By Manny Navarro
November 22, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- In its first two seasons under coach Frank Haith, Miami lived and died with every shot Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite put up from the perimeter.
When Diaz and Hite were on, the Hurricanes competed with just about anyone. When the players weren't hitting their shots, UM usually found itself on the end of a double-digit loss.
That was the old Miami.
The new Miami? It's run by big guys such as 6-8 sophomore forward Jimmy "The Freak" Graham and 6-8 freshman forward Dwayne Collins. They spend their days dunking, blocking shots and flying over opponents for rebounds and put-backs. This Miami feeds from the post.
"We're definitely a different team from what we've had in the past," said Haith, who entered his third season at UM on the heels of leading the program to back-to-back NIT appearances.
"I think it's the most talented group we've had since we've been here, from top to bottom. With the development of the (four) guys we had last year as freshmen and the (five) new guys, I really believe from athletic ability we can do some things defensively we haven't done since I've been here. We're longer in the perimeter, and we're longer in the post. We're young. We're athletic. I think we'll be fun to watch play."
They may be fun to watch, but most don't expect the Hurricanes to be very good. No preseason magazine picked Miami to finish better than 10th in the ACC. Most cited the losses of Diaz and Hite, who now are playing professionally, as too much to overcome.
"I mean, you're talking about two guys that have been a part of this program for a long time -- Guillermo for three (years), Rob for four," Haith said. "Any given night, those guys could go for a combined 40 points. I don't know if we've got a guy on our team who can average 20 points.
"But when people ask me if I'm upset about (being picked next-to-last in the ACC poll), I'm not. On the outside, when you lose two guys like Guillermo and Rob and what they meant to our program, and (most writers) don't know about (guard) Jack McClinton or the kids we signed, sure, I can see where people could have us on the bottom end of the league.
"But I think we know as a coaching staff and as a team we can do better than that. We've just got to go out and do it on the court."
Miami's ascent figures to depend a lot on its frontcourt. In its season-opening 73-50 blowout of Florida International, UM scored 41 points in the post.
It was 6-9 senior center Anthony King, one of two returning starters, who impressed most, showing the type of confidence and offensive leadership Haith has been seeking from him for two seasons. An All-ACC defensive selection as a sophomore, King dunked twice, grabbed 15 rebounds and showed his range, shooting 18-foot jumpers en route to a 9-for-12 performance from the field for a career-high 19 points. He also displayed his specialty (defense), blocking four shots and redirecting many others.
While King appears ready to fill the shoes of team leader, ultimately what could make this UM team an NCAA Tournament surprise is the development of the younger, less experienced players around him in the post.
Haith said Graham, who started at power forward in the opener, has been the most improved player since last summer. The 6-8, 245-pounder started 10 games as a freshman and provided a spark with his athleticism under the boards. This year, Haith wants Graham to provide more offense. The coach said there is no reason Graham can't also average six to eight rebounds per game.
The guy Graham replaced in the starting lineup last year, 6-7, 238-pound Raymond Hicks, is another player Haith expects to improve. Hicks, who started this season on suspension for violating a team rule, averaged 10 points and four rebounds in UM's two ACC Tournament games and played like the team's top post player at the end of last season.
While those two will battle for minutes at power forward all season, it is Collins who may end up providing the biggest boost in the frontcourt. The Miami Senior High product made quite a splash with his teammates in the early going, even opening the season with a 10-point, 12-rebound performance against FIU. Collins, who boasts a 7-4 wingspan, has the kind of skills Haith believes can make him an ACC freshman of the year candidate.
"He does so many things in practice that make us go whoa," said senior point guard Anthony Harris, UM's only other returning starter. "He is different than any post player we've had as far as his athletic ability. He's going to be really special when he figures it all out."
One thing Haith will not have to figure out is how to match up defensively with opponents. Last year, the Hurricanes had to play a three-guard lineup -- often Harris, Diaz and Hite -- to be competitive. This year, with size and depth in the frontcourt, Haith plans to play a more traditional lineup that can fit any opponent.
At small forward, Haith has three young, viable, athletic options in the 6-7 range -- sophomores Brian Asbury and Adrian Thomas, and freshman Lawrence Gilbert -- without much starting experience. Of the three, it's Asbury, who struggled with his shot last year, who appears to have regained his shooting confidence and the confidence of Haith as the starter.
When Asbury comes out, Thomas, a stronger defensive option, figures to get the majority of the minutes until Gilbert, a late addition to the Hurricanes' recruiting class, gets a better grasp of the college game.
Compared to the small forward position, Miami's backcourt has much more experience. Highly regarded freshman James Dews, the team's fourth option, is the only guard without a start. Harris and sophomores Denis Clemente and McClinton, who sat out last season after transferring from Siena, all have played plenty.
Of the three, McClinton in the one Haith believes will help shoulder the scoring load from the backcourt. The Baltimore native averaged 13.6 points and started 23 games at Siena as a freshman. In practice last season, he constantly asked Haith for the assignment of guarding Hite or Diaz, and he often outscored the two in scrimmages.
"Whatever they lost with Hite and Diaz, McClinton gives it right back to them," FIU coach Sergio Rouco said, after McClinton scored 14 points in the opener. "He's darn good."
Harris, the only other returning player who has averaged double-digits in scoring in his college career, likely will be entrenched in a battle with Clemente for playing time at the point. Last year, Clemente started 13 games, including all four of UM's postseason contests, after Harris faded down the stretch.
Ultimately, Haith's young squad could end up imploding, with its inexperience outweighing its talent. But as with his last two teams, which weren't expected to accomplish much, Haith believes this squad will surprise.
"If everything comes together, and the guys perform when the lights come on like they do in practice," Haith said, "then this could end up being a very special season."
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1997 NA 16-13 NIT 1st Round
1998 NA 18-10 NCAA 1st Round
1999 NA 23-7 NCAA 2nd Round
2000 NA 23-11 NCAA Sweet 16
2001 NA 16-13 NIT 1st Round
2002 NA 24-8 NCAA 1st Round
2003 NA 11-17 None
2004 NA 14-16 None
2005 7-9 (6) 16-13 NIT 1st Round
2006 7-9 (7) 18-16 NIT Elite Eight
x -- won ACC title
Name Ht./Wt. Pos. Class
Anthony Harris* 6-2/187 PG Sr.
Anthony King* 6-9/242 C Sr.
Raymond Hicks 6-7/238 BF Jr.
Fabio Nass 6-11/202 BF Jr.
Brian Asbury 6-7/214 WF So.
Denis Clemente 6-0/178 PG So.
Jimmy Graham 6-8/245 BF So.
Jack McClinton 6-1/185 WG So.
Adrian Thomas 6-7/223 WF So.
Dwayne Collins 6-8/232 BF Fr.
James Dews 6-3/198 WG Fr.
Lawrence Gilbert 6-7/201 WF Fr.
- -- returning starter
Coach Frank Haith sees Miami making a transition from being an outside-in to an inside-out team this season, and that means the heavy lifting will shift from departed guards Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite to the team's top four big men, led by Anthony King. The senior center, already a strong rebounder and shotblocker, must continue his gradual progress as a post scorer. Power forward Raymond Hicks, who flashed his tremendous potential at last year's ACC Tournament, missed the first three games of this season (suspension) but should offer plenty of rebounding, defense, athleticism and improved scoring. Jack McClinton, a Siena transfer and Baltimore product who sat out (but impressed in practice) last season, has earned the respect of his coaches and a spot in the starting five with his shooting, defense, toughness and competitiveness.
Other Key Returnees
Haith badly needs either senior Anthony Harris, sophomore Denis Clemente or both to solidify the team's point guard position. Both players, who will rotate with McClinton at the two backcourt slots, have been inconsistent offensively. Another huge variable is wing forward Brian Asbury. Everyone agrees that he has ACC-caliber ability, but he must continue to improve his understanding of the offense and defense, then translate his overwhelming practice success into game situations. Jimmy Graham, who again will rotate with King and Hicks in the post, worked feverishly in the offseason to upgrade his fitness, post moves and aggressive but foul-prone defense. Wing forward Adrian Thomas may face an uphill battle for major minutes after missing time in recent weeks with an abdominal injury and then a shoulder problem.
Dwayne Collins, a top-75 signee and hometown star, is a somewhat raw but extraordinarily talented power forward who already is extremely active on defense, under the boards and in transition. (His dunks become posters.) Wing guard James Dews, one of the top 10 scorers in Ohio high school basketball history, quickly will become known for his fearless style and surprisingly accurate (given its low arc) jump shot. Haith has compared unheralded wing forward Lawrence Gilbert to former Wake Forest star Josh Howard, but Gilbert will need some time for his long, wiry body to catch up with his solid skill set and impressive athleticism. Brazil native Fabio Nass, a little-known junior college signee, is a long, lean forward who can shoot from the perimeter. He won't play much unless the team's other post players are in foul trouble or otherwise unavailable.
ALSO Worth Noting
Among ACC schools, only Duke (27.2) and Wake Forest (29.9) return smaller percentages of last year's scoring production than the Hurricanes (44.2). Miami's 7,000-seat BankUnited Center, which opened in 2003, is the smallest ACC basketball venue. The Hurricanes' 60.3 winning percentage at BankUnited is much lower than that of any other conference team at their respective home arenas. King ranks fourth in career blocked shots at UM, with 157, and is easily within reach of everyone above him except Constantin Popa (263).
Chart By: The Miami Insider