February 20, 2007
CORAL GABLES Frank Haith is not pleased with his team's record this season, but he insists that Miami's basketball program is headed in the right direction, and that its head coach has some evidence to prove it.
While Haith hoped to keep UM's two-year run of making the postseason alive, the squad's numerous injuries and early inexperience handicapped it to a sub-.500 record for the first time in the coach's three-year tenure.
But Haith isn't too discouraged, because he'll quickly point out that his best players are freshmen and sophomores. All are gaining valuable experience that he hopes will pay off next season, perhaps even helping UM to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.
"I remember when I first got to Texas as an assistant, someone asked me what is your vision for Texas," Haith said. "I made the comment, I want to win Big 12 championships, and I want to be a part of a national championship.' That may have been farfetched at that time, and the same thing goes for me saying that about Miami, but that's what I hope we can build this program into.
"Now, are we anywhere close to that? Not yet, but I'm confident we're moving in the right direction."
What makes him so sure?
In his first two years at Miami, Haith sent one player, guard Rob Hite, to the NBA. Hite earned a roster spot on the Miami Heat, before getting cut to make room for veteran guard Eddie Jones in February. Haith has another guard in Guillermo Diaz who likely will be there next year, after being sent to Europe for seasoning by the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted him in the second round last year but didn't sign him.
Both Hite and Diaz are proof that Haith can develop players, which is priority No. 1 for him and his staff right now. And there are plenty of young players on UM's roster see sophomore guards Denis Clemente and Jack McClinton, sophomore small forward Brian Asbury and freshman power forward Dwayne Collins who are developing into solid starters and can serve as building blocks for the future.
Under Haith, the Hurricanes also are making inroads on the recruiting front. They kept Miami product Edwin Rios, one of the nation's top senior point guard, at home. They also secured the services of promising forwards Freddy Asprilla, a Colombia import, and Julian Gamble.
UM also appears to be making headway with the high school junior class. The Hurricanes are considered the frontrunner for 6-8 swingman Devin Ebanks, one of the nation's best 2008 prospects.
Ebanks, who is rated the No. 2 small forward in the country by Rivals.com and the 14th-best player overall, has called the Hurricanes his clear frontrunner, and he said it's possible that he will commit during a visit he'll take at the end of March. If Ebanks does commit to Miami, it'll provide evidence that the reputation Haith developed at Texas as a strong recruiter isn't a myth.
The Connecticut prep schooler, who also is being courted by Memphis, Indiana, Illinois, Georgetown and St. John's, said he hopes to stay on the East Coast and is looking for a program he can help put on the map. UM, the only ACC school in the group, certainly fits the bill.
"Recruiting is the bloodline of any program. We've got to coach them when we get them, but you have to get good, quality players," Haith said. "You have to really give yourself four full years to have a recruiting base, and then you start to see how you can develop guys and build."
Haith contends that he's only three recruiting classes into his base.
"I don't know if you can count my first group, because I got the job so late. At that time, I was just trying to get bodies to fill the team, because we had so many guys leave (via transfers)," Haith said of his first class, which included small forward Raymond Hicks, who is presently suspended for violating a team rule, and Antoine Mayhand, who transferred out after his freshman season.
"At that point in time, there was not many guys left to recruit. No disrespect to Ray, because I think Ray has been a fine addition, but we were just trying to put together a team."
Now Haith's focus shifts to building a contender.
SHANNON PUTTING PIECES TOGETHER
It took him nearly three months, but Randy Shannon's coaching staff is finally complete, and it shows that he put an emphasis on finding and retaining proven recruiters.
Shannon's final hire was Wesley McGriff, who had just left Baylor to become Kansas State's defensive backs coach in early January. UM targeted McGriff because of his strong recruiting ties to Texas, which is a state the Hurricanes intend on continuing to hit hard.
McGriff is one of three coaches on UM's staff who have served as recruiting coordinators at previous stops. Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix held that role at Georgia Tech. Nix should help the Hurricanes make headway into Georgia, where his father is still a respected high school coach, and Alabama, where he was a player at Auburn.
New offensive line coach Mark Stoutland, who jumped to Miami from Michigan State, held the recruiting coordinator position at Syracuse during the late 1990s. He should provide UM with a presence in the Northeast, where the Hurricanes have struggled to land prospects since their exit from the Big East.
Ex-NFL veteran and former Hurricanes standout Micheal Barrow also was added to the staff. Barrow, who will coach linebackers, provides the Hurricanes with their most recognizable name.
Barrow spent last season as the defensive coordinator at nearby Homestead High. He was coached by Shannon during his tenure at UM, where he was an All-American before going on to play 13 seasons in the NFL. His career came to an abrupt halt because of a serious knee injury.
Meanwhile, secondary coach Tim Walton, who is considered UM's strongest recruiter, was named the team's defensive coordinator. With that move, Shannon relinquished the duties he held under Larry Coker.
While Walton, who is 36, is fairly young, the secondary has been the strength of Miami's defense for the past five years. Walton should be able to carry on Shannon's philosophies. That's important to the former coordinator.
Shannon said the main thing he wants to create with his new staff is good chemistry.
"The fit is the key," Shannon said. "I'm looking for good teachers."
It's also expected that Shannon will replace Jeff Merk, who served as Coker's director of football operations, with someone more experienced in the scouting aspect of the job.
Shannon hasn't yet decided if he'll assign a recruiting coordinator. He said he'll determine if one is needed based on his staff's organizational skills.