By Joe Clark | Staff Writer
Adam Baum remembers being at his grandparents’ house, eyes glued to the TV in sheer anticipation.
It was 2004, and Xavier was back in the NCAA Tournament. As a native Cincinnatian, he knew what was on the line, having been exposed to the rich history of Xavier basketball before.
“I can remember, I’m pretty sure, they played Duke on a Sunday in the Elite Eight for a spot in the Final Four,” Baum recalled. “I could not sit down. I was so invested in that game. I still remember bits and pieces of that game. I still go back and look at pictures in the Enquirer archives of that game.”
It was a memorable season for Baum to immerse himself into as a fan, and he reflected on his affinity for the team.
“The thing that I love about that team and that story is that they started that year like 10-9,” Baum said. “They were not a good team by any stretch, and then they actually beat UC here in the Crosstown Shootout. Lionel Chalmers hit a game-winner basically at the buzzer, and they won seven in a row after that.”
Fifteen years later, Baum finds himself in a new position — in his second season as the Xavier beat reporter for the Enquirer.
He shared his thoughts and insights about the Musketeers heading into the 2019-20 season.
“There is no reason that this team — with its size, athleticism and depth can’t be an elite defensive team,” Baum said. “They should have no problem shutting teams down. Last year, they really struggled to do that. They gave up big runs. Offensively, it was the turnover trap. I felt like last year, they flat-out played their way out of games by being careless with the basketball.”
He also talked about the importance for this year’s iteration of the Musketeers to play more cohesively earlier in the season.
“I think the biggest thing this year for this team is if they’re going to have a successful season, they need to put all those pieces into place earlier in the season,” he said. “I understand that it takes time to figure it out and get your footing under you, but last year for the last two to three weeks of the season, you could make the argument they were one of the top 25 teams in the country. It just took them too long to get there and figure that out. If they can find that in November or December, that’s going to be the recipe.”
Baum also spoke about the outlook of Xavier’s future, which appears promising as a result of the recruiting efforts afoot by head coach Travis Steele and the rest of the coaching staff.
Xavier had one of the best recruiting classes in the Big East in 2019 and is constructing a top recruiting class nationally in 2020 with four-star recruits Dwon Odom and CJ Wilcher in addition to three-star Colby Jones.
“It’s an easy answer, but I think it could be a very special time,” Baum said. “You look at it from the perspective of you have a really good freshman class here right now. You have a really good incoming freshman class already next year. If you can go three in a row, essentially what that does is that gives you longevity. That says this is not a one- or a two-year thing, this says that we can be good for the next five years.”
Baum gave Steele praise for setting the Musketeers up for success in the future to be perennial conference title contenders.
“I think with what Steele and his staff have done, they’ve already put themselves in a position to contend for Big East titles for the next three or four years,” he said. “Now, if you get a good class, I think they’ve already proven that if you can compete for a Big East title, you’re right there nationally.”
While Xavier basketball has been among the premier programs in college basketball for the last few decades, this season has the potential to be yet another positive mark in its history.