In the midst of the news of Anthony King receiving a redshirt to return next season, I got a chance to speak with Coach Frank Haith for more than an hour Thursday night. Among the topics: Jimmy Graham's non-departure, the point guard situation and incoming freshman Edwin Rios, Freddy Asprilla's transcripts, new recruit Lance Hurdle, and the situation with the coaching staff.
It's a load and took me lots of time to transcribe for your viewing pleasure. But I am here to please the Eye on The U Crew. Eventually, I plan to do the same with several football players, assistants and possibly coach Randy Shannon if I get a chance as the summer progresses. But for now read up on what Coach Frank Haith has to say about the state of his team and the future.
Q: Can you talk about your excitement knowing Edwin Rios is finally going to be on the team this coming season and is it a bit tempered because you might need him to do more now that Denis Clemente is no longer on the team?
A: It was a major commit for us and someone and I’m finding out across the country that a lot players want to play with. When you get a kid that has that kind of draw to him all that does is help your program grow and I think Eddie is one of the top players in the country. I’m excited about coaching him. I don’t want too much pressure on Eddie from the start of the season. I think Eddie is going to have a terrific career, but I don’t want him to feel he has to wear this cape because we all know as a freshman that can be very tough. It’s also very tough to play the hardest position which is the point guard position. But I think Eddie is very capable. I saw him make changes in his game in high school. He’s been working on his game throughout the spring and he’s been over here a half dozen times with our players. I think with him and with Jack [McClinton] playing some one and Lance Hurdle playing some one, we got a terrific core of guys that can handle that position.
Q: Talk about what it means to lose a guy like Denis, plus Anthony Harris graduates, so really you guys are going in to next season with guys that haven’t played the point a whole lot. Are you worried about them being a little green at first?
A: I think that is a little bit of concern at first because those guys haven’t clocked a lot of minutes – particularly Lance and Jack – playing that position full time. I look at Eddie being the only true point guard. But I think with the combination of all three guys we won’t put too much pressure on one guy to do a lot. We can kind of spread the wealth out between the three guys. We will be able to get after it right away in our preseason work. I think this summer we’ve talked about it with Jack in terms of watching case this spring along with Lance when he gets here for summer school. I think Eddie will just fall right into it. I really believe Eddie is going to be a natural. It is a blessing to have Eddie, losing a guy like Denis. Denis is a tremendous loss, particularly the way Denis was playing the latter part of the season. I think you could see Denis grow into that position. He was starting to be really comfortable. Not having his presence is obviously going to be a loss and something were going to have to move on and deal with particularly early on in the season.
Q: As far as Eddie’s growth, what did you like about him when you were recruiting him and what did you like about him as far as him running the point?
A: The biggest thing with Eddie, initially it was toughness. I loved his competitive spirit and I love the fact he can really shoot the basketball. But as time grew on, Eddie committed to us very early and as time grew on and Eddie got older, I watched him adapt and change his game in high school and that change occurred as he and I continued to talk about the point guard position and the thing that excited about me the most was the fact he was very coachable. He committed to buying into being a true point guard and sacrificing scoring a lot of points, which he did early on his career to the point where I think people thought his game diminished because he wasn’t scoring 35 or 50 points . In Myrtle Beach, I think he averaged 50 point games in a tournament setting, where now he was getting 25 or whatever, but he was being a better playmaker, he was getting his teammates involved more and that’s what excited me most about him. His ability to accept coaching and did it when I told what the position was all about and saw him make that change without me being there to coach him.
Q: There was at time when Rios was one of the top 10 players in his class. He fell off and most recruiting services have him at the bottom end of their Top 100 now in the '07. Is Eddie really a Top 10 player? Can he be that great?
A: I think Eddie Rios is a very good player. I don’t get caught up in that numbers system where a guy is ranked and I talked to Eddie because I know he was concerned about that. But people forget Eddie was hurt for a lot of those tournaments and a lot of those rankings are based on what you do in the summer time, which is not fair to the kids because they aren’t playing with their high school team. They’re playing with a team that are not normally with. Eddie, the summer his rankings went down was when he had the bad ankles, and he didn’t play as well. I think we’re all, well me personally, because I’ve seen Eddie as a player and I’ve seen him grow, there’s no question is a top-notch player, whether he’s top 50, top 10 or whatever, you got to watch it playout when a kid gets to college and how he performs because I’ve seen a lot of kids that go to college with a very high ranking not be as good and kids not as high be outstanding players. I’ll give you a kid, P.J. Tucker. I don’t think he was in anybody’s top 200 at and he was the big 12 player of the year. And he’s now in the NBA playing with Toronto. Josh Howard, same kind of attribute. Those rankings where I have a lot of respect and I think they do a very good job, but they do make mistakes too. I don’t know where I would place Eddie, all I know is he’s going to be an outstanding college player and he was a very good high school player. He won high school championships and I think if you ask Eddie if that team would have stayed together at Miami High, they probably would have won a couple more.
Q: What is that makes you believe Eddie will be able to succeed at the next level?
A: I think the thing with Eddie and just knowing him, he’s always been a worker. Jack McClinton is like that. Eddie’s like that and I love his commitment. He wants to be good and he wants to be great and that’s a great quality to have. He’s not afraid to go out and compete and he’s not afraid to go out and do what he has to do. He’ll come over and ask for tapes. We’ll sit down and talk even now and I love that about him. He’s hungry. He’s hungry about the game. I think that’s great because this team we have is hungry. We’re ready – the way we finished last season and what we went through last season – there is no doubt this team is ready to get back on the court to get after it. This team is excited about competing. Eddie’s energy will be welcomed with open arms because he’ll blend right in with how the team feels.
Q: Is it just going to be an open competition for the starting point guard right now or are you going in with someone in mind?
A: There’s no way I can sit here and tell you who is going to be our starting point guard. We’re grooming Jack. We’re hoping Lance can play some. Eddie is going to be right there in the mix with it. I look at our team and I really believe for the first time since I’ve been here that we legitimately got 10 players that can play a lot of minutes. How do we put that thing together is something we really got to work at and work with and that’s something that is going to be our job as coaches to put us in the position to be successful and I don’t know who starts, who finishes right now, but we’re going to do our best to get out there and get them going and put those guys in a position to give us a best chance to win ball games.
Q: Can you just talk for a second about what it means to get Anthony King back?
A: …. We’re excited about it. It gives us legitimately, a front line with Anthony King, Dwayne Collins, Jimmy Graham, Ray Hicks, Fabio Nass, a Julian Gamble. We have some depth, we have some size. But King’s presence when he went out it obviously hurt our team. But having that guy that can anchor our defense so to speak, block shots, rebound, and I know his offense has gotten better. As did Jimmy Graham when he sat out, Anthony King did the same thing Jimmy did because we anticipated Anthony coming back, and he would shoot fouls and left-handed jump hooks. Anthony needed that to improve in his game. Whereas we didn’t want anybody to get hurt, I think both guys will have shown or will show as Jimmy showed that his game has gotten that much better because of the injuries they got to work on other areas of their game.
Q: There was a story on Canestime.com recently that said if Anthony King returned, there was a chance Jimmy Graham might leave. Can you talk about that?
A: I was a little disappointed that some of that got out. I don’t get into the rumor mill that much and Jimmy had a nice run at the end of the season. I thought he played very well. I think Jimmy knows he’s one of our leaders in terms of going into his junior year. I really believe Jimmy wants to be a part of this program and be a part of our success. I really don’t want to speculate or talk about rumors because people have reasons why they say things. I’m sure if there was anything said because I never really talked about it with Jimmy that much, but if it did happen, because I don’t want to say someone was telling a lie when they put that out because I don’t know. But Jimmy and I talked about it and it wasn’t an issue. I took it as that. Jimmy and I have a tremendous relationship. Whereas I do with all my players. But he and I have a special one. And if something was going to happen in that nature, I would have really believed he would have told me and we would have talked about it extensively. And it never got to that point.
Q: I know you can’t specifically talk about recruits, but this past weekend was a big one (Top 2008 recruit Devin Ebanks visited UM), but as far as how the recruiting is going can you tell us what you have been up to? How has the process been going?
A: I think this job is never-ending. We had a great spring as far as evaluating kids in the month of April and we were very fortunate to have kids visit our campus unofficially, which is very difficult to do because we’re so far away from everybody else. That’s something we haven’t been able to do with kids except here locally. So, we’re starting to see some of those things happen where we get kids on campus and that is a positive. Our level of recruiting, we try to raise it each year. I like the kids we have in our program and we’re always going to try to recruit top notch players. When you go after top notch players you have a chance of losing them and we’ve stuck our hats in there and I think you’re battling some top-notch programs and battling programs that have some great tradition and you’re hoping you hit a home run. Eventually, we’re going to get one. I don’t know how to soon. But I hope our fans no we’re going to keep trying. And that’s a process, that I can make a promise to them that we’re never going to stop to try to get the best players we can but also go after top notch guys that can help us win championships.
Q: How many guys have actually been able to have come in? How many potential recruits have visited in the past couple months?
A: We’ve had two. We’re probably going to have one more here in May or June. But we’ve had a ton of young guys within the state, within driving distance, so that’s been a plus. We’ve had some really good young talent in the state of to make sure we stay in touch with and that’s important as we continue to grow. I look at what we did with Brian Asbury, Adrian Thomas -- and people don’t know about Adrian Thomas because I really believe he can play, but I think Adrian Thomas is going to be a factor on this team next year, a big factor – but you look at Asbury, Thomas, Dwayne Collins and Rios and we’ve done a tremendous job in South Florida getting the best players and we’re going to continue to do that. But we’ve got to make sure we don’t let that slip and we continue to work those guys and let them come over to our campus and continue to introduce them to our program.
Q: Are there any specific positions you guys are looking for with the 2008 class? When you recruit what do you focus on normally?
A: The way we look at it, we got three scholarships. We could have four if we don’t take anybody else this year which it doesn’t look like we will. So we will only have 12 guys on scholarship this year. I think we’d like to sign 2 bigs and then we’d like to sign a wing and the best available guard whether it’s a two guard or a point guard. But we want 2 and 2. Two posts and two perimeters. Although we will graduate King, Hicks and Fabio. But I think two is what we need. I think Jimmy will still be here in the fray with Dwayne next season. So I think if we add two bigs that’ll be good for us.
Q: I got to ask you about Freddy Asprilla and what his progress is with his transcripts from Columbia? What are you guys still waiting on to get him? Is there a deadline at all? Are you worried?
A: We signed Freddy it’s just a matter of him getting qualified to be admitted to the university. We’re just continuing to wait for some paperwork. Just for our fans to understand when you sign a kid from another country and Freddy is from Columbia getting paperwork takes time. It’s a long process. So, when you get all of that paperwork and test scores together. And it has to be evaluated. It’s not like your normal process. And we’re still into getting that solidified and that’s not quite done yet. We want Freddy and we feel Freddy would be a great addition to our frontline. Obviously with King coming back I think Freddy and a Julian, I mean, I don’t think we thought we could ever be this big. When you go 6-9, 6-9, and guys that have nice size too. We have a lot of length and size and I like that look of a basketball team. It will allow us to do some more things than we’ve been able to do since we’ve been here. And that’s exciting for me to have a frontline like we’re creating. We haven’t really, we’re just going to keep working I don’t think we’ve hit that tier where we’re nervous or hit the panic button yet. We’re just going to keep working to get the necessary paperwork we need from Columbia and from the testing center and match that together and get it evaluated.
Q: Lance Hurdle, for the fans who haven’t seen him play or even know his name yet, what can you tell us about him? Is he already on campus?
A: He’ll be here second session of summer school. He’s actually finishing up school right now. I can tell our fans Lance is a tremendous young man. He’s an outstanding student No. 1. When you hear about a kid from a junior college, first thing you think is he has some academic deficiencies. But he’s an outstanding student. He originally signed with Santa Barbara initially. Played very little and went to Junior College. He’s an outstanding young man who is very gifted athletically along those lines of Rob [Hite] and Guillermo [Diaz], just high flyers, athletes on the perimeter, he gives us that. He’s not quite bulky as those guys. He averaged over 20 points a game in JUCO. The thing I love about Lance is he’s an unselfish player. He’s one of those guys that will do whatever he has to do to help the team. If he needs to go score 25. He’ll go do that. If he needs to sit back and his team is very good. He’ll do that. When I watched him play, he was just a complete player. There is not one thing I think he’s lacking – he can handle the ball, he can shoot it, he’s very athletic and I love his defensive intensity, he can guard and takes pride in guarding. Sometimes as a coach you don’t respect those characteristics. I respect them because I think we needed that last year. A little more punch on the defensive perimeter. He’s quick enough and athletic enough to cause some problems on the defensive end, but he’s also a very adequate offensive player. He’s 6-2, 6-3, I don’t know what his vertical is but he can really jump. He’s quick, an unselfish player. He’s got just a great personality and he’ll be a tremendous addition to the community here at the University of Miami
Q: Anything going with other guys as far as surgery? What is Anthony King’s health? I know you said Jack McClinton might be having surgery?
A: No surgery for Jack. They got him in a cast here for the next couple weeks with his left wrist. He had some problems with it and went and had it looked at, felt like surgery probably wasn’t necessary and letting that thing heal. It was something from a previous injury that probably never healed. But we just want to take care of it. And Jack is one of those guys I don’t worry about giving time off because even when he was in here, it had a tough smell to it. So, I knew he still had been working out. I think he’s getting close to getting it off in the next couple weeks. The other one, King is starting to come along great. He can shoot right now with his wrist and handle the ball. So, that’s the next step for him, so I think he’s about 2-3 weeks away from contact. The casts are off. He’s doing ballhandling, working out. He’s excited about it. I’ve told him to kind of be patient with it. He’s anxious to get back to going at it full go. Other than those two things I think we’re pretty healthy. Knock on wood. I wish we were playing some games right now. It’s a blessing to see those guys in good spirits. You talk to our guys, they’re excited. I’ve been around 20 years and I’ve never been around a group of guys so excited about getting together and playing next season. It is a process.
This summer I think the thing I’m most proud of and its been part of things I do in the past where you do things in the summer that tells you your program is taking a step in the right direction. Dwayne Collins got invited to USA Basketball Trials in 19-and-under which is a tremendous accomplishment. Jimmy Graham got invited to AIA All-Star team that is going to Australia. Brian Asbury got invited to an All-Star team going to Japan. Jack McClinton is going to an invite either to Lebron James or Michael Jordan’s camp. We’re extremely excited that we got guys that are now being involved and doing other things and maybe now people are seeing we got pretty good players here.
Q: Butch Estes is no longer on the staff, who is replacing him and some of the things he did last year? I also heard coach Michael Hunt was in the running for the South Carolina State job and didn’t get it.
A: Butch was involved with everything in terms of recruiting and scouting. Right now I’ve elevated Michael Schwartz who was our video coordinator but was also with us at Texas. He’s been elevated into that position as an assistant coach. I also hired Toby Lane, who comes from Southeast Missouri. Toby was at Oklahoma when I was Texas. I’m excited about Toby. I’m excited about Michael Schwart z, they are both young guys that I think have a ton of energy who will have great repoire with our kids. In terms with Michael Schwartz, who I believe has a bright future as a coach. As far as Michael is concerned, he was in the running, but didn’t get it. Right now, I think we’re staying pat. He also had some opportunities with other things too. I just want to say this when we get guys on our staff, we want to get guys who want to be head coaches. And I think I learned that when I worked with Rick Barnes [in Texas]. I want all our guys to be head coaches, strive to be head coaches. Obviously, we want consistency with our staff which is why I’m pleased to have Jorge [Fernandez] here. As long as we’ve had Jorge, he’s done a tremendous job as far as how he’s helped me with our recruiting and so forth… we’re hoping Michael will still be here, but I think there are some opportunities he’ll still look at, but if not we’ll be very happy if he stays with us.