I promised an interview with freshman cornerback Doug Wiggins, but I have to change plans for this entry and make good on another promise. After weeks of phone calls, I finally got potential Canes basketball recruit Devin Ebanks on the phone. We talked for just five minutes, but I got the essential questions in on where the Canes stand with him after his unofficial visits to the UM campus and Indiana University the past two weeks.
Ebanks is considered a Top 10 national recruit and the No. 1 small forward in the country by Scout.com in the Class of 2008. At 6-8, 200 pounds, he would be a huge catch for the Canes, who haven't had this highly-touted of a recruit interested in the program since Darius Rice picked UM. Most believe if not for the new college rule, Ebanks could go pro straight out of high school. Some experts have compared him to former UConn star Rudy Gay and some compare him to this year's College Basketball Player of the Year Kevin Durant. The fact UM is even in the running should impress Canes hoops fans.
Before I get to the Q&A, I want to help those who might not know much about Ebanks get a look for themselves. I found two videos, one on YouTube and another on a website, which I've linked here. These are highlights of Ebanks when he played at Bishop Laughlin in Brooklyn, N.Y. as a sophomore. He is No. 3. As for the YouTube highlights, I believe the video is from the weekend he visited Indiana and played in a weekend AAU tournament.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself, when you started playing and where you grew up and who you might have looked up to as a player?
A: I started playing ball when I was five in Queens. John Starks, the Knicks were guys I looked up to.
Q: When did you first start getting recruited by UM and coach Frank Haith and what do you like about Coach Haith?
A: The first I spoke to him was this year when we played South Kent (CT.) He came to watch us play. He's a very down to earth guy. I can talk to him about things other than basketball. I like that a lot.
Q: Have you actually narrowed down your list of schools and if so who is at the top?
A: Miami, Indiana, Rutgers and Texas in that order. But I'd have to say Miami and Indiana are neck-and-neck.
Q: I know you visited UM and Indiana unofficially. Have you visited any other campuses and is there a chance you could make an official visit to Miami?
A: I already visited Rutgers. I'm going to visit Texas. But I just haven't made a decision yet when. I'll probably take an official visit to Miami before my next season starts in November.
Q: What do you like about Miami and the visit?
A: I really like the whole environment. It felt like a family. I met President Shalala. She was great. I also spoke with the athletic director and the director of academics.
Q: What do you like about Indiana and your visit there?
A: I liked Indiana. It's a basketball town. There's a lot of tradition.
Q: I heard your mother went with you on both trips and that in the end she may have more say than anyone else on where you end up. How does she feel about the schools?
A: My mom liked Indiana and she thinks Miami s a little far from home. Obviously her opinion at the end of the day does play a role, but this is going to be my decision. I'm going to be the one living there. I'll probably make the decision at the end of the summer, but even if I do, I won't sign until November.
Q: Does the fact Indiana has more basketball tradition than Miami favor the Hoosiers and does the fact Miami finished in last place last year in the ACC hurt the Canes?
A: Not at all. That aspect has nothing to do with my decision. I like to think I can take UM to new heights.
At this point, we concluded the interview because he had to go to study hall. Ebanks told me to give him a call later Tuesday night. He never answered.
This is some of what other papers have reported in the past two weeks since he made his visits.
"I would probably have to say it is neck-and-neck now because before I had seen Miami but had not seen it here, and I like what I see here," Ebanks told Indiana's student newspaper.
"Here it is really family-oriented," Ebanks said. "Coach (Sampson) talked about family a lot when we talked to him. He is a hardworking coach, and if I come here he will really help me with my defense. He says he is a defensive coach, and I really need to work on my defense. That will be a main key there."
"I watched the movie 'Hoosiers,' so I am thinking I am going to a basketball state," said Ebanks. "Then I met the people and went out with some of the students and it definitely met up with my expectations."
Also hurting the Canes chances: Indiana 2007 recruit Eric Gordon talks with Ebanks almost daily. The two became friends playing AAU basketball. Kenny Gantman, one of Ebanks’ AAU coaches, is a 2001 IU graduate according to the Indiananpolis Star.
Here's a link to another blog, one from a reporter named Adam Zagoria from the Herald News in New Jersey that has followed Ebanks closely for awhile now. ZAGSBLOG.
Aside from all that, reports suggest Ebanks was close to committing to Miami two months ago and has a much deeper relationship with Haith. Although Haith cannot specifically talk about recruits, I've been told by sources at UM in the past Haith has known Ebanks since before he was a teenager. Haith has family that lives in New York City including his brother, whose son you'll remember was shot and killed earlier this year.
I also was told part of the reason Ebanks' mom didn't like the visit to UM as much as Indiana was because the family stayed on South Beach. My source told me his mom didn't like the party environment and would like to see her son in a place where he can't get in trouble. Ebanks was supposedly expelled at Bishop Laughlin according to the New York Post because of a run-in with a teacher. He is now at St. Thomas More Prep School in Connecticut. I'm sure if Ebanks makes another trip to UM, Haith and company will make sure to take the troubled thoughts of South Beach out of his mother's head.
Haith has done a tremendous job recruiting big name talent in the past. As an assistant at Texas, he was named the recruiter of the year by Rivals.com. At Wake Forest, he did a great job too. So far at Miami, he's done a great job keeping the local talent here. Edwin Rios, once considered a top five national recruit in the Class of 2007, will likely be the biggest catch of his first four years. And there is the potential Miami could end up getting Broward's Eloy Vargas, a 6-10 power forward, and 2009 national recruit Kenny Boynton of Ely down the road. But Ebanks would give Haith the highly-touted recruit he needs to prove to Canes fans he really was as good as advertised when Paul Dee hired him.
The fact UM finished 12-20 and last in the ACC last season, his third at the helm, has certainly put the microscope on him a bit and added a little more pressure going into next season in the eyes of fans. But Haith has told me on a number of occassions he believes next year's team is more than capable of being top five in the ACC and without a doubt a postseason team. Getting Ebanks and having most of that talent return in 2008 could potentially be the sparkplug that gets Miami back into the NCAA Tournament and the Sweet 16 and where it once was more at the end of Leonard Hamilton's tenure. But without a winning season next year, who knows what will happen with the program.
Which leads me to our poll question.
Thanks and feel free to leave your comments below.
COMING THURSDAY: The Q&A with UM freshman cornerback Doug Wiggins.