February 6, 2007
CORAL GABLES The losses are mounting for Miami's basketball team, and the squad's confidence is shaken. This likely will be the first season under coach Frank Haith in which UM doesn't finish with a record above .500.
While UM's recent decline clearly was caused by the squad being decimated by injuries, it's unrealistic to chalk up the year as a total loss, given that a few steps are being taken in the right direction.
The majority of the Hurricanes' young players all Haith signees have inherited significant playing time, and while some find themselves playing out of position for various reasons, the experiences should speed up the development of youngsters such as Jack McClinton, Denis Clemente, Brian Asbury, Dwayne Collins and James Dews. They represent the future of the program.
"I've never been a part of this before in my career, where so many things have happened to one team," Haith said, referring to UM losing four post players to season-ending injuries. "All we can do is be positive, continue to try to coach, get our guys to compete and keep their heads up. When you have the size disadvantage we have, you've just got to try to help each other. Continue to develop and fight."
That's what most of UM's players have been doing in conference play. While some of the losses have been ugly, partly because the Hurricanes have allowed an astonishingly high field goal percentage, the team continues to show some signs of growth.
McClinton, a sophomore guard and UM's leading scorer, has proven that he can be a productive go-to player. His hot shooting (44 percent from three-point range) has cooled as the season has progressed, and his all-around game still needs improvement, but his body of work shows that he has a stroke that potentially can lead him to All-ACC status.
McClinton, though, clearly needs some help to prevent defenses from locking in on him. Clemente and Asbury have made drastic improvements in their sophomore seasons, but each still has plenty of growing to do.
Clemente, who is averaging nine points and three assists per game, inherited the starting point guard spot around midseason and hasn't relinquished it. He's drastically improved his shooting, going from 33 percent last season to 44 percent this year, and a lot of that has to do with his ability to use his speed to push the tempo. However, there are still times when he plays out of control.
Asbury, a small forward who has spent much of this season as UM's starting power forward, has made the most drastic improvement, going from a one-point average to about 11. But his level of contribution still hasn't matched his NBA-like skills.
Collins, a freshman power forward who often plays center, has shown flashes of the ability that has him considered Miami's most athletically gifted player. But his basketball IQ is minimal, which probably explains why his development has been marginal throughout the season.
Collins is a poor defensive rebounder and needs to improve his post moves. If the Hurricanes had a healthy Anthony King (ligament damage to his right wrist) and/or Jimmy Graham (broken hand), Collins' shortcomings wouldn't be so glaring this season. He would have been playing behind those two, or at least alongside them, and he wouldn't have to defend the opposition's best big man.
Haith's hope is that Collins will use some of the painful lessons he's learning e.g., his embarrassing two-point, two-rebound performance in UM's 41-point loss at North Carolina to motivate himself for the large amounts of personal development still ahead.
While Collins can use his youth and inexperience as excuses for inconsistent play, junior forward Raymond Hicks isn't afforded such a luxury.
Hicks, whom Haith expected to start this season, has been extremely sporadic. While his minutes are up, he's scored in double figures just six times, and he's shooting a career-low 46.8 percent from the field. At times he's even been out-rebounded by Dews, a freshman guard who also is becoming a defensive presence.
In order to turn it around next season, UM must find a way to accelerate the development of Collins, Hicks and Graham, the three returning big men.
ORANGE BOWL NOT SELLING POINT
Miami's relationship with the dilapidated Orange Bowl has become so strained that the football team no longer takes recruits there on their official visits. The historic but rundown stadium, which has hosted UM's football team for decades, is no longer part of the sales pitch for the athletic department.
Without fans in the stands, there isn't much to sell by taking athletes to see an empty, rusted, frill-less venue that has a stripped locker room and is the only stadium in the ACC without a replay screen.
UM, which leases the facility from the city of Miami, has been waiting five years for renovations to begin. The university appears to be getting impatient, as city officials continue to sit on the $84 million that already has been raised and earmarked for the project.
"We talked to them (back in January), and they don't have the numbers yet for us to look at. We're scheduled to meet again in early February, and hopefully they have the numbers for us then," UM president Donna Shalala said. "We haven't seen any numbers yet, and until we know what the engineering studies say, and the numbers are, I don't have anything to say to anyone. It's not our facility, so we can't do the studies ourselves."
At one point, Shalala was handling the discussions with the city herself. She's since taken a step back, allowing the talks to be led by Joe Natoli, the university's new senior vice president for business and finance.
The hope is that something can be finalized in the coming month, so the project will break ground after the 2007 season. Miami city manager Pete Hernandez believes a deal can be forged in "60 to 90 days maximum" that will determine the fate of the Orange Bowl.
Renovations are projected to cost $160-200 million, and it appears that identifying the funds to close the gap is the main problem.
"UM can help a little," Hernandez said, "but can't be expected to fill in the gap."
The Hurricanes are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because even if playing at nearby Dolphins Stadium was a viable option and it is, considering that the stadium's owners consistently have tried to lure UM the Florida Marlins still call that stadium home. That won't change until plans are finalized for a baseball-only stadium for the Marlins.