March 6, 2007
CORAL GABLES Miami basketball coach Frank Haith continues to find the building blocks he believes will take the Hurricanes to the next level.
Haith recently picked up a commitment from Lance Hurdle, one of the nation's top 60 junior college players, even though UM presently doesn't have a scholarship to give for the 2007-08 season.
Hurdle, a 6-2, 175-pound combo guard from San Bernardino Valley Community College in California, picked UM over Pepperdine, San Diego State, Marshall and Chattanooga. He played his freshman season at Cal-Santa Barbara before transferring out.
Hurdle averaged 15 points and three assists on a fairly balanced team and recently was selected the player of the year in his conference, an honor that automatically earned him all-state honors as well. One outlet rated him the 59th-best player, regardless of position, among junior college recruits.
If signed, Hurdle, who boasts a 42-inch vertical leap and a strong academic background, will join the Hurricanes next season as a junior.
The addition of Hurdle means that either one of Miami's scholarship players is on his way out, or one of UM's three signees isn't on track to qualify.
Both sophomore point guard Denis Clemente and junior forward Raymond Hicks didn't finish this season because of suspensions for violating undisclosed team rules, and their futures appear to be in limbo. So does the health of junior forward Fabio Nass, who tore all three ligaments in his right knee at midseason and likely won't be healthy enough to contribute next year. It's possible that Nass will receive a medical waiver from the NCAA, opening up a scholarship.
The status of 2006-07 signee Freddy Asprilla, a Colombia import, also is uncertain, because he didn't finish out the year at Concordia Prep (in Wisconsin), which closed in January in controversial fashion. (See last issue.) Asprilla graduated from high school in his native country, but there is some concern about whether he has enough core courses to be cleared by the NCAA to be eligible in 2007-08.
FREEMAN WILL CHALLENGE WRIGHT
While two-year starter Kyle Wright has the experience edge and a superior arm, numerous UM insiders insist that junior Kirby Freeman, who replaced an injured Wright at quarterback for the final four games of the 2006 season, is the frontrunner to start for the Hurricanes in 2007.
Freeman's play and record (2-2) in his four starts weren't more impressive than what Wright, a rising senior, accomplished in his two years as the starter, but one source said Freeman's intangibles as "a leader and a playmaker" and his overall upside have provided him with an edge in the eyes of some coaches.
UM likely will delay naming the starter until August camp. New offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, formerly of Georgia Tech, said there is "no timetable" for a decision because it's only important to know your starting quarterback by the Tuesday before the first game.
"I am holding judgment on Kyle and Kirby right now. I have not been around them, and I have not coached them. I am excited to work with them. They are excited about the change," said Nix, who played quarterback at Auburn. "I am going to wait and see how they perform and how they act when we get going."
The relationship between the two quarterbacks has been pretty frigid, going back to when Wright beat out Freeman for the starting spot in the spring of 2005. Under coach Larry Coker, Freeman later had little opportunity to unseat Wright, no matter how Wright performed on the field.
Wright has a superior arm and an experience edge, but he has little pocket presence and struggles to read defenses. Freeman can throw a better deep ball, he's mobile and he throws on the run better, but he lacks experience.
It doesn't help that both quarterbacks will be learning their third offense in four years, but that should even the playing field for Freeman, who must prove this spring that he can effectively move the team downfield on a consistent basis.
UM, DOLPHIN STADIUM TALKING
As negotiations with the city of Miami to renovate the aging Orange Bowl drag on, UM officials are seriously considering moving the school's football games to Dolphin Stadium.
A final decision has not been made, but UM president Donna Shalala said she is hoping for a resolution by late April or early May.
"We've always said we're going to look at our options," said Shalala, who ultimately will make the decision. "We don't have the final numbers from the Orange Bowl, and until then it's hard to tell what the future will be."
Miami city manager Pete Hernandez said the city hopes to determine by late April if it can pay for much-needed Orange Bowl upgrades, including a replay scoreboard, improved restrooms and other amenities.
"The idea," Hernandez said, "is to come up with a project we can fund."
UM does not want to abandon its long history at the 71-year-old Orange Bowl. But Hernandez acknowledged that the university can't afford to wait indefinitely for the renovations, which the school expected would start after the Hurricanes won their most recent national championship, in 2001.
"We're aware they're considering their options," Hernandez said. "From a business perspective, they would have to."
According to its lease with the city, which runs through the 2009 football season, UM pays the city a use fee equivalent to 10 percent of gross ticket revenues per game, along with a $1 per ticket surcharge. UM does not get to keep concession or parking revenue. For example, records show the use fee, ticket surcharge, concessions and parking amounted to $398,722 for a September 2002 game against Boston College attended by 60,240 fans.
Sources would not discuss the details of a potential lease at Dolphin Stadium, but they said it could be significantly more lucrative for the university by allowing it to keep some or most of the concession and parking revenue. They also said it's possible that the Hurricanes will move before their lease expires.
While the Orange Bowl is considered iconic, it lacks the amenities of modern stadiums, and the city has had to make improvements routinely to keep it structurally safe. A major renovation has been discussed for years but was delayed over a lack of funding and because the city was in serious talks with the Florida Marlins in 2004 and 2005 about potentially building a baseball stadium next door. Construction on the Orange Bowl that was planned to begin in December was delayed until this summer.
Hernandez said he expects the renovation to cost about $170 million. The city has $84 million from city and county bond issues and the sale of Miami Arena. He said the city is investigating other sources of revenue, and he anticipates only a "minimal" contribution from UM.
Miami mayor Manny Diaz said the stadium needs to be brought "up to this century." But he added that the city also needs to do what makes financial sense, for both Miami, which is trying to finance a downtown ballpark for the Marlins, and UM.
"It's been a real struggle financially, to maintain it since the Dolphins left," Diaz said, referring to 1987, when the Dolphins moved to Dolphin Stadium. "We're partners and we're looking at our options. We're going to make a joint decision as partners as to what makes sense for all of us."