February 12, 2008
CORAL GABLES Miami basketball coach Frank Haith has stressed to his team that it's a long season.
Despite that motto, Haith chooses to focus on two games that could factor in just how long the Hurricanes' season lasts. Losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest, games UM probably should have won, could be key in terms of postseason play. The Hurricanes were 16-7 overall and 3-6 in the ACC as of Feb. 16, but those two losses could come back to haunt them.
Haith knows the Hurricanes have to finish at least 8-8 in league play if they want any chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2001-02 season. He was so disturbed with the losses that he recently hinted that the team outlook would be a lot different if the outcomes had been different.
"We're sitting here 2-5, and you take two plays away and we're 4-3," Haith said before Miami played Florida State. "So when you sit here and dissect and look at our team, you have two losses that can change the outlook of our team if we make two plays."
The plays Haith was referring to were heartbreaking. The Hurricanes lost two games last month in the closing moments. They were tied with N.C. State in overtime when Anthony King threw an errant inbounds pass. Gavin Grant made the steal and converted the winning layup with two seconds remaining.
Nearly two weeks later, the Hurricanes hurt themselves again. With the score tied against Wake, Miami forward Dwayne Collins missed an open layup on the final possession. The next trip down, Demon Deacons guard Ish Smith hit the winning jumpshot, sending the Hurricanes to a second devastating defeat.
"Dwayne makes a layup, and King doesn't throw the ball away," Haith said. "Whatever way you look at it, those are two games we lost on our last possession."
With a remaining schedule that includes a home date with Duke and road games against Clemson and Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes know they now have little room for error. That's why Haith calls the losses so important.
ERRATIC BACKCOURT PLAY HURTS
One of the things concerning Haith is his backcourt play.
It was supposed to be the team's strength, with guard Jack McClinton and an improved James Dews. The players are the team's top scorers, but their production has disappeared at times in key moments.
Haith credits this to their willingness to settle for jumpshots. It has made it much easier for teams to defend them. While Dews and McClinton have been effective from the perimeter, they have yet to show an ability to beat defenders off the dribble. In no game was that more evident than against Duke on Feb. 2. Dews and McClinton both struggled against the Blue Devils' pressure defense.
"Driving (to the basket) is something we have to get better at," Haith said. "That's something we've talked to our team about, being more
One bright spot has been the recent play of freshman point guard Eddie Rios. Although he has had trouble getting adjusted to the college level, he is the Hurricanes' best player off the dribble.
Rios' improvement could be a key in helping the problem get corrected. A player who can attack the basket would free up more open looks for McClinton, Dews and junior Lance Hurdle on the perimeter.
HOCUTT, 36, ACCEPTS AD POST
Miami recently introduced Kirby Hocutt as its new athletic director. He had held the same position at Ohio for the last two years.
"The opportunity to be associated with the University of Miami is truly an honor and a privilege," Hocutt said. "Growing up, everybody knows what the Miami Hurricanes are and what they're about and their winning tradition. It's a national brand. From coast to coast, you see the U' and know it's the University of Miami. I take great pride in being part of this program."
Hocutt, 36, is one of the youngest athletic directors in the nation. A former all-conference linebacker at Kansas State, he has 17 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics. He was the associate AD at Oklahoma for six years before taking over at Ohio. Former Wisconsin AD Pat Ritcher, who was in charge of the Hurricanes' search, said he refused to focus on Hocutt's youth. He was more concerned with his experience.
While Hocutt was at Ohio, the school won 11 team championships, and the football program played in its first bowl game in 38 years. Hocutt also handled an alleged gambling ring that involved the Ohio baseball team. Three players were suspended indefinitely from the team.
"We're very pleased that Kirby was selected," Ritcher said. "He's a young man, but he's been through some very difficult times."
Hocutt was chosen from a pool of more than 12 candidates. He succeeds Paul Dee, who is retiring June 1 after heading the department for 16 years.
"Kirby Hocutt is a proven leader, with the enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and commitment to our quest to be the top program in the country," Miami president Donna Shalala said.
Hocutt has a reputation for being a strong fundraiser. At Ohio, he led efforts that increased fundraising by more than 75 percent and boosted season-ticket sales in football (112 percent) and basketball (50 percent). He had similar success at Oklahoma, helping the school raise its annual donations from $3.4 million to more than $17 million.
"Our vision is going to be to become the premier intercollegiate athletics program in this country," Hocutt said. "Each day, relentlessly, we're going to focus on that. We'll strive for excellence in the classroom, most importantly, in competition and the way we represent this great institution nationally."