« May 2007 | Main | July 2007 »

3 posts from June 2007

June 28, 2007

Filling the gap

Finding a topic for the Eye on The U crew to discuss during the summer months when I'm supposed to be off from work and not much is really going on a The U can become quite a task. Honestly, I could sit here and B.S. about many things. I could tell you how I feel about the Orange Bowl situation. I could chase down high school football recruits who aren't going to be signing a scholarship until February and ask them which way they are leaning. I could take some other topic and try to make it my own.

But going into my sophomore season on the Canes beat, the one thing I will refuse to do is feed you something I know very little about. It's not responsible and it's not fair to you the reader. You guys want good material. When I can give it to you, I will. But when I can't, I will direct you in the right direction. It's only the right thing to do. I want all of you hungry Canes fans to get all you deserve.

I know for a long time most of you have gone to the other paper's blog for info. And rightly so. Honestly, he did a great job with the blog and gave you a great place to voice your thoughts and concerns. I felt he set the tone for what blogging should be about. I know his recent promotion has left a void in the eyes of the Canes fans community which lived and died with his blog. While O was great, there are still plenty of great reporters covering the Canes. As a sophomore on the beat, I plan to grow into one of those as the years go by. But I know I'm not there yet. And that's why I'm giving some of the new readers coming this way sort of a disclaimer. I want you to know who I am, what I'm about, and what I want to be for you. While I only covered the UM beat fulltime for the first time last year, I've lived in Miami my entire life and have been a fan of every local team. The Canes and Dolphins are my top two favorites. So I know a lot about the history of both teams. But like most of you I don't remember everything and I'm not perfect. So if I make a mistake, call me out on it. I want this blog to be a community, where I share and you share.

And it doesn't have to be exclusive. I know some of you have already come on here and posted for another blog, canespace.com. I checked it out. You should too. It's a blog for the fan, by the fan. And some of these fans know plenty about the Canes. They've got all sorts of insight. Either way, whenever I find something cool on there, I plan on making sure you know about it too. And hopefully, it will work vice-versa. As a reporter I'll have a different perspective. Hopefully I'll be able to add the Canes fans community in my own way.

Anyway, that's what I wanted the point of this blog to be. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's tackle some of the topics you have been bringing to my attention. First off, the stadium situation.

Obowl2_4Barry Jackson, probably our best pound-for-pound reporter, is doing an excellent job covering the stadium situation with the Canes. He knows more people in and around this city than anyone else whether it comes to management, officials, board of trustees and the people making the decision. While I know a few people who might shed some light, Barry has a much better grasp. So, this is where the I'm not going to B.S. you comes into play. Get it from Barry. He knows. if you haven't already done so, check out his most recent update from Wednesday.

As for the athletic director search. Before I began my vacation a few weeks ago, the two names I heard at the forefront of the discussion were Bernie Kosar and baseball coach Jim Morris. My sense is this is a search that will not be completed for some time. When I get back to fulltime reporting on July 23, I plan on trying to shed some light. But until then, I'll keep my ears open and let you know when I hear something.

Moving on. Last week I was asked by Rick George, another blogger, to take part in a Q&A regarding the Canes. He's asked reporters from all over the country to take part in talking college football and is running an interesting series on some of the country's top programs like Florida, Tennessee, USC, Notre Dame, Penn State, Auburn, LSU and Texas. So far, Nebraska and Ohio State. Check it out here.

Anyway, I've decided to share some of the questions and answers during the dry period for you to read and pour your thoughts back at me with. This was the first question I was asked by Rick followed by answer. In the coming weeks, I'll feed you the rest of his questions with my answers.

1. Who would you take as the head coach to lead an All-Miami team - Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, or Larry Coker - and why?
A: Tough one and I'm kind of torn between Schnellenberger and Johnson. But because I believe the Hurricanes were at their best when Johnson was coach, I'll take Jimmy. Um_jimmyjohnsonNobody really personifies what UM was during its most exciting period than Johnson. This was a man who not only recruited some of the best players in UM history, but loved to gamble on fourth down and really loved to take chances and maximize the talent he had. Yes, Erickson won two titles, more than any other UM coach. But he won his first one with Jimmy's players. And let's not forget how the Canes would have won another title in Johnson's last season at UM in 1988 if not for a bad call at Notre Dame in a 31-30 loss. That Canes team by the way opened the season with a 31-0 drubbing of top-ranked Florida State, a thrilling come-from-behind win at Michigan, an 18-16 win at home against 8th-ranked Arkansas and a 23-3 blowout of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Johnson basically had Miami ranked No. 1 or No. 2 going into its bowl game from 1985 to 1988. And he also knew how to put together a great staff. The choice is simple -- Jimmy.

So, who would you pick? I'm going to post a poll question and ask you to pour your thoughts in below.

As for other issues,to touch on: Canesport.com reported two Hurricanes incoming freshmen, RB Shawnbrey McNeal and local DE Adewale Ojomo, failed to report for the second summer session. I'll try to find out what I can on my own in both situations. Ojomo will be easier to get on the phone.

In recruiting news, UM was ranked just outside of the Rivals.com team rankings for 2008 at No. 11 in the first such rankings released thus far. I was surprised to see UCLA at No. 1, followed by the usual suspects, Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, USC, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Nebraska. While I've said it a hundred times before, I'll say it again. June is too early for such rankings to come out. So, don't take too much out of it or the fact the Canes top commitment, Ely High cornerback Patrick Johnson, said UM is now tied for the lead for his services with Southern Cal. I'm going to try to talk to the kid myself, but I can tell you its common practice for kids to make early commitments, then say they are all of a sudden interested in another school. I call it the Show-Me-Lots-Of-Love-Factor. And I suspect that's all Johnson really wants: for his recruit wooing to not end yet.

Anyway, I'm out. When I get back to work full-time, you'll get better stuff from me. But for now, at least there's another place for you Canes fans to talk. See ya.

June 21, 2007

Summer Check-In

Can't lie to you Eye on The U Crew. I've been enjoying my summer break even though a few stories have roped me back into work and kept me away from the beach. That being said, its never a bad thing to give you a place to talk Canes. Let's start with the men's basketball team.

I know I'm not breaking any new ground here, but losing the Devin Ebanks sweepstakes to Indiana is a tough loss for the Canes. When Ebanks, one of the country's Top 10 recruits in the Class of 2008, spurned UM Saturday and announced his intentions to go to Bloomington (READ THE STORY) it was a painful loss for coach Frank Haith who invested years and plenty of time and energy trying to make Ebanks his first big catch at The U.

But as painful a loss as it is and as much as Ebanks would have helped Miami and Haith, I'm not ready to say his loss is a poor reflection on Haith. I'm not trying to Devinebanks2defend him. I'm just trying to be fair. Sometimes when you swing for the fences, you miss the ball. All big time recruiters do. Yes, Haith was hired in-part because he was a great recruiter and the expectations were he could snag a few guys like Ebanks who could help turn UM's fortunes around. But to say Haith failed in recruiting Ebanks and thus is a failure as a coach and recruiter is not an opinion I'm ready to agree with yet. While many UM fans may point to the past and how the Canes were once able to snag Darius Rice, a McDonald's All-American, in 2000, I'm sure many will forget the Hurricanes were coming off one of their best seasons in school history. Last year's Hurricanes team finished 4-12 in the conference and 12-18 if you forget and had one of the worst home crowds in the country. I don't care how good of a recruiter you are. When you're trying to win a war with a water water pistol, while your enemy from Indiana has an army and an AK-47 in his hand, winning a recruiting battle is next to impossible. And that's what Haith was up against.

Aside from that, Ebanks is a player many experts believe won't be in college very long. Getting him certainly would have been huge, even if for one season. But what Haith needs is time, support, and the type of recruits -- he'll hate me for saying this -- Leonard Hamilton was able to bring into Miami after taking his lumps in the early going. Hamilton got some talented, tough players like Johnny Hemsley, Mario Bland, Tim James and John Salmons, who helped take Miami to the next level with defense, athleticism, hunger and grit. Haith has some of those guys. Unfortunately, some of them, like Adrian Thomas, Jimmy Graham and Anthony King, were hurt most of last season. And that's what the 2006-07 Hurricanes lacked.

Wednesday's news on UM receiving its first commitment in the Class of 2008 (READ THE STORY) was an encouraging sign. Quincy Roberts, a 6-5 combo/guard from QuincyrobertsHarrisburg, Pa., isn't a blue-chip recruit. Rivals.com and Scout.com rate him three-stars. But he seems like a kid who has a lot of good ingredients. I spoke with him and his high school coach for about 15 minutes each Wednesday (CHECK OUT THE AUDIO LINKS ON THE STORY). Roberts is not only a good student, but an overall great player who makes his teammates better. He played quarterback on the football team and according to his coach is fearless, tough and strong. Most guys from outside Philadelphia are. According to his coach, he only averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists last season. But he's a kid who helped his team, which has three other Division I recruits, to the state final four two years in a row (CHECK OUT A VIDEO LINK HERE). Either way, his signing gets UM on the board in 2008, which is important on its own. It's also not bad to mention how new assistant coach Jake Morton played a role in recruiting Roberts, who said the former Cane text messaged him everyday for months. Roberts told me Haith told him he wanted one swingman and two bigmen in his Class of 2008. I'll keep you posted as more news develops with other recruits.

Now let's talk football, where all signs are pointing toward the Canes having one of its Jacoryharrisbest recruiting classes ever. Yeah, I said it. Ever. And that's truly because Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties may be stacked with its best talent in years and Randy Shannon's hiring has made UM the hot place to be again. No commitment might be more important than Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris, who committed to UM just last week (READ THE STORY). Harris, who set Miami-Dade passing records last season, is the frontman and leader to one of the nation's best high school teams. He is respected everywhere he goes. His commitment will likely spew several more of the nation's top players UM's way, including teammate and receiver Aldarius Johnson who should be the next big recruit to commit to Miami this summer. Covering high schools the way I have for years, eventually it will become a domino effect. I suspect much the same way Lakeland sent nearly all of its big studs to Florida last year, this year it will be UM's turn to grab all the best the 'West has and more locally.

The fact UM and Shannon have 10 commitments -- and 10 major local studs at that -- this early tells me Miami is well on its way back to its old days when the local talent wanted to stay home. And if it stays that way, it shouldn't be too long before the Canes are playing for championships again.

P.S. - I was on the radio last night with The Dos Amigos at 790 The Ticket. We talked Canes hoops and the latest regarding the new law passed to randomly test high school athletes in Florida for steroids. Check it out here.

Anyway, I'm out. Feel free to chime in on what's eating you up this summer regarding the Canes. I wouldn't mind turing a few of your questions or comments into another blog entry the next time around. I should be back with another blog in the next two weeks. I'm not scheduled to be back fulltime from vacation until July 21. Until then, there will be some sporadic blogs. Enjoy the summer. I know I will.

June 06, 2007

Gore: A real Rags to Riches story

How you doing these days Eye on The U crew? Just wanted to check in during my three-week break -- Is it really vacation if I'm still working? -- to give you a place to pour your thoughts in regarding your beloved Canes. Among the topics of this entry: My visit to Frank Gore's mother's house, Denis Clemente's transfer to Kansas State, a Devin Ebanks update and a quick football recruiting update.

Gore_frank2_2First, Gore. After signing his big contract extention in March, I spent months trying to hunt him down for an interview and finally did at the end of last week (a feature on him should be running in the paper soon). Anyway, he invited me to his mother's brand new four bedroom home in West Kendall to shoot a photo of him and his mother together. Frank never showed up (he was doing an autograph session with kids), but I got a chance to speak with him later on. I spent nearly an hour with his mother, who you all remember has to take weekly dialysis treatments for her diabetes and struggles simply to get out of bed.

Although as a journalist I'm not supposed to get emotionally attached to the people I write about -- it is unprofessional. But I couldn't help but feel genuine happiness for Gore and his family. The house Frank bought his 46-year old mother, 22-year old brother Travis and 21-year old sister Shemika, was four times the size of the tiny, two-bedroom place he once shared with eight people growing up in Coconut Grove. I was there the day before Frank got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round two years ago. Gore was so happy that day because he knew he was finally going to be able to get his family out of the hood, off of welfare and live a dream. But he was also disappointed. He knew he was better than the five running backs -- Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, J.J. Arrington, and Eric Shelton -- taken ahead of him in the same draft. And he knew his potential was never reached at UM because of the two major knee injuries he suffered.

Gore finally reached it last season in San Francisco. All the open field running, the big moves, the shake and bake, was back in his step. He looked like the guy who tore up tP1_gore_presswirehe Miami-Dade County rushing record book with more than 2,900 yards in 11 games his senior season at Coral Gables High. In all, Gore ran for 1,695 yards to not only set a single-season 49ers record, but lead the NFC and finish 3rd in the NFL overall. All that by the way after having two shoulder surgeries as a rookie. The 49ers could have chosen to pay him the $450,000 he was due in his third season under his third round rookie contract. They upped the ante and rewarded him with a $28 million extention, a $6.5 million signing bonus and $14 in guarantees. They wanted Gore not just because he ran the ball well, but because he began changing the losing attitudes in the lockerroom. Frank reportedly got in the face of teammates last season who were still smiling after losses. The Niners went 7-9, but could be a playoff team next season with Gore the frontman.

I couldn't be happier for him. The truth is, aside from football, Gore has never really had much going for him. At Gables, he was classified with a learning disorder. With his mother sick and the rest of his family dirt poor, he was basically their only hope of having a better life. When he went down with those two major knee injuries, I thought he was headed toward a sad story. I didn't think he'd be the same running back he was once appeared he was headed toward becoming at Gables. But now, he is the Frank of old again. And not only is his mother benefitting so are his two children.

Frank Jr., 5, is just like his daddy. He's playing football at Suniland Park, wears No. 3 just like his dad did at Gables, and is tearing up the league with his running and hitting skills according to the family. Demeterius, 1, already lines up opposite Dad with his hand on the floor and runs forward toward him looking for a collision.

"They love to play just like me," Gore told me. "If they keep watching me they'll be alright."

Truth is, we should all be watching Gore and admiring his story. He could have folded plenty of times -- with his academic issues, the rough neighborhood he grew up in and the knee injuries. He never gave up. His run to third place in the rushing standings last season (Ronnie Brown by the way was the only other rookie '05 to eclipse 1,000 yards last season) continued a tradition for the Canes most of you probably are not aware of. Since Edgerrin James left UM and became the NFL rushing leader his rookie season in 1999, the Hurricanes have had a top five rusher in the NFL every season except once (2001 when James suffered his major knee injury).

With Gore, UM now has four legitimate star running backs in the league Jamestdbetween him, James (Arizona Cardinals), Clinton Portis (Washington Redskins) and Willis McGahee (Baltimore Ravens). That's absolutely amazing and I'm sure somewhere Don Soldinger is patting himself on the back. While Tyrone Moss (cut by the Browns) and the next senior to leave Charlie Jones will likely not continue that running tradition, Gore told me he expects Baby James, Javarris James, to be the next great one to make something of themselves in the league.

"He's real good. Strong, makes people miss. He's got that special quality," Gore said of James. "Just like Edge."

I hope you guys enjoy the Gore story when it runs in the paper. But for now, here's a good a poll question for you.

Now to Clemente, the Canes former point guard, who found a school willing to give him a chance in Kansas State last week. Can't say I'm surprised he found a place to go. Clemente, when he wasn't playing out of control, was as fast a guard as there was in the country. He will sit out next season at Kansas State per NCAA transfer rules. But when he returns in 2008-09, he could be playing for one of the best teams in the country.

Former Miami High coach Frank Martin (whom I wrote about getting the Kansas State job last month) is close friends with Clemente's AAU coach Art Alvarez (check out his website here www.miamitropicslive.com). Martin loves Miami area guys and has recruited plenty local players during his stints at Northeastern and Cincinnati. If Clemente, who was averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 assists, can keep himself out of trouble (he was suspended for violating team rules and ultimately kicked off the team for the same reason), he could be a star for the Wildcats and one of those guys Canes fans shake their heads at come tourney time.

As for the Canes, they chose Edwin Rios as their point guard of the future long ago. But they could have also decided to get him some competition. This past season, N.C. State came in and swooped up the Player of the Year in Miami-Dade County in Krop High's Javi Gonzalez, who also played AAU ball on Alvarez's team. I know while Haith and company liked Gonzalez, they felt they were going to be just fine with Rios and Clemente. Obviously, UM didn't figure Clemente wouldn't be on the team anymore.

Devinebanks2As for the Canes' current hoops recruiting efforts, I spoke with highly-touted small forward Devin Ebanks again just minutes ago. He told me nothing has changed between UM and Indiana and both are still his leaders. The biggest news, though, appears that he likely won't be making a trip to Texas. He told me he'll still likely visit UM again on an official trip before he makes his college choice at the end of this summer. He told me he last spoke to Frank Haith about two weeks ago and said the conversation went well. "He's real cool and down to earth," Ebanks said of Haith. "We talk about everything. The coaching staff, the whole program is what I really like about Miami."

Ebanks said he also spoke to Indiana coach Kalvin Sampson last about two weeks ago and reaffirmed that while although his mother may like Indiana more, "The decision is going to be mine." This weekend Ebanks will be playing at the Rumble in the Bronx at Fordham University. He told me he is averaging well over 30 points a game for his AAU team.

QUICK FOOTBALL RECRUITING UPDATE: It appears the Canes are loading up in South Florida some more. After having the UM Summer Camp this past weekend, former Auburn commitment Thearon Collier has changed his mind and chosen his hometown Canes instead. Collier, a 5-9, 165-pound receiver at Booker T. Washington, was one of a handful of Tornadoes to star at the camp. Teammate Brandon Harris, a 5-10, 185-pound cornerback, was named overall MVP according to Matt Shodell from Canesport. Collier was the offensive MVP. Davon Johnson, also of Booker T., was the outstanding receiver and Rennie Carty was the outstanding DB.

Not that this should be a surpise, but don't be surprised if all four end up Hurricanes. Miami by the way now has eight commitments for the Class of 2008. None is better than Ely's Patrick Johnson, the No. 3 player in the state accoridng to Rivals.com.