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October 18, 2008When Mick Cronin took over the Cincinnati basketball program in 2006, his first objective was simple: get players. He wasn't focused on getting the top talent, but instead trying to simply put together enough guys to field a team for the upcoming season. Cronin signed just one freshman player in that year's recruiting class, but the one he chose turned out to be a perfect fit. Not only has Deonta Vaughn earned first team All Big East honors, but his leadership in the locker room is of perhaps greater importance. His hard work and dedication have paid dividends for Cincinnati in terms of speeding up the rebuilding process.
So the question is simple. How did Deonta Vaughn, one of the Big East's top guards, slip through the cracks? How did a player of such immense caliber wind up in the hands of a coach who had taken over a program, which despite it's great history, had fallen to the absolute bottom of the college basketball world? For Cronin, it was an ability to see just how talented he was, combined with a little bit of luck.
When Cronin took over at Cincinnati, he was behind on many recruits with it being so late in the process. One recruit he had been following for quite some time was Deonta Vaughn, a relatively under the radar shooting guard from the state of Indiana.
"Well I was fortunate enough to see him at a Nike Camp before he signed at Indiana, so I was extremely comfortable with how good he was and his ability," said Cronin. "So we were able to target him immediately when we got the job."
Vaughn, who had formerly committed to Indiana University, was back on the market and looking for a team. It came down to two teams: Oakland and Cincinnati. In the end, Vaughn chose the latter. Coach Cronin considers himself lucky that a guard of his caliber was able to slip below the radar of some other schools.
"We were fortunate that he was available for whatever reason," said Cronin. "Mike Davis' transitioning at Indiana left an opening there; with Mike leaving Indiana. We were just fortunate he was available."
Cronin and his staff were one of the few that took notice of Vaughn, and that is something they pride themselves on.
"At the same time we will take a little credit for knowing how good he was and recruiting him hard right off the bat so we were able to get him before anybody else jumped in there," said Cronin.
As for Vaughn himself, the road that led him to Cincinnati was a long one. It started with him backing out of his commitment to Indiana University, something he felt he needed to do.
"Coach Cronin already knew my situation with me backing out of IU," said Vaughn. "I didn't feel like they were giving enough commitment to me, and doing the things they should do once I committed there so I opened up my options."
Once he opened up his options, Vaughn had a large number of schools showing interest in him. However, an injury forced a lot of those schools to back off. One of the coaches who stuck with him was Mick Cronin, and the decision paid off.
"I had colleges looking at me when I opened things up, but then I got an ankle sprain and some of them backed away because they didn't think I was going to make the grades," said Vaughn. "But Coach Cronin just stuck with me and I had already been liking Cincinnati for a long time."
Vaughn says the fact that Cincinnati was in the first year of a rebuilding process didn't affect his decision. He says he is used to being the go to guy on a team, so this it was nothing new for him.
"It didn't bother me at all," said Vaughn. "I've always been used to being the player that people go to on a team. Coach Cronin just told me get in shape because you're going to be that player for us. Once I committed to what he said, I came in here and worked on my game and just got faster and stronger."
Vaughn has come a long way over the past 2 seasons, and so has the program. But Vaughn stresses that they still have a lot of work to do.
"The program is still rebuilding," said Vaughn. "We still have things to prove. We're going to be a quality team this year. I've gotten faster, everybody's stronger, and everybody's smarter. We just have to bring the freshman along with us. Steve (Toyloy) already knows the game and he's been watching Cincinnati for a long time so I think everybody's ready to play this year."
As the new season approaches, Vaughn feels as though he will be better than ever. With the talent surrounding him, he hopes to take the team to new heights. The sky is the limit for Deonta, and even if he never earns All American honors, or doesn't win a national championship, I don't think anyone would argue whether or not he will go down as one of the most important players in the history of Cincinnati Basketball.
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