coming back. But the fact that he's not going to be on the recruiting trail in July I believe is something we can overcome."
Kennedy and assistant coach Keith LeGree, who do most of the recruiting legwork for Huggins, will work with interim head coach Dan Peters to evaluate and recruit prospects for that first Big East season.
"I definitely sell Huggs," LeGree said. "The University of Cincinnati comes along, but the guy that these kids are playing for is Bob Huggins. That's something that's going to be in limbo right now because we don't know exactly when Huggs will be back."
Kennedy and LeGree are not allowed to contact recruits at this time of year, but recruits can contact them and both coaches said the prospects they've talked to have indicated that they are still interested in UC despite Huggins' suspension.
The Bearcats lose three scholarship seniors next spring - Jason Maxiell, Nick Williams and Jamaal Lucas.
The Bearcats have three players signed for next season - point guard Jihad Muhammad, forward Roy Bright and shooting guard Vincent Banks.
They're also still looking for a big man to help them this season - their last in Conference USA.
Even without Huggins' physical presence on the recruiting trail, Kennedy said his influence on the program will continue to be felt.
"I'm still working for Bob Huggins," Kennedy said. "This program is Bob Huggins' program until I'm told otherwise. Coach Peters and I will continue our relationship as it has been.
"In July, he will be out (recruiting) more than he has in the past. But it's not like it's the first time he's coached college basketball. I'm hopeful that we won't miss a beat."
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