April 3, 2007
CORAL GABLES In a move that showed that not every personnel decision comes down to what brings about more wins, Miami basketball coach Frank Haith kicked point guard Denis Clemente off the team.
While the move likely will set UM's young squad back a bit, sources said that Clemente's dismissal was something that couldn't be prevented if Haith wanted to avoid sending the wrong message to the rest of his team.
Adding to that harsh reality was the fact that everything Haith and his staff had invested over the past two years into making Clemente the program's point guard of the future is now down the drain.
Clemente, who averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 assists as a sophomore in 2006-07, had started 28 games in his two-year career. He missed the final four games of this season after being suspended for repeatedly violating an undisclosed team rule. It was the second suspension of the season for Clemente, and it put his future with the program in jeopardy.
At the time of his suspension in February, Clemente had turned into the Hurricanes' most consistent player. He finally had become comfortable running the team against ACC-caliber opponents, rarely got rattled under pressure, and was becoming more consistent and dangerous with his outside shot.
However, over the past two years, the coaches had to ride Clemente regularly about things such as his academic work, diet and work ethic.
In recent months, Haith was so uncertain about Clemente's status and willingness to "get with the program" that he planned to prepare UM's leading scorer, sophomore Jack McClinton, to play point guard going into the offseason. Haith also secured a commitment from combo guard Lance Hurdle, who starred at San Bernardino Valley Community College in California, without having an available scholarship at the time.
Hurdle is expected to sign his UM letter of intent in April and join the Hurricanes this summer. Meanwhile, Haith is confident that Miami High point guard Edwin Rios has the ability and savvy to push for a starting spot right away.
McClinton played point guard at Siena, averaging 2.7 assists per game as a freshman before transferring to UM two years ago. He had a decent showing at that position in the ACC Tournament, and Haith believes he has the potential to become another Randolph Childress. As an assistant at Wake Forest, Haith helped Childress develop into an ACC superstar as an upperclassman.
If McClinton does make the transition to point guard, expect James Dews' role to be elevated, and/or small forward Brian Asbury to slide over, becoming UM's shooting guard. Asbury must improve his ball-handling for that to occur.
Also leaving the Hurricanes after this semester is freshman small forward Lawrence Gilbert, who appeared in 20 games, averaging 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds.
Gilbert's departure, which by all appearances was mutual, increased the likelihood that junior forward Raymond Hicks, who also spent a good portion of last season suspended or in Haith's doghouse, will remain at UM.
FOOTBALL: CONCERNS WITH KICKING
While most of Miami's fans are focused on this spring's quarterback battle between Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon seems more concerned about UM's kicking game, because he knows that struggles there also could cost his team a game or two.
Matt Bosher, a redshirt freshman who was considered one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school, and former Florida State walk-on Daren Daly are locked in a heated battle to replace UM's long-standing kicker (Jon Peattie) and punter (Brian Monroe), who exhausted their eligibility last fall.
Walk-ons Chandler Cleveland and David Strimple also are involved in the competition. Cleveland is trying to become the kicker, Strimple the punter. Shannon has warned against counting them out, using Carlos Huerta's rise from walk-on to UM's most reliable kicker many years ago as motivation for each.
"I remember being at Miami when I was a player. What happened one day, we had all these kickers on the team that were missing chip shots left and right," Shannon said. "(Miami coach Jimmy Johnson) says, Kid, come here. You make this kick, you're the starting kicker.' It was Carlos Huerta. He was a walk-on. All the rest of the guys were missing chip shots for three days.
"(Huerta) kicked it, made it, and he was the starting kicker. So you never know who will be the starter for you."
Shannon wishes that making decisions about those two spots was that easy for him, too, but it hasn't been. Heading into the final week of spring practice Bosher, who was recruited to kick, had looked better as a punter, and Daly, who was signed last year to punt, had been more accurate on field goals.
Special teams coach Joe Pannunzio admitted that from his vantage point Bosher, who has a slightly stronger leg, has a slight "leg up" on the competition when it comes to field goals. But Pannunzio acknowledged that the coaches will track everything until the end of the spring.
"You really don't know until you put them in game situations and they have to make those plays," Pannunzio said. "You really can't simulate Virginia Tech or Florida State's rush."
Coincidentally, Bosher said the speed at which the rushers were coming to block his attempts was the hardest thing he had to adjust to last season, when he redshirted despite UM's early kicking struggles.
Bosher focused on improving his overall consistency. His top priorities: making sure he gets the ball off quickly enough, and getting good height on it.
"The speed was a big difference from high school coming in. The blocks come a lot quicker. That was the biggest hurdle to get over," said Bosher, who earned the Lou Groza Award as the state's top high school kicker in both his junior and senior seasons.
One of Pannunzio's main concerns is that he might have only one player handling kickoff, punting and placekicking duties. Shannon has expressed the same concern, saying that one of the techniques might throw the others off.
Both Bosher and Daly, UM's two scholarship kickers, said handling all three isn't too arduous, considering that they did it at the high school level.
"When you kick, you kick," said Daly, a junior who averaged 41.5 yards on four punts last season. "It's all the same stuff, just a different motion than what we do every day, but if you can do one you can do the other."