Saturday, October 16, 2004
Newcomer Muhammad has point to make for UC
By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
The advent of a new basketball season always gets University of Cincinnati fans excited. But when that new season also comes equipped with a promising new point guard, the anticipation is heightened.
With the Bearcats scheduled to take the floor at Fifth Third Arena just after midnight this morning to begin practice for their 16th season under head coach Bob Huggins, the buzz centered around Jihad Muhammad, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound point guard who transferred to UC from San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College.
UC, which will play its final season in Conference USA this year before moving to the Big East, was 25-7 last season and shared the C-USA regular-season championship with four teams.
The Bearcats won the conference tournament. Then they were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Illinois.
Assuming Muhammad, from Plainfield, N.J., beats out junior Chadd Moore for the starting job, he'll be the third new point guard in as many years for the Bearcats.
"He was the best junior-college point guard in the country," associate head coach Andy Kennedy said. "This kid's got a chance. There's four or five really high-level juco kids that go to a program like Cincinnati and make an immediate impact. He'll be one of those."
Kennedy was also excited last year at this time about the prospect of Nick Williams, another junior-college transfer, taking over at the point. Williams, who had never played the position extensively before, did his best to make the adjustment, but it soon became apparent he was better suited as a shooting guard.
Before the season was over, the Bearcats were so desperate for a point guard they had forwards James White and Armein Kirkland sharing the position.
Unlike Williams, Muhammad is a natural at the point who's experienced at pushing the ball up the court and distributing it to his teammates. He's considered the first natural point guard the Bearcats have had since Kenny Satterfield left in 2001.
He averaged 16.8 points and 5.6 assists last season at San Jacinto and was a consensus junior-college All-American.
"Jihad's always been a point guard," Huggins said. "He's kind of like (Keith) LeGree was or 'Satt' was with his understanding and his vision. He's got really good skills."
At this point, it's the players who have the best feel for how a newcomer is going to fare based on his play during pickup games.
So far, the UC veterans have been impressed by Muhammad.
"He's good at seeing the floor," Kirkland said. "He makes the right passes. He makes good decisions on the court and he can handle the ball well.
"It's going to be good to see how he does when we start playing real games."
Said senior forward Jason Maxiell: "He's fast with the ball. He wants to get a rebound and run. We'll be a lot quicker. This team loves to run and put on a show for the crowd."
But Huggins says the job is not automatically Muhammad's.
He expects Moore to offer the newcomer some serious competition.
Moore was bothered last season by a bad back, but Huggins says he's as healthy as he has been in a year and a half.
"He's gone through every conditioning thing (this year), which he didn't do a year ago," Huggins said.
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