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6 posts from February 2007

February 15, 2007

Canes lead for one of nation's best hoopsters

For those Canes basketball fans bumming because of the injuries and struggles this team has gone through, here's something that might brighten up your day.

DevinebanksThe Hurricanes are awfully close to getting a commitment from one of then nation's best 2008 recruits, 6-8 swingman Devin Ebanks, who is rated the No. 2 small forward in the country by Rivals.com and the 14th best player overall.

Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jeff Goodman interviewed Ebanks two weeks ago and the St. Thomas More (Conn.) junior told him Miami was his clear frontrunner.

``They are definitely number one on my list,” said the 6-foot-8 junior forward told Scout.com. “They’ve been great. Coach (Frank) Haith and the rest of the staff have given me a lot of love and I’m feeling it right now.”

``The chance to come in and play right away is important,” he added.

Ebanks is supposed to visit UM at the end of March, after his high school season ends. While Haith can't comment on potential recruits, the feeling around The U is the Hurricanes have a real shot at Ebanks, who is also being courted by Memphis, Indiana, Illinois, Georgetown and St. John's. He would certainly be the biggest name Haith has ever landed -- and maybe even the best basketball recruit the program has ever landed.

Haith, I've been told through others, was just in Connecticut to checkout Ebanks and another Connecticut recruit, 6-9, 270-pound center Christian Morris, who also has UM up high on his board. Morris is also rated a Top 100 recruit in the Class of 2008.

I'll have more on UM's basketball future in the coming days, but I wanted to share this tidbit with you now. I'm going to try to get a hold of Ebanks myself and have a little Q&A I plan to provide online here for you.

February 14, 2007

Who is your UM Valentine?

Since we've hit sort of a lull here with news from The U, I figured this might not be a bad time to go off topic and in honor of Valentine's Day have a little bit of fun.

ValentinespenguinSince most of us guys will be spending Valentine's Day in the doghouse because, like me, you forgot to get the Mrs. something and figure to be scrambling today, I figured what better way to take a break from the hassles and headaches than to answer a few silly questions during your lunch break about your favorite team.

Like I said, these are all in fun and after each question I'll provide my own answers. Feel free to answer the same questions and provide the best valentine's day story -- good or bad -- you can recall. Just try to keep the answers PG-rated.

Which former Hurricane do you love the most and why?
Michael Irvin. Nobody represents what The U has meant more than Mike. He's a playmaker, a winner, a Hall of Famer and somebody who has never forgotten his roots.

Which current Hurricane are you crushing on most?
Javarris James. Kid has mad talent and the best thing about him is that he's humble. He has a connection to the past and bleeds green and orange.

Biggest Hurricane tease of all time?
Tie, Magic Benton and Willie Williams. Not sure there was more hype about a Canes player than a guy named Magic. Willie, we all know his story.

February 13, 2007

So much for Thug U...

23I know the brawl with FIU was ugly, shameful and just flat out wrong. But for all the negative press The U got over it, I wonder if ESPN or other media websites will run today's story about UM leading the ACC with the most student athletes on the All-Academic Team. What do you think? I doubt it too.

Here's the gist of the news sent our way this afternoon...

The Hurricanes honored were: G Andrew Bain, OT Jason Fox, TE Greg Olsen, PK Jon Peattie, S Kenny Phillips, LB Darryl Sharpton, WR Sam Shields, and C Anthony Wollschlager.

The eight selections topped Boston College and Duke, which had six each, and Florida State, which had four. Every ACC school had at least one member. To be eligible, a player must have earned a 3.00 grade point average for the fall semester or have maintained a 3.00 cumulative average during his academic career. Peattie has been selected three straight years.

"I guess we're not a football factory anymore. We're an academic factory now," said head coach Randy Shannon. "You have to give a lot of credit to our academic staff. This university and football program attract a lot of great student-athletes that will be successful in life, and we are proud of that."

Got to love Randy's quote. But it also says a lot about how The U has changed. There's no doubt president Donna Shalala has raised the standards and that while obviously has made the students work harder, it also has hurt recruiting and the type of kids UM can recruit. There were a lot of kids who told me throughout the recruiting process they liked Miami, but they only had the test scores and academic averages to get into Rutgers, North Carolina, etc. You get the point.

Now, where do you stand? Do you like the fact UM has raised its academic standards? Or do you feel the standards are too high and eventually hurt recruiting?

February 12, 2007

Coaching breakdown

Since I've got a little time, I decided to get back on provide a few more tidbits I forgot to squeeze in the last entry (I'm too much of a scatterbrain).

Barrow      Shannon told us during our lunch on Thursday his plan was to hire two more coaches amongst a group of four he was considering. It's apparent now former Cane Michael Barrow will be the guy to take over linebackers. I saw Barrow at least a dozen times at UM this season working out, hanging out and chilling with the team when he wasn't down at Homestead running things.

      Who ends up being the other coach remains a bit of a mystery, but I was told through several Dade coaching sources Edison High's Corey Bell was going to be the man. I know Canesport reported otherwise and also shot down the idea Central's Anthony Saunders was also being considered.

Truth is Saunders told me on Signing Day he was never interested in UM so I'm not quite sure where they got that. Saunders is going to become an assistant principal at Norland High, where most expect him to help with the football team. Saunders' right hand man Daryl Heidelburg, known best for beating out Brian Griese to make the '92 All-Dade football team, will likely end up being the coach at Edison or Norland -- assuming Nigel Dunn leaves Norland.

That leaves Bell, who played defensive back at South Carolina and Edison High, and who at age 35 is a bright up-and-coming coach. He's always been close to Shannon and has built a lasting friendship over the years. At Edison, Bell turned the Red Raiders, once a horrific program into instant contenders, leading his team to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons and the state semifinals in 2003. Even if he doesn't come in as the defensive backs coach, he could just down the staff as an assistant and help recruiting locally. Bell has coached the Dade-Broward All-Star team twice and knows everyone in Dade and makes great connections with kids.

I know some have also mentioned Northwestern's Roland Smith, who has also been seen plenty at UM. But Smith has a team that can win the state title next year and will be one of the nation's best. Unless Antwain Easterling's troubles (I hear there is an ongoing investigation into the coverup) cause him to bolt, I don't see Smith ending up at UM. In fact, I think he might actually end up at FIU down the road. He was there when Mario Cristobal was named coach and might be a better fit there.

As for other high school coaching moves in Dade, it's a given Billy Rolle is out at Killian. A formal announcement is expected next week he'll be introduced as the next coach at Central. Former UM coach Don Soldinger, who has been in charge of security at Killian, then is expected to take the job at Killian according to several of my former prep sources with former Southridge coach Stu Rogers as his lead assistant. I bumped into Soldinger and Rogers pretty much everywhere I went during the high school football playoffs. Two guys who don't want to get back into coaching, don't scout Northwestern, Central and Southridge if they aren't already planning for the future.

Back to Randy. One of the most interesting comments he made at Thursday's lunch was the fact he said he didn't want to put together a staff that knew each other. "The only way you build chemsitry," he said. "Is by getting a bunch of new guys together who don't know each other and let them learn how to win and lose together."

It was a real fresh perspective and one I never heard before. But if you analyze it, it kind of makes sense. Shannon said the one thing he wants to avoid is having his coaching staff break off into cliques. Not for nothing, but I wonder if that's a result of what happened with the previous staff that was let go. A bunch of the new hires were Coker's boys. Wonder if Randy saw that and made that a priority for it not to happen.

Feeling good for Frank, insights into Randy, and The Sweep

Covering the University of Miami is totally different than rooting for it. Born and raised in this city, I grew up dreaming of one day wearing the orange and green myself and playing for Ron Fraser. I obviously wasn't athletic enough to do it, but covering this university in a journalistic profession is still quite a thrill for me.

That being said, as a journalist we've got to be impartial. It's the requirement. As reporters we can't be cheerleaders and we can't be bashers. Columnists get paid to do that. We've got to be fair and balanced. And I've learned how to do that now after 10 years on the job training. The U wins I do my job. The U loses I do my job. Still, every once in a while we're all human, whether our editors and bosses want us to admit it or not.

SMcclintonlayupaturday's basketball victory for the Canes and coach Frank Haith brought a smile to my face. I couldn't help it. Seeing a team give all it has left and finally being rewarded for it felt good. This Hurricanes basketball team probably shouldn't have won another game this season, and to be honest most figured they wouldn't. But the fact Haith was able to get the seven scholarship players he has left, a senior walk-on, and quite a frankly a team that has six kids learning on the job to win an ACC basketball game is quite an accomplishment.

I know as Canes fans, the bar is always set high. And many may not care about these little moral victories in a 10-15 season. But wins like Saturday's against N.C. Frankhaith_2State are why fans shouldn't be so down on Haith or the program. If Pat Riley was asked to win in the NBA game with only one veteran guard, one legitimate big man and five other first or second year players do you think he could beat anyone? Not likely. This team hasn't given up and Haith and his players deserve credit for that. And they deserve better support. UM's student section was filled with 40 people Saturday. That's not a typo. I counted it. And the BankUnited Center itself looked a lot smaller than the announced crowd of 3,099. I know the team is 10-15. But if U fans honestly want to send a message of support to potential recruits, only showing up for big games and when the team is contending for conference titles sends the wrong message. Be a fan all the time, win or lose.

That's the way it is around the rest of the ACC. Win or lose, fans show up in force. Two weeks ago, the Dean Dome was packed to the gills for UM. That would be these same Hurricanes who ended up losing by 41 points. And it stayed that way until the end. Sunday, with Miami leading by double-digits late, the BankU center was clearing out. Could the traffic on San Amaro Blvd really be that bad at 6 p.m. on a Saturday? Good grief. 
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Anyway, let's get back to football. After last week's big national signing day performance, coach Randy Shannon invited members of the newspaper and radio media out to a get to know each other lunch at Bernie's Steakhouse in South Miami. This is common practice by the way. The same happened with coach Frank Haith before basketball season when he took us to The Palms.

RandyshannonAnyway, as members of the media, we obviously have a different relationship with coaches than fans do. And Thursday's lunch was about how that relationship is going to develop with the new guy. For starters, I'll tell you that media access since I first starting covering The U in 2000 in a pinch hitting role has declined somewhat. We aren't allowed to watch practice beyond stretching anymore and we aren't allowed to walk onto the field again until after practice is over. So, if anyone is doing something great or if somebody gets hurt, or if somebody isn't out there because they've been suspended, we have no idea unless we do some creative digging with our questions.

Coach Shannon has always been the type of guy who regardless of how charming he seems on TV interviews, honestly didn't like to disclose too much information when he was the defensive coordinator. We asked him who he was going to start at middle linebacker and his response would be something along the lines of "I don't know yet or the guy who is ready." He told us Thursday he was like that because he didn't want to contradict what the head coach was telling us and what his position coaches told us. OK. That's fine. But that still doesn't make us (the media) feel too comfortable about him changing much now being the head man. And thus Thursday's lunch about that and what Randy's rules are.

For starters, don't expect him to be forthcoming about injuries. While coach Larry Coker at times would tell us specifics about injuries, Shannon cited HIPAA rules (the nationwide standards meant to protect the privacy of personal health information) Shannon_2will require him to not tell us specifics about player injuries. In other words, when we ask Coach Shannon about why a player was being carted off the field at the end of practice grabbing his knee, he'll tell us something like "He got a little nicked up on the bottom half of his body and we expect him to be out a while." Can't blame coach Shannon, after all there are rules and they are there to protect the future NFL draft stock of his players. But at least now if you see a quote like that in the paper you'll know why as well as why there are varied speculations as to how serious injuries are through various media reports. Shannon did, however, say when he finds out how long a player will be out, he will tell us about it.

As for other basics, our access will remain the same as before. Players will not be allowed to do interviews after Wednesday on weeks there are games on Saturday and a select group will be made available as usual on media day Tuesdays. Those are all good signs for us and you as fans who want to know what's going on with the team. As for Shannon, we all just hope he doesn't get too pissed off at one of us. He's been known to clam up into the "Yes, No" Shannon when he gets angry or is bothered by questions. Which is not good for you as readers or us as reporters.

Anyway, there were other interesting tidbits from lunch, most interesting tidbits into the recent recruiting class. Since it was an open lunch and we weren't not directly quoting Randy, I'm not going to include specifics. But there were a few funny stories that kind of show you Shannon's recruiting practices.

We asked him how often he gets treated to meals on trips. He said not once. And he said if he was, his general rule of thumb anyway is to enter a house and ask for a glass of water. He said when he is asked if he would like anything to eat, he usually will tell them he had a big breakfast or lunch. Since most houses he enters are of low-incoming families, he says his policy is to never make the family feel obligated to feed anyone.

As for entering those low-income homes, we asked him if he ever encountered a situation that rattled him, bugs, rats, etc. He said he's trained himself to ignore them. He said you can't go into a home and freak out because a bug has crawled on you. He said you must simply brush it off. Shannon, we all know, came from a rough upbringing. So, it's not hard for him to play cool. Anyway, it was interesting to hear some of those little stories and the tricks of the trade in recruiting.
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UmbaseLastly, I just wanted to give coach Jim Morris some praise and his team for the sweep of UCLA this past weekend. The Canes 0-2 start against Mercer last week was a bit startling. But the team responded this week the way most expect them to play all season.

That being said, I'll open up the floor to you. If you went to a baseball game this weekend, which players have impressed you the most thus far and what do you think is the key to the season and getting back to Omaha?

Fire away on those questions and these relating to basketball and football.

For basketball: How important is it for your support of coach Haith to see the team continue to remain competitive? Does the team need to win a few more games for you to be happy with the effort? Or, has this 10-15 season just made you lose faith in the program altogether?

For football: What are you looking forward to most this spring? What are your first impressions of coach Randy Shannon? And after hearing from his new assistants, which hire do you like most? 

February 08, 2007

Pour your hate mail this way... and when you are done, talk recruiting

I know you guys are mad. And you have every right to be. This blog has been pathetic for the past two weeks. No entries. No thoughts. No news. Not even a fresh opinion. So, go ahead and rip me. I deserve it.

But I got to at least explain myself. I've been busy. I haven't had a day off since Jan. 28. Super Bowl week, my UM trip to North Carolina (talk about a blowout) and national signing Manny_strahanManny_salleyday are to blame. I know. I know. (WHY WAS THE GUY AT THE SUN-SENTINEL ABLE TO BLOG AND NOT ME?) There are several reasons. As you can already tell, I'm the only writer who blogs Eye On The U even though there are two photos attached to this site. My only Manny_gunionManny_tweedenexplanation: She doesn't like to blog. The other excuse, while being a beat writer is a tough enough job, I have a few more responsibilities than the guys who only cover UM. The guys who cover UM at the competition do a great job. But unlike them, I'm also in charge of gathering video and audio for our website, helping out on high schools (my previous beat) and playing the role of "recruiting expert" for all the other writers who do not spend nearly as much time on the computer as I do. So there. I know its not going to make you feel any better, but it made me feel like I at least explained myself. (The pictures, are of my interviews last week for our Super Bowl coverage. Yes, they do let fat people speak to the famous. Anyway, that's Michael Strahan, John Salley, Leanne Tweeden and Gabrielle Union from top left clockwise. So there is your proof. I really was working).

Anyway, now that I've hopefully replied to the haters about how Eye On The U sucks, I will proceed with something much more fun to read and the purpose of this blog: How about them Canes?

AllenbaileyToday's signing class in my opinion was spectacular. The last time I blogged, I told you I thought UM would end up with QB Robert Marve and S Joseph Nicholas and likely lose out on LB Allen Bailey and LB Brandon Hicks. I was wrong. UM got three of the four -- including Bailey who I thought was better than Hicks. Overall, I really liked what Coach Randy Shannon was able to pull off with the entire class. RB Lee Chambers was another surprise. Overall, I'd give it an 8 out of 10 rating.

But back to Bailey. I spoke to his high school coach for a while Tuesday when I found out he had chosen UM. You can hear the interview here AUDIO. If you don't want to hear it, here's a basic summary. Bailey is a stud. 6-3, 265 pounds of pure muscle. Bailey's high school coach Robbie Robinson said Bailey really wants to play linebacker, where coach Randy Shannon recruited him at. But Bailey, whom Robinson runs a 4.7, will have to show some speed to stay there. Tom Lemming, like most experts, said when Bailey eventually puts on weight -- which every player does when they get to workout in a real gym with a strength coach and eat college food -- he'll be forced to move inside. While some internet reports say Bailey only wants to play linebacker, Robinson said Bailey told UM coaches he doesn't mind if he eventually has to move there because "he wants to do what is best for the team." Having Bailey anywhere on the field will be best for the team. The kid is a freak of nature, extremely strong. I'd love to see him in the middle linebacker spot, ala Brian Urlacher, who is big, strong and fast and made the Bears what they were this season.

Dougwiggins4_19150_1 Aside from Allen, I asked a few experts to give me their opinions on where they thought UM did best on this class. Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell, who covers the ACC and is one of two national recruiting analysts, said the Canes hit a home run in the secondary. I couldn't agree more. Farrell said cornerback Doug Wiggins (who is already enrolled, shaved his head and is already undergoing intense training) is one of the most physical, lock down corners he has seen. I saw Wiggins play safety at North Miami Beach first hand for two years. He's special. I can remember one high school game against Carol City in the rain in which he ran do a running back, stripped the ball from him and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.

Of the five DBs UM got this year -- Wiggins, cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, safety Joseph Nicholas, safety Damien Berry and cornerback Jared Campbell (Calais' little bro) -- Wiggins will by far be the most prepared to make an immediate impact next year . Which is good because like Shannon said today (HEAR THE AUDIO) every position will be open for battle. Which in the long run will make Randy Phillips and Glen Sharpe, two guys who I thought struggled, better players. Don't be surprised if Wiggins is good enough -- along with Chavez Grant -- to steal starting spots from both. I think they are both that good.

As for the rest of the class... before I ask you for your thoughts, I'll make a few quick hits and then ask you for your thoughts on the same subjects.

Best signee: QB Robert Marve. Miami needed a quarterback and somehow was able to trade Alabama for the better one.

Position most served:
Wide Receiver. Miami didn't get Deonte Thompson. But Jermaine McKenzie and Leonard Hankerson alone could come in and be No. 4 and 5 on the depth chart in a heartbeat behind Sam Shields, Lance Leggett and Darnell Jenkins. Daniel Adderley is a project, but a solid one at 6-6, 215 pounds. Kayne Farquharson, who is taking two JUCO classes, isn't officially part of the class yet. Strange. But our investigative work only turned out that UM didn't want to talk specifics because he is not officially there's yet. Either way, when he does get in -- assuming there are no unforseen problems -- he is also an instant contributor. Taurus McKinley, whom UM was recruiting and expected to sign, wasn't going to qualify anyway and is now expected to end up at West Virginia. Better off he doesn't come. UM really wants the two best receivers in the state anyway next year -- Northwestern High's Aldarius Johnson and Tommy Streeter. And they'll need to have scholarships.

Position least served: Defensive line. Canes may have a ton of young players on its current roster. But I'm still not sure how many of them are really good. Calais Campbell will be gone after next season (NFL), and the cupboard -- aside from Richard Gordon, Eric Moncur and Antonio Dixon -- may be bare thereafter. This is definitely an area UM would have liked to have gotten at least one or two more quality guys. Of note, tackle Chris Perry (Keller, Tex.) apparently had some trouble with his paperwork. But from what I hear that will be all taken care of, allowing him to join Adewale Ojomo as part of the d-line class.

Biggest fish that got away: No doubt it was Thompson, who apparently grew up a UM fan. He would have made this class even more spectacular. But like I said before, if UM can get the two kids from Northwestern next year, they'll be fine.

Biggest surprise: No doubt it was Bailey. I was sure he was going to the SEC -- hometown Georgia, Alabama or Florida. But he apparently is a different breed of kid. Someone who follows his heart. I like that. All the special Canes have always seemed to have that trait.

OK, I'm done. Now fill out your blank form (BEST SIGNEE, POSITION MOST SERVED, POSITION LEAST SERVED, BIGGEST FISH THAT GOT AWAY AND BIGGEST SURPRISE).

P.S. - And don't forget to include your hate mail.