November 6, 2007
MIAMI As University of Miami men's basketball coach Frank Haith and guard Jack McClinton sat at tables during the annual ACC media day in Greensboro last month, you couldn't help but notice the difference.
Haith spent most of the time talking with a handful of writers, and there were times when McClinton sat alone. The rest of the reporters were too busy at tables that featured representatives from the more well-known programs. North Carolina. Duke. N.C. State. It just showed that Miami still has a ways to go before finally being accepted as a contender in one of the nation's toughest basketball conferences.
That's what makes Haith's job so difficult. He works in a city crazed about football and leads a basketball program still trying to work its way up to respectability. Even though the football team was expected to struggle, first-year coach Randy Shannon still drew a crowd at media day. So did the players.
That's what Haith envisions with the basketball program one day. It won't be easy. Attention takes winning, something the Hurricanes have yet to do in the ACC. They made a surprising run in the league tournament last year and have featured future NBA players such as Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz in recent years, but no one is going to take Miami seriously until it proves it can win on a consistent basis. Despite Haith saying he believes this is his best team since arriving in 2004, the Hurricanes were picked to finish last in the conference. Haith says this could the year he finally proves the doubters wrong.
The Hurricanes certainly have the talent. They return McClinton, a third-team All-ACC player last year, and a strong frontcourt that features Dwayne Collins and Jimmy Graham. Miami also received a bonus when center Anthony King was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing most of last season with a wrist injury.
"I've got to believe Anthony King will be one of the top post players in our league, like Tyler Hansbrough and some of the other guys," Haith said.
With King healthy and a deep bench, all the pieces are there to build success.
"Knock on wood, if this team can stay healthy, we're obviously a more experienced team," Haith said. "Last year we were very young. Because of some of the things we went through last year all the adversity with losing all our post guys, having gone through that I think that our guys learned from it in terms of becoming hardened by it."
POINT GUARD IS BIG CONCERN
The only real question mark entering the season is the point guard position. Last year Denis Clemente was kicked off the team for violating team rules. He has since transferred to Kansas State, leaving the Hurricanes with no proven point guard. Junior-college transfer Lance Hurdle is likely to get the start. He has impressed early with his athletic ability, boasting a 42-inch vertical leap.
If Hurdle isn't the answer, look for freshman Eddie Rios to step in. Rios has long been a star in South Florida, rising to national prominence as a sophomore at tradition-rich Miami High. The school has produced the likes of NBA players Udonis Haslem, Steve Blake and Doug Edwards. Rios added his name to the impressive wall of fame by leading the school to a state title as a sophomore. He dominated the summer-travel circuit that year, but many analysts felt his game had reached its peak.
Still, Haith is confident Rios can help the Hurricanes at some point this season. He just doesn't know when that will happen.
"It's hard for a freshman to come at this level and to be (a starter)," Haith said. "Very few freshmen do that. That's what we pride our program on development. Eddie is a tough kid. He plays probably the toughest position to play as a freshman. Not only do you have to know what you do, but you have to know what everybody else does. And that's very difficult for a freshman. We're going to bring him along slowly. He's got good savvy, and he's going to be an outstanding college player."
Haith won't need long to find out exactly where his team is. The Hurricanes play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic in San Juan Nov. 15-18. The tournament features Arkansas, College of Charleston, Providence and Temple. It should be a good tune-up before the conference schedule begins.
"This team has to have confidence that we can win," Haith said. "That's half the battle. I think we proved that with out backs against the wall and having some adversity. Now we've got all those pieces back together. Let's see if we can find some chemistry and guys accepting their roles."
ORANGE BOWL FINALE ON DECK
Miami will say goodbye to an old friend when it plays the final game at the Orange Bowl on Nov. 10 against Virginia. The Hurricanes have played here since 1937, and the venue also hosted several national-title games and Super Bowls. Next year, Miami moves to Dolphin Stadium, where it will share the facility with the professional football team.
The Orange Bowl created one of the most dominant home-field atmospheres in all of sports. Although the Hurricanes have lost their last two games at home, opponents will always remember it as one of the most feared places to play. The Hurricanes at one point won an NCAA-record 58 consecutive home games from 1985-94.
Several former players, including Ottis Anderson, Bennie Blades, Bernie Kosar and Russell Maryland are expected to attend the finale in honor of the facility.