After a slow start to the season, Jarron Cumberland is settling in to his role as the top player off the bench for the No. 19 University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team.
The 2016 Wilmington High School graduate and his Bearcats’ teammates have the annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout with No. 24 Xavier 7 p.m. Thursday night at Fifth Third Arena on the UC campus.
This will be the fourth time this season UC has played a Top 25 opponent. The ’Cats are 1-2 with an overtime win against Iowa State 55-54 on Dec. 1 and losses to No. 21 Rhode Island 76-61 on Nov. 19 and to No. 16 Butler 75-65 on Dec. 10.
“We’re happy where we’re at right now,” said Cumberland during a recent visit to Fred Summers Court. “Wish we could have the two games back we lost … especially with my confidence and everybody else’s confidence now. We’re playing great together. We’re learning each other.”
It was indeed a growing experience for Cumberland, the former Ohio Mr. Basketball finalist. Despite playing basketball at a high level for many years, Cumberland admits the adjustment to Div. I college basketball put him on a sharp learning curve.
“I wasn’t ready for it,” said Cumberland, who finished his prep career with 2,383 points. “The speed, the whole college thing was different.”
Always a scorer regardless of his level of competition, Cumberland took the floor for Cincinnati and struggled with his shot in the first five games of the season — 42 percent from the field, 20 percent from behind the three-point line and 33 percent from the free throw line.
“I would say I was nervous when I first started,” said Cumberland, soft-spoken but candid.
And that doesn’t happen often to this well-built athlete with an adept shooting touch.
“I’d say the Final Four was the last time I was nervous, before that never … not any other game really (was I nervous),” he said.
Wilmington lost to Lima Senior, 61-58, in last March’s Div. I state semifinal game at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Since that slow start in red and black, Cumberland has been a key piece of UC’s rise in the national rankings. The No. 1 player off the bench, Cumberland’s numbers have gone up as the Bearcats have climbed the polls. In his last 14 games, Cumberland is shooting better than 41 percent from the arc and 77 percent from the free throw line.
In addition, he is being more aggressive with the ball in his hands. To start the year, 71 percent of his attempts through five games were outside the arc. That number over the last 14 games is down to 56 percent thanks to improved ball handling.
“I work on that the first thing in practice,” Cumberland said. “Coach (Antwon) Jackson said my ball handling has gotten much better and I have confidence dribbling now.”
And that confidence has led to more drives to the basket which has opened up his three-point game.
“Coach (Mick Cronin) wants me to be more aggressive and I’m working on it still,” he said. “He wants me not to be nervous, just play. Coach is going to yell at me but at the end of the day he wants me to do good.”
Cumberland’s ability to take the ball to the basket in high school was never questioned. He was simply bigger and stronger than the majority of players he faced. That wasn’t the case when he arrived in Clifton, yet he’s never let it alter the rest of his game.
Cumberland is averaging 16 minutes in 19 contests for the Bearcats. His numbers are 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds with 28 assists and 14 steals. He has twice been named the American Athletic Conference rookie of the week.
“I know college is a whole different level,” said Cumberland. “Everybody is on a Div. I scholarship. Everybody can play. I know if I have a bad night my teammates are there for me and they’re going to pick me up. If I can’t score the ball I’m going to be there to rebound the ball for them, get assists and get steals… some other ways to help us win.”
Cumberland also is winning in the classroom. Though still undecided on a major, he said he is leaning toward health education or criminal justice.
“It’s going good,” he said of his academics. “I get a lot of help in school. I look for my resources, like the people I have who can help me. I thought it would be harder for me and I would struggle a little bit, but actually I’m doing good and have confidence in myself this year.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports
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