April 4, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Guillermo Diaz was a relative unknown coming out of high school. That allowed him to sneak up on the nation as an electrifying basketball player at Miami.
Diaz, a Puerto Rico native who led the Hurricanes in scoring (17.2 points per game) and assists (97) this past season, hopes to have the same effect on the NBA.
That's why he decided to forgo his senior season, making himself eligible for the June 28 NBA draft. He recently signed with Miami-based agent Jason Levien, which means there is no chance he'll return to the Hurricanes.
"I know this is the best decision for me," said Diaz, a 6-2 guard who envisions himself playing point guard at the next level. "I know it's going to be tough, but when I went from high school to college it was the same way. But you're going to get better with better people around you."
Diaz likely will become the first UM basketball player to leave the program early and get drafted. At this point, he's projected to be a late first-round or an early second-round pick. Only first-round selections automatically get guaranteed two-year contracts.
Art Alvarez, Diaz's mentor and former high school coach at Miami Christian, said the consensus among those advising the young player was that he will improve his stock during individual workouts.
"The NBA game is suited for him," Alvarez said. "He's athletic and can create his own shot against anybody."
Diaz said he entered this year with his mind made up that this would be his last season at UM. Otherwise, he knew that he would have to go into 2006-07 carrying a heavy load, especially considering the departure this spring of senior guard Robert Hite.
UM coach Frank Haith consistently has said that he wants Diaz, who grew up poor in Puerto Rico, to do what's best for him and his family.
"His two years here (under Haith), he was as exciting a player as I've been around," said Haith, who has been recruiting with the expectation that Diaz would turn pro this year. "He's living a dream right now."
Alvarez said it has not been decided whether Diaz will participate in any of the NBA's pre-draft camps, but he will work out for numerous teams that have shown interest. Diaz, who was bothered by an ailing knee throughout the 2005-06 season, also will spend the next month working with a personal trainer.
Diaz's departure left the Hurricanes with two scholarship openings for 2006-07. One of them will be used on small forward Lawrence Gilbert, a 6-6 slasher who is considered a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit. Gilbert, a New Orleans native who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and played his senior season at a high school in Houston, committed to UM over interest from Tulane, Tennessee, Marquette, Cincinnati and others.
Haith, whose team likely will be picked for the bottom third of the ACC next season, plans to ditch his gimmicky three-guard lineup and use a traditional small forward more often in 2006-07. Expect Raymond Hicks, Brian Asbury, Adrian Thomas, signee Fabio Nass and Gilbert to compete for that spot.
As for the backcourt, Haith hopes to use UM's final scholarship on another guard. Two-year starter Anthony Harris and freshman Denis Clemente will battle it out for the starting point guard spot next season, with Siena transfer Jack McClinton and signee James Dews competing for Diaz's spot as the team's top gunner.
Haith is extremely high on McClinton, who averaged 13.6 points, five rebounds and 2.7 assists in 2004-05 as one of the MAAC's top freshmen.
"I love Jack," Haith said. "He's a complete player who is going to bring us some toughness in the backcourt."
Haith said he understands that most outsiders will have minimal expectations of the Hurricanes next season, but he remains optimistic.
"I'm sure everybody will look at our team and say, You lose Diaz, you lose Rob, you are going to take a big hit,'" Haith said. "I think we're going to be really good.
BRYANT'S MISSION REMAINS DEFENSE
This spring Miami junior James Bryant turned down the opportunity to become the Hurricanes' starting fullback in order to prove that he can play linebacker, which is the position he was recruited for in 2003.
Bryant was moved to fullback last year because UM's coaches saw better potential in him there, and his physicality allowed him to establish himself as one of the top performers at his new position last spring. However, during the season his development stalled, and his unhappiness on offense grew, which prompted him to request a switch back.
"I thought about it, talked it over with a lot of people who are close to me back home. I came down here to play linebacker," said Bryant, one of UM's hardest hitters. "My dreams were to win a Butkus Award, and I sure can't do that on offense."
Another factor in the position switch was the perception that UM will be phasing out the fullback position under new coordinator Rich Olson, who ran a one-back offense during his stint under Dennis Erickson in the early 1990s. During UM's first open practice, the team's fullbacks -- projected starter Jerrell Mabry (who looks about 30 pounds overweight) and walk-on Mark Lisante -- were used sparingly.
Bryant specifically asked to work as a middle linebacker, a spot UM has struggled with since Jonathan Vilma's departure to the NFL two years ago. Bryant is behind junior Glenn Cook, the present first-teamer, and redshirt freshman Darryl Sharpton on the depth chart.
Both players have an edge on him in experience, and Sharpton, a very smart competitor, has established himself as one of coach Larry Coker's favorite youngsters. But Cook and Sharpton lack Bryant's untapped athletic ability.
"He wants to be a linebacker, feels he is, and that's what he came here to play. We'll give him an opportunity to do that. If he can, that's fine," Coker said. "As the coach, I don't care where he plays. I'd like to see him have the opportunity. If it's in the offensive backfield, we'll make that move, but he wants an opportunity to play linebacker."
Bryant hopes this will be his last move, considering that the career of this SuperPrep All-American has been very slow to take off.
"Time is running out, and if I don't get it done now, it's never going to get done," Bryant said. "Sometimes you have to give up stuff to get what you want. I gave up starting on offense to do what I want to do. There is no reason in the world I can't start on defense. I've just got to work my way up the depth chart.
INJURIES TESTING DEPTH AT SAFETY
Miami's top returning defender, safety Brandon Meriweather, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in late March after being bothered by soreness this spring.
The procedure was labeled "minor" by Coker, but the shoulder injury has to be troubling to the team. It's the second time in three years the hard-hitting safety, who led UM with a career-high 115 tackles in 2005, has had the surgery.
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, safety is one of the team's deepest positions.
Freshman sensation Kenny Phillips (88 tackles, one interception) mans the side opposite Meriweather. Anthony Reddick, a 2004 starter who redshirted last season after tearing his ACL in the season-opening game against Florida State, is participating in the conditioning part of spring practices.
Reddick is expected to be cleared for hitting by the start of the fall. Until then, sophomore Lovon Ponder (20 tackles, three interceptions) and junior Willie Cooper, a converted linebacker, are helping to cover UM's secondary.