February 20, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Miami basketball coach Frank Haith isn't afraid to go out on a limb and predict that freshman point guard Denis Clemente will have another 19-point performance this season, or that sophomore forward Raymond Hicks will produce his first double-double before the season is over.
Haith also is holding onto hope that freshman forward Brian Asbury will get hot offensively sometime soon, giving fans a taste of what the player's coaches and teammates often see in practice, rather than the 22 percent shooting he has produced so far in games.
"The minute that three-pointer goes in (for Asbury)," Haith said, "it's going to be like a piano lifted off his back."
Haith is banking on that. He has given Clemente, Hicks and Asbury -- three key bench players -- playing time early in the season, with the hope that they will pay off at the end of the season, when the Hurricanes may be fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Ideally, UM would like to get 20-25 points from its bench in every game, Haith said. But it's just not happening, with the bench contributing close to 19 points per contest, and with most of that coming in non-conference play. In league games, the bench is averaging around 11 points.
Haith's benchmark is important, because at this time last year, UM's starters wore down. Thanks in part to the workload, the Hurricanes lost six of their last seven games.
"Our role is so critical right now," said Hicks, who is averaging 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in nearly 15 minutes per game. "When we come in, we can't let things die down. We have to sustain the same type of energy, if not bring more."
Haith has stressed to his bench players -- Clemente, Hicks, Asbury and freshman forwards Jimmy Graham and Adrian Thomas -- to be active and bring energy. When the second unit rotates into the game, UM usually ratchets up its defense, becoming more aggressive.
"We try to go in there and do the little things that help us get over, while the first string gets a break," said Asbury, who is averaging 1.2 points and just under one rebound per game. "Our goal is to keep the game at a high level, holding it together while our key guys get a rest."
At times, some of the reserves have proven to be more than stopgaps. Clemente, for example, has scored in double figures four times this season. But UM likely will need more such performances to prevent another end-of-season dip.
FOOTBALL STAFF MAKEOVER CONTINUES
Rich Olson's addition as Miami's offensive coordinator was a blast from the past, and a return to one of the Hurricanes' least favorite eras. Olson spent two years as Dennis Erickson's offensive coordinator in the early 1990s.
While Erickson did win two national championships while at UM, a number of NCAA missteps that took place under his watch landed the program on probation. Olson's role (if any) in the transgressions remains unclear, but apparently they weren't too significant for athletic director Paul Dee to sign off on Olson heading up the team's re-tooled offense.
Coach Larry Coker said he plans to feature a more high-octane attack, one that will run combinations of three- and four-wideout sets and one- and two-back sets with multiple tight ends. There will be plenty of three-step drops and putting receivers and backs in motion. The game plan appears to be to throw the ball to stretch the field, which is a direct contrast to the old regime's philosophy of run to set up the pass.
"You'll see it all," said Olson, who ran Erickson's one-back offense, which averaged 28.9 points per game during his two years at the helm. "We're going to stretch the field vertically and horizontally in the passing game, and we're going to stretch the field horizontally in the running game. I don't know any other way."
Olson is returning to college after spending the past 10 of 11 seasons as an NFL assistant. He served as a quarterbacks coach at most of his NFL stops and as an offensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals for two years. If he does well this season, his stay in Miami may be just a pit stop, something holding him over until he finds another NFL gig.
If that is the case, the Hurricanes will have received what they wanted, which is the installation of a new-look, explosive offense that will keep its ACC foes on their toes.
"I want a fresh start," Coker said. "I want those players a little bit wide-eyed, a little bit hungry and no comfort zone."
Even though Olson will be coaching UM's running backs, the fact that two people on Coker's new staff -- Olson and quarterbacks coach Todd Berry -- have expertise working with quarterbacks is a positive, as long as there are no chemistry problems.
Coker's future is tied directly to the success of returning starter Kyle Wright. The more handlers Wright has to help him achieve his potential, the better off this team will be. The only concern with that is whether or not there will be too many hands in the pot. Suppose egos clash. Wasn't that the problem with the previous staff?
Coker said one of the things he especially liked about Olson is that everybody he talked to about him often referred to his ability to unify an offensive staff.
Two more coaches remain to be hired -- a tight ends coach, who also will likely head the special teams unit, and a receivers coach to replace Curtis Johnson, who accepted the same position with the New Orleans Saints. Both aides are expected to be hired by the end of the month, because spring football is right around the corner, and the coaches must get the new offense installed.
NFL MUST WAIT FOR CRISTOBAL
Tight ends coach Mario Cristobal will serve as the Hurricanes' offensive line coach this season, after he withdrew his name from consideration for a position (tight ends) as an assistant with the New York Jets.
Cristobal, a former UM offensive lineman, has experience coaching lines. He started out his career as a graduate assistant at Miami coaching linemen, before taking a full-time position at Rutgers coaching linemen and tight ends.
Keeping Cristobal on this staff was extremely important, because he's young (35) and can relate to the players well. That skill will be needed, with all of the changes UM has undergone during the offseason. Cristobal also is widely considered one of the Hurricanes' best recruiters.
"I live and die and breathe this place," Cristobal said. "To be interviewed by the New York Jets is the biggest honor you can imagine. I felt this is a pivotal time for the University of Miami. I know this place. I'm a constant here. The NFL might be part of my future one day, but it's not today. This is where I want to be."