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11 posts from March 2007

March 27, 2007

Clemente, Gilbert part ways with The U

The University of Miami men's basketball team parted ways Monday with two players -- point guard Denis Clemente and freshman forward Lawrence Gilbert.

ClementeAnd truth be told, it's the two I expected. In this blog back on March 15 in the UM basketball season wrap-up I told you how the program had 15 players who could potentially have ended up on the team next season. With only 13 scholarships available something had to give. Clemente, who was suspended twice, doomed himself. And Gilbert, whom Haith told me numerous times couldn't figure his way in the system, simply played himself out of the plan. Gilbert likely will not take long finding a new team. Clemente may take some time. His recent run into trouble off the court could scare away some schools.

So, ultimately what does Clemente's loss mean for the basketball team next year? Point guard just became the biggest question mark on the team and the position is going to be run by either an incoming freshman in Edwin Rios or a converted shooting guard in Jack McClinton.

McclintondribbleHaith told me after the ACC tournament he felt confident McClinton could make the switch from shooting guard to the point with some coaching and even compared him to one of his former players at Wake Forest who did the same. While McClinton showed he was capable of running the point briefly at the ACC tournament, he's still going to need to work a lot on his ballhandling skills. At times this season, Haith said McClinton often overdribbled causing him to the turn the ball over. Rios, on the other hand, has been a scoring point guard for most of his high school career. It should be interesting to see how the situation develops.

Of course, there is still an oustide chance another backcourt player could be brought in too. As it stands, UM has just four guards expected to be on the team next year -- James Dews and JUCO recruit Lance Hurdle being the others. Small forward Brian Asbury can count as a fifth option, especially if Haith wants to go big.

Ultimately, if Anthony King is not granted an extra year of eligibility -- we'll find out next month -- UM would have another scholarship in hand. And I know for a fact Haith and his assistants have not stopped recruiting just in case there are any other departures.

Stay tuned for developments.

March 26, 2007

More first scrimmage thoughts, QB talk and recruiting

Since I was busy at Doral covering the WGC-CA Championship Saturday, I never got to finsih sharing my thoughts on the first scrimmage of the spring at UM. Here is what else impressed me.

Tight end Dajleon Farr. The 6-5, 248-pound junior had five catches for 62 yards, including a real grab down the sideline on fourth down during two-minute drills to keep Dajleonfarra drive going. It was encouraging to see that out of a guy who has four career catches. We all know how important the tight end position has been at UM, what with Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks, Kevin Everett and now Greg Olsen who looks like he's going to be a first round pick next month. Thing is, I'm not too sure how important the tight end will be in this offense. I asked UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix how he planned to use the position in his offense. His answer: "If the tight end gets open, we'll throw him the ball. If he doesn't, we won't." Simple enough. I asked Nix if Farr's good scrimmage Saturday is consistent with what goes on in practice and if Farr is ahead of UM's other tight ends Dedrick Epps and Chris Zellner, who have been working more as H-Backs. His answer: "Nope. All of those guys have been doing about the same. They're all doing well." It didn't seem that way Saturday. But it was after all only the first scrimmage.

As for the kicking game, neither of the two guys kicking field goals looked spectacular. Matt Bosher missed an Mattbosher extra point, then sent a 42-yarder wide left that brought a wise crack from a fan who shouted "this isn't Florida State." Boshed did, however, come back and convert on a 25-yard chip shot. Daren Daly, who was at FSU, was a little better coverting on a 35-yarder and 28-yarder and missing on another from 35 yards. Coach Randy Shannon's take was: "It was their first time. They're freshman. That's what people need to realize. They're not going to be Olindo Mare or Adam Vinatieri. These guys have never kicked before. They made some and they missed some, but they'll work to get better at it, and I think they will." According to Canesport.com, Bosher has been told to concentrate on punting and Daly on kicking. Coming into the spring, most figured it would be the other way around. Either way, it looks like these two have a long way to go.

Defensively, there were a lot of encouraging signs. The big-name future first round guys -- defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Kenny Phillips -- did their thing. Campbell had at least four big plays in the backfield, including a pair of seven-yard losses on Javarris James. Phillips picked off Kyle Wright -- I'm still not sure who he was throwing the ball to -- and made a couple of nice tackles in the open field, including one in which he caught up to Graig Cooper from behind and yanked him down.

The defensive line looked pretty good without departed starters Kareem Brown and Baraka Atkins. I liked what I saw from Antonio Dixon, who still doesn't look like he's in great shape. I even heard a few wise cracks from the crowd, "he doesn't look like he's lost any weight." Still, I think even if Dixon isn't in great shape, his presence alone in the middle will help UM, which in my opinion is still loaded on the defensive line. Eric Moncur played pretty well opposite Campbell. And Richard Gordon is a beast in the making.

The linebacking corps, which I believe is the weakest spot on the defense, played pretty well. I liked the energy I saw. New LB coach Micheal Barrow was on his players butts the entire scrimmage, telling them not to let the offense not score no matter what. He's fun to listen to. As for the players, Colin McCarthy caught my eye. He worked in a lot with the first team unit, which was usually in nickle back situations with safeties Lovon Ponder or Anthony Reddick near the line of scrimmage. I saw Glenn Cook making a lot of nice tackles near the line too.

As for the secondary, the safety position looks loaded. Reddick blew up a few plays with big sticks and looks like he's on his way back nicely after last year's "injury recovery" season. Ponder had an interception and was all over the field. The corners really didn't give up anything downfield except for Leggett's nice catch between Chavez Grant and Ponder for a 45-yard gain.

All in all, I guess the biggest impression made on me is that neither of UM's quarterbacks are great. Both are limited. None of them have really ever showed they can really throw the ball downfield with great accuracy consistently. Every completion Saturday aside from Freeman's one deep pass to Leggett was completed no deeper than 10 yards downfield. Mabry's touchdown was a catch a run of angle pattern in which Tavares Gooden fell behind.

I know one of you pointed out after my last blog how Kirby Freeman telegraphs the run too much. It was a good point. Kyle Wright does hide the ball better and the offense does some to run the ball a bit better when he's in the offense. But I'm still not sold he's the better man overall for the job. Nothing personal against Kyle (And yes, Freeman did throw an interception, but it was waived off because of a flag). But what I saw of the new offense Saturday I think Kirby is the better fit because his play is more geared toward that style of running, pitching and making safe throws while Kyle is more of a drop back passer.

That's not to say this offense can't change. When I asked Nix if Saturday's pro-running offense is what we were going to see this season, his reponse was simply: "This scrimmage was geared that way. But that doesn't necessarily mean thats going to be our offense." Either way, its obviously very early. Things can and will change, especially when the offensive line gets healthy and receivers start to get back. But at least in the early going, it seems to me this offense will be run-heavy with James and Cooper, who are the two best weapons on it. If that's the case, then Freeman is probably the better fit.

OK, I'm done with the scrimmage. In off the field news, I saw Darnell Jenkins Saturday and he told me "everything is fine." Some people may have thought Jenkins was done after he left the team this spring to deal with a family situation. But he gave me the thumbs up when I asked him if he was coming back in the fall.

As for recruiting, I saw a lot of young guys out at Saturday's scrimmage including Booker T. Washington safety Brandon Harris. His brother Tim Harris of course runs track for UM. His dad is the coach at Booker T. I asked dad if Brandon was a done deal to The U, he smiled and said "I know that's where his mama wants him to go. She wants her two babies nearby." Harris, who could end up being The Herald's scholar-athlete of the year next year, has tons of letters and will be a huge get for the Canes if he chooses the U, which I expect him to. In other news, Canesport reported Pahokee defensive tackle Micanor Regis (6-4, 300) and former Edison offensive tackle Brandon Washington (6-4, 312) committed to UM on Saturday. Washington is supposedly headed to Northwestern for his senior season. Washington's former coach Corey Bell is now working at UM.

It's real early and while these guys may end up sticking to their word, I wouldn't bet that its really a done deal for any juniors this early. For the most part, all recruits want to enjoy their five free trips. Don't be surprised if they decide to take them. Either way, there certainly is a lot of excitement surrounding The U again and I think Randy Shannon is going to put together one heck of a Class in '08, especially with Dade and Broward County loaded with some real, real studs.

Ok. I'm done. I have some audio clips from Saturday from Calais Campbell, Dajleon Farr, fullback Jerrell Mabry, Cooper, James, Shannon and Nix I'm hoping I can upload for you to hear in the next day or two. Unfortunately, I won't be here for the next scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium on Friday. I'll be in Atlanta for the Final Four this week. But in the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on the first scrimmage, what you thought of the quarterback play and anything you might have liked or disliked from the first scrimmage.

Here are the final stats I tallied. They are not official, just what I took down along with what a few other guys from Canesport.com and Canestime.com were able to piece together. See ya.

Passing: Kyle Wright 15-41, 82 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; Kirby Freeman 13-24, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
Rushing: James 16-38, Cooper 10-34, Wright 5-21, Thomas 5-6, Freeman 1-9, Robinson 1-1, C. Jones 9-(-14).
Receiving: Leggett 7-102 (1 TD), Farr 5-62, J. James 3-17, D. Thomas 2-29, Mabry 2-42, B. McNeil 1-3 (TD), Epps 1-4, C. Jones 2-14, K. Robinson 1-3, K. Jones 1-6, R. Hill 1-6.

March 24, 2007

Let the Kyle-Kirby debate begin

Kyle or Kirby. Kirby or Kyle. No, this isn't what coach Randy Shannon wants this spring to be about. But whether The Commander likes it or not, it is the No. 1 question more than 1,000 fans showed up to try and at least shed some light on Saturday when the Hurricanes held their first scrimmage of the spring. And at least through these set of eyes, the choice looks easy. Kirby Freeman should be the starter.

KirbyfreemanYes, Saturday was only the first scrimmage. And yes, there are two more scrimmages.  But if UM's new offense is going to operate the way it did Saturday, Kirby is the obvious choice. It's not that Kirby played better than Kyle on Saturday (Freeman was 13 of 24 for 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; Wright was 15 of 41 for 82 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs). It's that Kirby looks like he's the better fit.

This offense Patrick Nix debuted for the public Saturday was not West Coast quarterback friendly. It wasn't built for somebody who needs a solid, experienced offensive line, some burners on the edge who can go deep and haul in 20-yard passes downfield. It looked like it was built for someone like Vince Young, a scrambler, who can fake a handoff to one running back up the middle, run the other direction and decide whether or not to pitch it or keep it for himself. Or scrap all that and pull back and pass.

"Our offense is so unpredictable now," said fullback Jerrell Mabry, who hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Kirby Freeman for the first of three touchdowns on Saturday. "We can have a run play and a pass play called at the same time, but you never know what we're going to do. The quarterback has a choice. He can run the ball if he wants to, but if he sees an opportunity to pass the ball, he can do that."

KirbyfreemanmugThat's Freeman. You may hear The Commander -- if he ever decides to speak on the quarterback situation -- say Wright is athletic enough for this offense. But that's not what Wright came to UM for. He came to make plays with his arm. And right now it doesn't appear UM has the receivers or the line to make that happen. Aside from that, Wright is still throwing too many interceptions. He threw two Saturday eerily reminiscent of what he did often last year -- overthrowing open receivers or flat out failing to see defensive players in the wings.

This offense, which will be based around the running back talents of Javarris James and Graig Cooper (I'll get to them in a minute), needs a quarterback that can avoid those mistakes. For the moment, it seems like Freeman holds the edge in that category too. For the record, it was Wright who came out and quarterbacked first on Saturday. He quarterbacked the opening two drives. But I'm not sure we should really make too much of it. Shannon doesn't want to shake any of his quarterbacks' confidence right now. And since Wright is the incumbant starter, Shannon probably felt it necessary for Saturday's scrimmage to take place in that order.

GraigcooperAside from the Kyle-Kirby debate, the other reason 1,000 fans were excited to watch Saturday's scrimmage was because of the guy wearing No. 2, freshman Graig Cooper. Super Coop didn't have a spectacular day. But there were glimpses of the shimmies and shakes that have made him sound just like the player his teammates have been talking about since he arrived on campus. Cooper had 34 yards on 10 carries by my count (since there were no official stats, I was among the few journalists who actually charted every play). He also caught two passes for -2 yards, plays blown up by an aggressive defense, which oh by the way still looks like the fifth-best defense in the country it was last year.

Back to Cooper. I asked the 6-foot, 195-pounder from Tennessee what he has learned in his two weeks of practice at UM. To my surprise, he had trouble answering the question. "What I've learned. Let me see. That's a hard one right there. I've learned the offense. Just being me, playing my part."

Cooper stumbled to answer the question because the offense hasn't stumped him. It's the same offense he ran in high school and at prep school, where two talented backs tear up the turf without a lead blocker. UM's running game didn't do much treading Saturday. The running game was held to 79 yards on 47 carries, a result more of a good defensive front and only six healthy and tired offensive lineman. But at least we learned one thing -- James and Cooper are by far head and tails better than anyone else UM has its in backfield. James led all rushers with 38 tough yards on 16 carries. Charlie Jones, the guy who was the starter last season for three games, had -14 yards on 9 carries. Derron Thomas, the fourth RB, had 6 yards on five carries.

I really would prefer not to venture on how the receivers and offensive line did considering the injuries sustained there and because UM really didn't do a whole lot of deep passing. In fact, Lance Leggett was the only player to haul in a pass further than 20 yards down the field. He made a spectacular over the should grab with cornerback Chavez Grant and safety Lovon Ponder on him for a 45-yard gain. Leggett then celebrated by drawing a penalty for excessive celebration (the scrimmage was officiated). He finished the day with 7 catches for 102 yards and a 9-yard touchdown catch from Wright to finish the scrimmage. It was a good sign for a guy who should be doing that on a regular basis. 

I'll be back to add more in a bit. I'm at Doral for the third round today.

March 22, 2007

Checking in from Doral

Good day Eye on The U readers. I'm out here at Doral this week for the WGC-CA Championship, helping out Jeff Shain with our coverage. As you can see there has been a change with Eye on The U, notably the departure of Susan Miller Degnan from this blog. SMD, our lead football beat writer, will now have a Q&A Forum and I will be in charge of this blog.

And while I know the name of this blog leads you to believe this blog will entirely be about The University of Miami, I want to reiterate I do not cover The U fulltime. I'm the lead basketball writer for the Hurricanes and the No. 2 writer on football. Therefore, while this blog will continue to have an Eye on The U, it will also be about a few other things: like whatever I'm covering for a particular week, important high school sports (which I covered for six years) and recruiting, which I pretty much handle in a leading role for The Herald.

With that said, my passion will still be the Canes. And since I won't be out at UM again until Saturday morning's scrimmage, I'll fill you in on what's been happening at Greentree practice field from some of my sources out there.

KayneOne of them is incoming receiver Kayne Farquharson. Kayne, who is sitting out this spring, tells me he's got a solid C in the Science Class he is taking at Miami-Dade College this semester. To get into UM, Kayne told me he needs to maintain the C average. So far, he's scored a 76, 82 and 75 on his first three exams and still has one more test before his final. "I'm going to pass it baby," Kayne told me. "You'll see me out there in the summer."

I asked Kayne for a critique of the position everyone is most interested in this spring -- quarterback. His response: "To be honest, both those guys are doing real well. They've been putting the ball on the money every time. It's going to be a tight race."

If that's truly the case, we'll find out soon enough. Since Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright will be off limits to the media until the fall and since The Commander (Randy Shannon) is staying mum on the subject, Saturday morning's scrimmage (open to the public) will be the first true look anyone outside of The U will get of the QB situation. I'm still of the opinion offensive coordinator Patrick Nix will end up choosing Freeman and his playmaking abilities for the season opener against Marshall.

In other news, the injury bug -- which pummeled UM last season during camp -- has reared its ugly head again. The offensive line currently has six healthy blockers and is interchanging two players at center in Andrew Bain and Matt Pipho, who are really handling snapping for the first time in their college career. It might not be a bad thing, though. Shannon wants all of his lineman to be able to play at least two positions. New offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, meanwhile, is working the healthy guys out intensely. The focus is losing weight and being quick instead of being big and slow.

"It's definitely a fast pace," Farquharson said. "Those guys are busting their [butts]. Even though they only got six, it still looks like a full squad out there. They're doing a good job."

Receiver and defensive back are other thin positions with injuries. The four healthy receivers are Ryan Hill, Sam Shields, Lance Leggett and Khalil Jones. I asked Farquharson if any DBs were working in at receiver. He said no.

GregcooperI asked Farquharson togive me an idea of who might be making the biggest splash. His response: "Cooper." As in Graig "Super" Cooper. The incoming freshman has made a few big plays in the early going of camp including Wednesday's first real extensive workout in pads when Farquharson said he took a screen pass and scored from 60 yards out. With the Commander's notion of having his best players on the field, I wouldn't be suprised if Cooper and James often find themselves on the field next year at the same time. They really might end up being the best backfield combination in the country if they are as good as advertised.

Aside from Cooper's development and the battle of the quarterbacks, the next most important storyline I think for the Hurricanes this spring is the continued development of star defensive end Calais Campbell. Big C was one of 43 players named to the Lombardi Watch List. Last season, he was a genuine surprise for opponents and finished the season with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss, fourth in the nation. Not to take anything away from Big C's super sophomore season, but people forget how much help he honestly had on the defensive line last year -- especially from the defensive tackle spot. He had Baraka Atkins and Kareem Brown causing havoc and helping him out. This year, he'll need similar support to avoid double teams as much as possible. I'm not saying Big C can't handle double teams, I'm just pointing out he'll definitely face bigger challenges this season.

OK, I've got to get out to the golf course. The first few guys are coming in. So far, Robert Allenby leads the field at five ynder. Tiger is struggling a bit at -1 under. Well, struggling for Tiger anyway.

March 16, 2007

New look for UM football

The University of Miami men's football team will not only have a new look from the top with coach Randy Shannon, but a new look to them altogether.

NewuimjerseysThe Canes unveiled new uniforms Friday, but nothing major. They are similar to those worn for the past three seasons, with a couple of minor aesthetic changes, including different striping on the front and back and wider jersey number. In addition players will now wear black shoes instead of white shoes. The Canes helmets' though will stay the same.

The new uniforms will debut on September 1 when the Hurricanes host Marshall to start the 2007 season.

Here's what the old ones looked like...


March 15, 2007

Bracketology Day 1: How 'bout VCU!

Updated after Thursday's games
It wasn't a great day for Eye on The U's bracket, but things got a lot better as the day went on -- thanks mostly to Virginia Commonwealth. After starting the day 1-2, we reeled off a 10-3 run to finish the day 11-5. The early upsets didn't come through for me. I had Texas Tech upsetting Boston College and Stanford beating Louisville. Neither happened.

But I scored big when Duke crashed and burned against Virginia Commonwealth, coached by former All-Dade guard and Miami High star Anthony Grant. On day when upsets were scarce, the Rams pulled off the biggest one. Alongside Grant, assistant and former Northwest Christian coach Tony Pujols. Grant, who played for Shakey Rodriguez in the mid 1980s, was an assistant last year with Florida. He's instituted that fullcourt press defense Pujols ran at Northwest Christian when he won three consecutive state titles. The hero for VCU was one of the guys I targeted in my March Madness Preview Thursday, guard Eric Maynor, who scored 22 points and the game-winner with 1.6 seconds left. Even though, I picked Pittsburgh to win their second round game Saturday, I've got to root for the local guys.

Anyway, what does your bracket look like after Thursday? Who are you picking to reach the Final Four and what are your biggest upsets? Before you share yours, here's what my bracket looks like.

Final Four: Florida, Kansas, Georgetown and Texas A&M. I've got Florida beating Georgetown in the final.

The rest of my first round upsets for Friday: No. 10 Georgia Tech over No. 7 UNLV and No. 13 Albany beating No. 4 Virginia.

Fire back.

UM basketball wrap-up

OK, I'm finally back from my trips to the ACC Tournament in Tampa and to the NCAA opening round game in Dayton and have plenty of time now to devote to this blog and to sitting on my couch and watching this tournament.

First off, before we move onto this year's NCAA tournament, I want to tidy up on the Canes. I've got to say I was thoroughly impressed with the effort the University of Miami put forward last week at the ACC tournament. The fact they were able to beat an athletic team like Maryland and take Boston College to overtime is a testament how good this team will be better next year when it finally has all of its parts in place. Honestly, it was the first time in a long time the team had more than one healthy, real post option. And it made all the difference.

Before I left Tampa, I got a chance to talk to coach Frank Haith for about an hour about the future of this team, how the scholarship situation may shake out, how he sees the development of his players progressing and where Miami could figure in next season in the ACC.

AN IMPOSING FRONTCOURT: Before we break down the scholarship situation, I've got to talk about Jimmy Graham, because I don't think there was a player who wowed me more than he did. I don't think there is any Jimmygrahamquestion now Graham is as talented a player as Haith has been saying all along. What he did in two games at the ACC tournament, rebounding, putback dunks and blocks should get Canes fans excited for next season. Graham provided UM with some much needed interior beef it lacked all season. Jimmy has always had the body to be a big physical presence. As Haith has said all season, what holds Jimmy back is his mental toughness. That's why when Jimmy picked up a technical for hanging on the rim following a dunk, Haith laid off him. "Had I gotten into him for it, we would have lost him for the rest of the game," Haith told me. Graham plays emotionally. And when he is excited and into the game, at times he can be unstoppable. Even though his offensive game has limitations, he's good enough at the college level to be a force.

That being said, Graham may not even be a starter on this team next season. Haith has confidence AnthonykingAnthony King will be back next season and playing center. We'll find out on April 16th if King could be granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA when the organization votes on extending its redshirt grace period from 6 games to 8. At that point, UM would apply for the medical redshirt. If King comes back, Haith said freshman Dwayne Collins will likely move over to power forward -- the spot he should really be playing -- and Graham will become the first option off the bench. That's 6-9 King, 6-8 Collins and 6-8 Graham. The rest of the post options will feature 6-7 Ray Hicks, 6-11 Fabio Nass and matching 6-10 incoming freshmen Julian Gamble and Freddy Asprilla. On paper at least, I'm not sure UM has ever had a team going to a season with that much size.

Gamble, according to assistant Butch Estes, is more of a power forward. Asprilla, who is still iffy (his high school closed down in January), is more of a pure center. Estes said Asprilla is an exceptional back-to-the-basket player, who can pass and score in the paint. Haith told me Hicks, who was suspended twice during the season, will be welcomed back if he cleans up his act and "becomes honest with me." I think Hicks will be back. Haith said Nass, who tore up his knee in January, should be back for fall ball.

Anyway, if you do the math, that's seven scholarship players who play the post. Men's college basketball teams are allowed to have up to 13. Keep that in mind as I continue.

ASBURY HAS SHOWN IMPROVEMENT: The small forward spot, currently occupied by sophomore Brian Asbury, will finally Asburydribblehave some depth to it next year when Haith said Adrian Thomas, whom Haith has always referred to as his best defender, returns from his sports hernia injury. The other option would be freshman Lawrence Gilbert, who played sparingly this season, and could end up transferring because he could be the odd man out. Much like Asbury did a year ago, Gilbert had problems finding his spots on the court and often looked lost. With Asbury only being a junior next season and Thomas a redshirt sophomore, Gilbert may not want to stick around. Asbury made drastic improvement this season, finishing second on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and leading the team in rebounds (6.0) after King went down. But the key to Asbury is getting him to be more consistent when Miami is on the road. He showed signs of that late as the season progressed. Ultimately, though, I don't think Haith really needs Asbury to be his No. 2 scoring option and thinks Asbury will be able to flourish when Miami develops a real scoring threat in the post with King and Collins.

A NEW BACKCOURT: The same could be said for guard Jack McClinton. Captain Jack really improved defensively as the season progresed and became much more than just a three-point shooter and scorer. McclintondribbleThe third-team All-ACC selection finished the season as the team's leading scorer (16.0 ppg) and ranked No. 1 in the ACC in the three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. But what he did in Miami's final few games -- playing improved defense and running the point with success -- is a tremendously positive sign for the Hurricanes moving forward. McClinton struggled dribbling the ball at times this season, losing balls off his foot and creating turnovers. In the ACC tournament, he penetrated and created easy dunks for his teammates. With Anthony Harris leaving and Denis Clemente's future at UM in doubt (I'll get to it soon), McClinton could end up being the starting point guard next season. That's a spot the 6-1 sophomore will likely end up having to play anyway if he has any hopes of making the NBA. Haith said McClinton can do it with some coaching and practice this offseason.

If McClinton does make the move to the point, it likely will be because Denis Clemente is not on the team. And that decision may not even be up to Haith Denisclementeanymore. Haith didn't want to speculate, but he didn't sound optimistic to me about getting Clemente back. That's a shame because Clemente was really starting to improve toward the end of the season. He was stroking the three and averaging close to 13 points during the final stretch of the year. If Clemente leaves, James Dews would likely move into the starting shooting guard spot. Dews, who is 6-3, is a much option there because of his added size and athleticism. Haith has said Dews is the best defender he has at the guard spot. Backing those guys up would be incoming freshman Edwin Rios, a 6-foot guard from Miami High, who is a scoring point guard and Lance Hurdle, one of the top JUCO players in California. Hurdle is only a commitment right now. But the 6-2, 180-pound combo guard would most certainly have a spot if Miami loses a scholarship player. Hurdle is a player likened to Rob Hite with a vertical leap of 42-inches.

OK, so now that I'm done breaking down the spots. Let's figure out who may or may not be here. If you do the math, there are 15 names that could potentially be on this team next season.

Post (7): King, Collins, Graham, Hicks, Asprilla, Gamble, Nass.
Swing (3): Asbury, Thomas, Gilbert.
Backcourt (5): McClinton, Clemente, Dews, Rios and Hurdle.

In the end, expect two of these six to not be on the team: King, Hicks, Asprilla, Gilbert, Clemente or Hurdle. Obviously, if that situation plays out for the worst, the Canes will lose King and Clemente, two potential starters for next season. But even in that worse case scenario, Miami would still have the team it finished the ACC tournament with, plus the addition of the incoming freshmen or JUCO recruit. And the team that finished play in Tampa was much better than the one  we all saw this season. So, either way, there is no way to go but up for this team. And while UM may not be around this March, there is no doubt in my mind UM will be a postseason team next year -- either in the NIT or in the Big Dance.

March 09, 2007

I'm still here? ACC Tourney Day II

Wow. I'm still in Tampa. Bet you didn't think I nor the Hurricanes basketball team would still be here for another game. But we are. So, how about them Canes!

Jackmcclinton_1Got to give credit where credit is due. Jack McClinton is a big reason UM is where it is today. And if the Canes somehow pull off a second upset today McClinton figures to be the reason again. The kid from Baltimore may have only scored 17 points yesterday, but the truth is he saved UM with what he did at point guard. The Canes really only have one point guard and yesterday they played without one. Harris had three quick fouls and played 25 minutes under a caution flag. McClinton, who could barely dribble earlier this year, kept the Canes composed when it built its big lead in the first half and kept them from imploding under Maryland's press in the second.

Jimmy Graham was big too. Coach Frank Haith talks all the time about how great Graham is in practice. Jimmy finally played like the guy all of his teammates know him to be when the game doesn't count. He blocked shots, rebounded, flew around and provided the type of interior toughness this team has lacked all season.

In two hours, the Canes get Boston College. The Eagles are beatable. Jared Dudley is a beast and the reason BC finished fourth in the conference. But this is a game where if Miami matches the intensity it displayed yesterday, it can beat BC -- even with just one point guard.

Which brings me to the bigger point. As bad as this Miami team has been all season. I'm now convinced had this team not lost Anthony King, UM would be fighting for an NIT berth today at the very least. So, for you Miami fans who have been down on hoops, take pride in what this team has accomplished this season. Despite the injuries, suspensions and losses, yesterday's win proved this team has not quit. And quite frankly, they had plenty of reasons to. It's a testament to Haith and his players Miami has continue to play with great effort. And that should count for something.

OK, enough preaching. Got to share with you that quarterback recruit Robert Marve, a Tampa native, was in the crowd yesterday wearing a UM cap and cheering his brains out as Miami pulled off its upset yesterday. Kid didn't need to be here. But he loves the Canes. Hopefully, I'll score an interview with him today if I spot him.

In gridiron news, I got an email this morning from the UM information staff that receiver Darnell Jenkins will miss this spring to attend to a family situation.

"Family is more important than football, and Darnell has to be there to take care of his family,"  UM coach Randy Shannon said in a statement. "We are all in agreement and want to do what's best for Darnell and his family. He will remain in school and rejoin us when practice starts in August."

I've known Darnell for years. Hopefully its nothing too bad. I'm sure we'll hear more in the coming days.

Anyway, as the games go on today, feel free to pour your thoughts and questions in on the tournament, the latest football developments and anything else that pops into your head during March Madness.

Go to go... Noles about to take on Carolina.

March 08, 2007

Checking in from the ACC tourney

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days, but I've been busy working on stuff for the ACC hoops tournament.

AlthorntonIt's halftime of the Florida State game and after seeing forward Al Thornton twice I just have to say the kid is flat out sick. He can really do it all. It's a wonder the Noles are in the must-win situation they are in with a talent like Thornton. I've watched him for a game and half now and have to say if Devin Ebanks, a potential 2008 recruit for the Canes, is as good as Thornton, UM is going to be a much better team in a few years.

Anyway, I hit UM football practice on Tuesday and have some audio interview clips to share with you with freshmen Graig Cooper and Doug Wiggins. Susan Miller Degnan will be writing a story on Super Cooper that will be in tomorrow's paper and both audio clips will be available then.

I know Wiggins pretty well from his playing days at North Miami Beach High, so getting him to open up was pretty easy. So, we started with his new haircut. Doug had dreadlocks, but decided to cut them when he arrived on campus. "I want to grow new roots," Wiggins told me. Tradition at UM has required freshman to cut their hair when they arrive on campus in the fall. Wiggins did it before even being told. That speaks volumes of the type of kid he is. He loves tradition, setting the example. He loves UM and his family (Wiggins is the first cousin of Heat forward Udonis Haslem) does too. Doug's father Doug Wiggins Sr. actually bought a huge UM flag and covered the roof of his house with it. He also covered his car with UM bumper stickers.

Doug is very, very smart, too. He has tremendous leadership instincts. I think of all the players UM signed in this last class, Wiggins is going to be the most influential this coming season and for years to come. Right now, he told me he's working in at nickelback and hopes to land the starting spot there the way Chavez Grant, another bright local kid, did last year. You can also expect to see him some on special teams, returning punts and kicks and possibly on offense. "I want to do what [safety] Lovon Ponder did last year," Wiggins told me when asked if he might play some offense. "I want to be 1-for-1 with a long touchdown pass. I'd love to play offense and help out wherever I can."

Cooper is pretty much the same type of kid as far as being versatile. He told me he's currently working on the second team behind Javarris James and said he was told he was Graigcoopergoing to be used in a "Reggie Bush type fashion." He told me he's been working in the return game too. Apparently he's made quite an impression in the early going with coaches. He is now wearing Jon Beason's old No. 2. Getting single digit numbers at The U is tough. He said the coaches told him when he arrived on campus, the only way he'd get a single-digit number was if he exhibited the type of character great Canes do. He found the number in his locker a week before spring drills began. As for his hair, SuperCoop, a kid who grew up in Tennessee, has dreads too (kind of like Brandon Meriweather had this past season). But Coop told me he's trying to escape having to cut it. It's not that Coop is a bad kid and doesn't want to follow tradition. He just likes his doo.

Anyway, that's what I learned from the first practice on Tuesday. As we all know, Commander Shannon doesn't like to share a lot of information. Don't expect much as this spring progesses. When we asked him how the quarterbacks looked, he said "I don't know." Sure coach, whatever you say.

That's it for my reporting on football. I won't bore you with basketball unless something interesting comes up. But here's something to pick your brain with...

With all the talk about the Canes moving to Dolphins Stadium, how would you feel if the Hurricanes do end up there? Would you be happy with them leaving the famed Orange Bowl? Or will playing at Dolphins Stadium, a midway point between Dade and Broward, be better for fans?

With that, all other thoughts on the ACC tourney and the first few UM football practices are welcome. Holler back.

March 05, 2007

Camp Shannon set to begin

Things are about to get awfully different at Greentree Practice Field now that Commander Randy Shannon is at the helm. Spring football, set to begin Tuesday, is going to look and sound a lot more old-school. At least that's the way Commander Shannon made it sound Monday when he met with the media to lay down the foundation for the first spring practices at UM under his ruling fist.

Among my favorite Shannon quotes:
1. "We don't have a quarterback situation." Followed by, "they will not be made available to the media until after the spring."
Randyshannon_12. "We do not have any individuals. We do not have a starting lineup. We have to find a nucleus of 11 guys that can play offense, defense and special teams. We're going to find the best guys offensively and defensively so we can establish a team mentality more than individuals. We're going to keep the pressure on everybody."
3. "Sometimes individualization can destroy a team. I've seen that happen a lot of times when you focus on one thing the big picture is forgotten about. The big picture is we have to build a team that can win games at the University of Miami.
4. "The biggest point between winning and losing is competition."
5. "The more you mingle with guys the more you'll lay it on the line for guys you don't know. The biggest thing we've done and are changing is getting everybody to know each other and making sure they understand that everybody works hard. Now when it's time to lay it on the line I can't let you down, you can't let me down."

If you didn't know what kind of coach Randy Shannon was going to be, maybe now you have inkling. Shannon, a former Canes linebacker himself, grew up in era at UM where competition brought out the best in everybody and when coaches sounded like they were reading from a manual. So, Monday, by declaring no positions belong to anybody and said things like 'there is no I in team', he's opened the door to this team being a whole lot better and likely a lot cornier when it speaks.

I'm sure every Canes fan will be more than happy to start hearing some good old Jamestd_2fashioned cliches in exchange for a better record and a better team atmosphere. As a writer, I can't say I'll be happy to put boring quotes in stories. But I am looking forward to seeing better football. And I've got a feeling this UM team won't be down for long. Unlike the previous regime, where coach Larry Coker never wanted Kyle Wright to feel like he wasn't going to be the starter by always telling the media "Kyle is the starter," everyone at The U will get to feel uncomfortable with Commander Shannon. And that's a good thing. Competition is what brought out the beast UM once was. And the folks Shannon has surrounded himself with, guys like linebacker Micheal Barrow and others, are cut from the same mold. If you're an old-school UM cat who enjoys the old-school UM way, this leadership group is going to make your toes tingle.

But if you're a talented recruit who has grown up in the me-me-me world today, there could be problems when old school and new school clash. I suspect that will be the case with a least a few of the guys on this roster. That's certainly something that's going to be interesting to watch develop as Shannon rules this team. Over the next few months, I expect several kids who might have been starters or contributors to bolt or find themselves riding the bench because they aren't necessarily down with the new ideas (two, Rashaun Jones and Rhyan Anderson already have). I know what you're thinking: What's wrong with getting rid of guys who don't want to work hard or follow the new rules every time? Nothing, I'm an old school guy myself. I like the attitude of get with the program or get going.

The problem is today's youth -- at least not everyone -- is not like that. And I'm afraid if Randy comes on too strong, The U might eventually end up losing some talented kids who probably aren't bad, but just need some extra guidance. I'm not saying Randy isn't capable of change. He could end up changing his hard stance on certain rules. But so far he's carried himself as a no-nonsense guy who doesn't seem like someone willing to give chances. And with today's kids, I'm not sure that's going to fly. All successful coaches have had to adapt a little.

Which brings me to my question of the day for the blog: From what you've seen and heard of Randy Shannon thus far, do you feel this program will be better or worse? How do you feel about his stance on opening up every position for competition? And which players or position do you want to the most improvement out of by the end of the spring?

Holler back.

March 04, 2007

Reaction to hoops, thoughts on football

I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while, but you diehards know I'm really only the basketball writer and I've been busy chomping away on my feature story which ran Sunday plus I covered the state high school championships up in Lakeland earlier in the week and did some Marlins duty.

Anyway, how do you feel about the Canes basketball program after this 11-19 season? Did the article I wrote shed any insight onto some of the hurdles this team obviously has? After covering this team for one season, I felt something needed to be said for what coach Frank Haith and company are up against. Miami's basketball woes stretch far beyond the court. Every ACC city I was in laughs at UM's basketball program and the lack of support it receives from fans and its student body.

I think it's a really a shame because not too long ago this team was in the Sweet 16. It took Leonard Hamilton a while, but he finally began winning. Haith faces a similar uphill battle. But he needs more help. UM's on-campus arena is too antiquated and yes it's only 4 1/2 years old. There are no replay screens. The atmosphere -- except for yesterday's game against Florida State and Duke -- is stale. I know that might have worked when UM was in the Big East and playing in the Miami Arena. But the ACC takes basketball so much more seriously. I've been to games in Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina and even Florida State where it actually feels fun to go to a basketball game. UM will never compete in the ACC unless that changes. Obviously recruiting helps, but how do people expect Haith to nab big time players when Miami isn't even seen as a basketball schoool?

Anyway, I'm done with my rant.

Just wanted to share some thoughts one where I've been the last two weeks. I never spoke with Devan Ebanks. I'm still waiting for him to call me back. But I'm hoping to give you that interview once I get it.

Also, on the state basketball hoops front: the two kids who played at Winter Park Lake Howell and are heading to the University of Florida -- 6-9 forward Chandler Parsons and 6-6 guard Nick Calathes -- are the real deal. The Gators got themselves two incredible players. I also got to watch three potential Canes in Pace forward Ray Shipman (2008), Ely guard Kenny Boynton Jr. (2009) and Pine Crest guard Brendan Knight (2010).

I liked Boynton Jr. the most. He was amazing. He's only 6-3. But the kid has tremendous courage and confidence. Shipman looks good too, but I think he needs to improve on finishing at the basket. Kind of reminds me of Brian Asbury. Brendan Knight is really talented too and another guy Haith should try to get his hands on.

Anyway, I'm done. Feel free to pour your thoughts on spring football and what you're most looking forward to when practice begins this week.