Before things got crazy on Saturday night at the OB, I promised UM basketball fans a report on the first practice. Unfortunately, I never got around to it -- or the football evaluation of the FIU game. I still plan to do both, but will start with hoops first since it's fresh in my mind after Wednesday afternoon's hoops media day at the BankUnited Center.
First off, got to say coach Frank Haith and Katie Meier have been super cool people to deal with thus far and I'm kind of rooting to see them surprise some people this season. There's no doubt the rest of the country doesn't think these UM basketball teams -- men or women -- will be able to survive the tough ACC. But as bad as some of the magazines (Street & Smith, Athlon, Lindy's, Sporting News) project both squads doing this season, I think both of these teams will finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC like the last few UM teams have. Well, at least the men, who may not have a go-to scorer yet, but certainly have the makings of a really talented athletic, young squad in my opinion (READ MY STORY).
First off, I'll talk about what I saw with my own eyes. liked what I saw from freshman forward Dwayne Collins, who looked like the man in Saturday's practice (CHECK OUT THE VIDEO). He had a couple nice dunks and used his 7-4 wingspan to pluck down rebounds left and right. I also was impressed with sophomore guard Jack McClinton, the transfer from Siena, who looks more than ready to be a serious contributor on this squad. Those are the new guys that really caught my eye during the 45 minutes of scrimmage I caught Saturday. The old guys that looked pretty good were forward Jimmy Graham, guard Denis Clemente and small forward Brian Asbury. Clemente looked like his shooting has improved. He was making threes consistently and looked more in control of his game.
That's what I saw anyway. What coach Frank Haith has been saying is that the two most improved returning players are Asbury and Graham. Haith said Asbury has made tremendous strides with his shooting and confidence and when I talked to Asbury on Wednesday, I got the sense all the things Haith was saying was true. Asbury told me how without Rob Hite and Guillermo Diaz, he feels like he can "do his thing." At South Miami, Asbury ran the point his senior season and loved creating baskets off the dribble.
Oops. Before I get into talking about positions and starters, I'll start with philosophy. First of all, UM is not going to run the 3-guard set anymore. Haith says he has too much height and athleticism not to push the ball up the floor with a traditional college lineup: two guards, a wing and two posts.
Now, back to Asbury. Having said all that, it looks pretty much like a lock Asbury is going to be the starting small forward on opening night against FIU Nov. 11. With Adrian Thomas nursing an abdominal strain (and likely out at least another week) according to Haith, and freshman Lawrence Gilbert still a little too green, its basically Asbury's job to lose. The only other guys who will likely see minutes there are 6-11 JUCO transfer Fabio Nass, who Haith says is a tremendous shooter but needs to pickup speed; and Raymond Hicks, who at 6-7, 238 is meatier than any other projected small forward. Hicks told me he really hasn't practiced too much at small forward. But if Haith wanted to go really big, Hicks would most likely be a third post with Asbury moving to shooting guard.
As for the guards, Anthony Harris told me Jack McClinton has spent the most time of any player at shooting guard since practice began. The way Haith and McClinton's teammates have talked about him, I've got a good feeling he's going to start on opening night. McClinton, a transfer from Siena, averaged 13.6 points per game there two years ago and is one of only two players on the team (Anthony Harris being the other) to average double digits in a college season.
As for point guard, Clemente and Harris have spent the majority of time practicing there. While Clemente started some games last season, Haith made a few comments Wednesday that made me feel like he wants more from Denis. He mentioned he wanted Clemente to put in more time off the court watching tape to make adjustments. That being said, Haith praised the work ethic of Harris and said the team usually plays its best when Harris is healthy and at his best. Either way, all three are going to play the majority of minutes at the two guards spots.
But in summation, right now anyway, it looks like Harris at the point, McClinton at shooting guard and Clemente as the first one off the bench to spell any of the two. As for the fourth guard, freshman James Dews has been hampered by a foot injury and like Thomas will likely be out another week. Dews was a big time scorer and shooter in high school and is likely only a sub at shooting guard. He told me he's more of a shooter than a slasher. And as I said before, Asbury could see some time at guard too.
Onto the post, where there is no question two-year starter Anthony King will be a starter at the five. It's the No. 4 spot that is probably going to be the best battle. Haith already said he believes Collins will get plenty of playing time, but both Harris and King said Collins is playing well enough right now to take the starting job. Both Anthonys said they expect a big battle between Collins and Graham and Hicks for the starting four spot over the next two weeks. My gut tells me, though, even if Collins doesn't start on opening night, he will eventually find himself in a starting role. The sheer fact he has a 7-4 wingspan, can jump out of the gym, hit 15-foot jumpers with regularity and play defense might make him too good not to keep on the floor.
Haith himself admitted Wednesday Collins was better than he first thought. If that ends up being the case, I can foresee Graham being sort of the perfect sixth man to come off the bench and provide plenty of energy. Plus, that will allow him to save some of his fouls, which last year, he spent so much time giving away. Haith said he and the team have been working plenty with Graham in practice to try to stop his foul tendencies. But until we sit in a game, we really won't be sure.
Well, that's it for now. I'll be back with some more news as it becomes available. By the way, to hear all of the audio interviews I have with players and coaches throughout the season, click on our interview link on our UM homepage. All interviews I do are usually recorded and posted on the web the night I do the interviews. That goes for practice, games, whatever. It's something I know not to many other media outlets offer. Same deal with the video.
Also, if there is something you would like me to ask a player or coach or question I might be able to answer, feel free to leave it here on the blog and I'll try to get to it ASAP. Maybe what I'll do once a week is select the best questions you leave for me and answer them in a blog entry.