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March 3, 2003

Cronin finally hears sounds of basketball

From: Jackson Clarion Ledger, MS - 03 Mar 2003

By Mike Christensen

GOODMAN - There's been a whole lot of cheering going on this season for the Holmes Community College Bulldogs, who've already won 21 games and a division championship.

And for the first time in his basketball career, Brian Cronin, the Bulldogs' sophomore point guard, has heard them.

The cheers, the grunts, the whistles, the buzzers - all the noise associated with a basketball game - Cronin has heard for the first time on court.

Deaf from birth, Cronin now has a moisture-proof hearing aid he can wear while playing.

"I never realized how loud it was during a basketball game," he said, flashing the bright smile that comes to him so frequently.

Holmes' Bulldogs and 15 other men's and women's teams will compete for NJCAA Region 23 championships this week at Wood Coliseum in Clinton, which just happens to be Cronin's hometown.

He'll get a chance to flash the skills that have garnered the attention of Division I recruiters when the Bulldogs open against East Central tonight at 8.

"You won't find too many like him," says Holmes coach Todd Kimble.

And that's true on many levels.

Cronin is 22 years old, having spent two years after high school graduation serving his Mormon mission in Las Vegas.

He's married, and he and wife Jennifer live in Clinton, from where he commutes the 50 miles to Holmes each weekday.

In the classroom, he's a 4.0 student, and on the court, he ranks among the top 5 in the country with 10 assists per game.

All of which is almost enough to make you forget Brian Cronin has been deaf all his life.

Cronin acknowledges his parents, Ken and Sue Cronin of Clinton, for instilling in him and his brother Kevin, also born deaf, the kind of rare determination it takes to succeed when fate has dealt you a bad hand.

Kevin Cronin was a standout baseball player at Clinton High and Hinds CC.

"I have to give credit to my parents for not believing that we'd have to be limited to deaf society," Brian Cronin said.

"They taught us how to talk, and they let us believe we're just like everybody else, that we can accomplish whatever we want to, just like a hearing person can."

With a hearing aid, Cronin says he hears "well enough to communicate and understand."

But he still relies on reading lips and interpreting body language, skills that are essential on the basketball court, where, as the point guard on offense, he must serve as the conduit between the coach and the team.

At Madison-Ridgeland Academy, where Cronin led the Patriots to Academy state and overall championships in 1999, coach Richard Duease often just turned the reins over to Cronin.

At Holmes, it's not that simple.

"At MRA, Coach Duease would tell me before the game what he wanted us to do, and he'd let me run the show," Cronin said. "But here, it's a much faster-paced game. It's more complicated."

Cronin says there are times when he hears Kimble yelling out a play from the sideline but can't hear well enough to understand it without looking.

When that's not possible, one of the other players will relay the play. Or Cronin will just call one himself, and Kimble has no big problem with that.

"His ability to think as a point guard is off the charts," said Kimble, who was a point guard himself at Delta State.

In fact, Kimble's background is a big reason Cronin wound up at Holmes.

Kimble signed him out of MRA, but when Cronin left for his church mission, they lost touch. When Cronin returned, he enrolled at Mississippi College, to be close to his family, and played one semester for the Choctaws, where he was one of several point guards vying for court time.

He quit to get married - but also to look for a place where he could play more regularly.

"I have great respect for MC and their coaches, but I wanted to go somewhere where I was thrown into the fire," Cronin said. "I knew Coach Kimble was a point guard in college and he could teach me things."

Kimble said he was thrilled when Duease called him one day last summer and said he had a player for him.

"Brian was the last piece of the puzzle for us," Kimble said.

Cronin has blended in well with a cast that includes Provine alumnus Sandrell Spann, Murrah product Jeremy Cable and Jermaine Willis.

"I'm playing with some guys who are unbelievable, offensively," Cronin said. "The way they run the floor, I'm lucky just to keep up with them."

Actually, it's the 5-foot-11, 170-pound point guard leading the way for the Bulldogs, who are one good run - just three wins - away from a trip to the NJCAA nationals in Hutchinson, Kan.

"Early in the year, when the rest of the team was having to get used to Brian, things weren't easy," Kimble said. "They've had to learn to communicate with him, and that has actually helped this team.

"When you watch us play, you'd never even know he's got a hearing problem."

Copyright © 2003, The Clarion-Ledger.