March 7, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- No one around Miami's basketball program, including Guillermo Diaz himself, knows if UM's athletic shooting guard is in the process of spending his last days with the Hurricanes.
Diaz, a junior, nearly entered the NBA draft last season, after averaging 18.6 points a game and earning second-team All-ACC honors.
Heading into the 2005-06 season, it was thought to be a foregone conclusion that this would be his final year, but it appears that the Puerto Rico native isn't against playing out his senior season in Coral Gables. At least that's what he was saying in early March.
"I still have one more year, so there isn't any pressure," said Diaz, who was averaging around 17 points a game and led his team with 83 assists during the regular season. "I just want to finish my career, and finish knowing I did good, leave knowing I accomplished everything I want to do. I want to say I helped my teammates go to the NCAA Tournament. A lot of people don't make it there. I want to have that great experience in my college career."
The question is this: Will staying to achieve that goal lessen the pressure Diaz is feeling from outside influences who want him to cash in on his talent, which is still unrefined but quite promising based on his athleticism?
UM coach Frank Haith said he will support Diaz in whatever decision he feels is best for him, and if Diaz declares for the draft but returns to college after working out at the pre-draft camps, the coach will welcome him back with open arms. For now, Haith wants Diaz to focus on his team, and not his future, pointing out that he'll have plenty of time to figure that stuff out when the season's over.
"I don't know a kid who worries about their future and what they are going to do afterward who plays well at this point," Haith said. "You've got to be routine in what you've done thus far and keep that focus."
If Diaz returns to the Hurricanes, UM will feature another promising backcourt that also would include point guard Anthony Harris and Siena transfer Jack McClinton, who has shown a lot of promise in practice while sitting out this season under NCAA transfer rules.
"I just have to keep my head in school, because if I start thinking about my future, it's not going to help this team, and it's not going to help me," Diaz said. "I just try to keep focused and work in the present. I'm here now. I'm wearing the UM jersey, and that's what I need to worry about."
DEFECTIONS LEFT HOLES FOR HAITH
Miami's basketball team might have fizzled down the stretch for the second straight season, matching last year's 7-9 conference record, but when factoring in what Haith was left to work with as far as talent, it's hard to find fault with the coaching job he's done.
In fact, when taking into account all of the players who defected when coach Perry Clark was fired at the end of the 2003-04 season, it's interesting to ponder what could have been at Miami if Haith had more desirable options at his disposal.
What if forward Karron Clarke never transferred to DePaul? What if guard Armondo Surratt, who now leads San Francisco in scoring and assists, stuck around for his final two seasons? What if Kansas big man C.J. Giles never asked out of his letter of intent?
Clarke, who is averaging 9.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Blue Demons and is shooting 49 percent from the field, probably would have been the most useful player, considering that this year's Hurricanes are so guard-heavy. A small forward from New York, Clarke would have provided some toughness inside and versatility on the perimeter.
Surratt wasn't a very good shooter (38.2 percent on field goals) in his first two seasons at UM, and he still isn't that for the Dons (36.8 this season), but he's averaging 14.5 points and 5.1 assists and is the floor leader the Hurricanes were missing at times this year. Harris has been serviceable, when healthy, but not always dependable.
Neither is UM's post game, considering the lack of offense Miami gets from its big men. They more than likely would take a backseat to Giles, a 6-10 center who signed early to play for Clark but couldn't be talked out of flying the coup when the coach was fired. Giles, now a sophomore, has started 13 games for the Jayhawks this season. He is averaging 6.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 17 minutes per game.
FOOTBALL: SCHEDULING WOES ABOUND
Miami's philosophy has always been that the football team will play anybody, anywhere in a two-game series if the deal is right, but the Hurricanes don't appear to have many takers.
Filling out UM's football schedule already was tough enough before the NCAA added the permanent 12th game to the schedule last summer. Now, finding enough attractive opponents for home-and-home series is becoming seriously problematic.
Here's proof. UM sought a quality opponent for a two-game series that would begin in 2006, filling that 12th-game vacancy. But in the 12th hour, the Hurricanes had to agree to a deal with Florida International, because there were no other suitable takers.
The Hurricanes recently announced a two-game deal with Florida that had been discussed for nearly three years. But even that deal, which will have the Hurricanes play in Gainesville in 2008 but get a return game in 2013, seemed a bit one-sided, considering the huge gap of years between the two contests.
Miami coach Larry Coker publicly has questioned why the Hurricanes have to play formidable opponents on the road first in various series.
If it wasn't for the television networks forcing the hand of some other conferences, and teams such as Oklahoma, which UM will play at Norman in 2007 and then host in 2009 thanks to ABC (which set up the game), the Hurricanes would be left to buy games with smaller Florida programs and other lesser-known schools looking for a payday.
However, unlike other schools, UM can't use all four of its non-conference games just to pad its record, because South Florida fans want to see competitive games, and the football team's ticket sales drive the athletic department financially.
That's why athletic director Paul Dee usually finds himself between a rock and a hard place with teams such as Colorado, which for years tried to get out of the return game UM was owed before finally playing it last season. Now there's talk that Texas A&M is trying to push back its series with UM, which is scheduled to start at Miami in 2007.
Maybe the television networks will convince the Aggies that playing UM is good business. Nothing else seems to be working.