My attempts to stay away from work during my vacation are failing miserably. It's partly my fault -- I should be on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean and I'm not. But it's also partly the fault of what's been transpiring locally over the past week: UM getting two new football commitments, a basketball commitment and transfer.
I was going to hold off on doing some reporting of my own on those previous subjects, but with the most recent startling developments at Miami Northwestern High (READ THE STORY) and the possible cancellation of the team's 2007 football season I had to come back to work a little this week to throw my two cents out there.
Before I get to UM, I've got to start with Northwestern. Here's my take...
Has Rudy Crew gone mad? What in the world is Miami-Dade's Superintendent thinking? Wait a minute. I think I know. Crew wants to be known as the superintendent who cut down the nation's No. 1-ranked high school football team (Yeah, that's right. No. 1. Rise Magazine named Northwestern No. 1 Tuesday, one spot better than three-time defending national champion Southlake Carroll of Texas). And what better way is there for Crew to "lay down the law" and make himself look good in front of the national media than burying the No. 1-ranked team in the country?
Sorry Rudy. But You had your chance. Last December, when the news broke of star running back Antwain Easterling's sexual incident with a 14-year old girl, Crew and every other administrator at Northwestern had the opportunity to do the right thing and stop Easterling from playing in the state championship game. They had a chance to send a message, even after having previous knowledge of the incident, to say what happened was wrong and to admit that school administrators should have suspended Easterling when it first learned of the incident. But like everyone else in charge at Northwestern -- coach Roland Smith included -- Crew passed the buck. Easterling played. Northwestern won the state title 34-14 and could have done so easily without Easterling. Afterward, everyone in charge ducked the question: Why did Easterling play?
Seven months later, now Crew -- and even the FHSAA which always seems in the mood to stick it to South Florida schools -- wants to stick it to the Bulls. I understand the angle: send a message that this type of lunacy -- football ahead of the law (and books) -- will no longer be tolerated. But making the kids pay for the failure of administrators isn't the answer.
As much NFL talent and tremendous athletic talent as it has nurtured, Northwestern has more pressing problems to deal with. It has to address its academic downfalls. It's been an F-school for a long time. There are many times I bump into kids in the street who were former football players, basketball players who weren't good enough to play in college or didn't have the grades and are struggling in life now.
The one thing Northwestern can do positively is make money. And it makes a lot of it. All Crew needs to do is create a better system where those funds begin getting pumped into the right avenues. He needs to take that money and hire better teachers, administrators, security, all of the ingredients to make Northwestern better. Cutting the football season doesn't do that. It cuts off one of the few things Northwestern has going for it.
Something like this has never happened before. And for that reason alone I don't believe Northwestern will end up losing its season. Ultimately, I think Roland Smith, a former Hurricane, and some of his staff could be asked to step down as casualties of war. But if it does happen -- and nowadays anything can -- the downfall would not only hurt Northwestern's kids but others too. If the football season is canceled, those kids are going to head for neighboring schools (probably some of the ones they should be at anyway). Little Johnny, meanwhile, at nearby Edison, Booker T. Washington, Jackson, Central and Monsignor Pace, who has been busting his butt since the spring to finally become a starter isn't going to be happy when he loses his starting spot to an incoming Bull. Honestly, it's all just a much bigger mess than it needs to be.
I guess we'll find out what happens today. Stay tuned.
As for the Canes, I got on the phone Tuesday with recruiting guru Larry Blustein to talk about the Canes' two newest football commitments, highly touted linebackers Lerentee McCray (Dunnellon, Fla.) and Ray Buchanon (Melbourne Palm Bay, Fla.). Both made "soft verbal commitments" to Miami in the last week. Or, as I like to call it, the old hold my scholarship and let me take my visits routine. From what I know about them, McCray (6-3, 200) had more than 100 tackles and 12 sacks and averaged 24 yards per kick return. He is said to have run a 4.53 in the 40. Buchanon (6-1, 190) plays running back and safety at Palm Bay and has tallied more than 200 tackles and 14 sacks in the last two years combined.
Blustein has been covering high school football in the state for 36 years and travels around the state watching practices, camps, combines and all of the big games. Honestly, there isn't any opinion I respect more when it comes to Florida prep football than his. So, I asked him for his take on the two commitments.
"McCray, he's just physical. He's the type of guy Miami likes. The Ray Lewis, beat your head in type guy. He's really a very physical football plays. He makes plays. He just jars you."
Blustein just seemed more excited though about Ray Buchanon: "Buchanon is the athlete of the two. He's the guy that can cover, drop back real well, play even the strong safety kind of guy. He can go sideline to sideline. He's very quick. He comes from a program at Palm Bay that is loaded every year. So, at practice, he gets tremendous competition. You look at the Reggie Nelson, Joe Cohen type of athletes [Both went to Florida] that have come out of there. He's just another one. He's definitely athletic. He's a lot like [Northwestern's] Sean Spence. He could probably play strong safety if you needed, but play up front and beat your [butt]. I'd compare him to Jessie Armstead. He's that thinnish type guy where everyone says he doesn't look big enough but every time you look down there, he's making a play."
If Miami can hang on to both of them through the recruiting process -- Buchanon will likely get a lot of pressure to go to Florida and McCray says he plays to visit USC, Tennessee, Auburn and Wisconsin -- it would be huge for the Canes. Linebacker is the most important position on defense to me in the Canes 2008 Class. So far, you've got to give new coach Michael Barrow some props for what he's accomplished at least in the early going including getting Broward's best linebacker in Chaminade's Jordan Futch. I've tried to reach Jordan since Monday and we're planning to do a little Q&A in the coming days. Look for it soon.
Something to keep in the back of you hat: As for future UM commitments, don't be surprised to see Booker T. Washington receiver Davon Johnson become the next big name to orally commit to the Canes. I spoke with Booker T. coach Tim "Ice" Harris on Monday who says Johnson (5-11, 180) is eager to get the recruiting process over with and will likely decide within the week. Ice told me South Carolina and Miami have been on him the hardest along with Ohio State, but added he believes Johnson has developed a special relationship with UM receivers coach Marquis Mosely. Harris told me Johnson, a state finalist in both the 200 and 400 meters in track, has consistently been timed at 4.3 in camps this summer. He says Johnson has been receiving special instruction -- along with the rest of Booker T.'s elite recruits -- from one of Harris' former players, Packers cornerback Marquand Manuel (Florida grad) and Bengals receiver Chad Johnson (on occassion) during morning workouts at Booker T. Johnson has a 3.0 GPA and scored a 780 on his SAT, high enough according to Ice for him to get into UM.
If you want to read more about Booker T. Washington, I'm writing a special preview on their big season-opener at Summerville, S.C., the nation's No. 5-ranked team according to Rise Magazine, for Recruitflix.com. Check it out here (RECRUITFLIX.COM).
Onto hoops, where I have to give coach Frank Haith some praise for landing his most highly-touted recruit yet for the Class of 2008 in Los Angeles born 6-7, 240-pound power forward Tyreese Breshers (READ THE STORY). I'm trying to reach Breshers and hopefully will have a Q&A with him soon as well as something on Arkansas transfer Cyrus McGowan.
But for now, I'll give you what I got on Monday on Breshers when I got the chance to speak to his AAU coach Bob Gottlieb (the father of ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb, and who coached Jacksonville U in the 70s).
"He's the best shot blocker I've ever coached and an excellent defensive rebounder," Gottlieb told me. "He's too good not to get some playing time as a freshman."
From what I understand, Haith was one of the first coaches to offer Breshers, long before other schools caught on after Breshers supposedly began tearing up the hardwood at several camps including the May Fisher Easter Classic. One thing I like about him is that he's a winner. At Los Angeles Price High, he led his team to the equivalent of the state semifinals and led his AAU team Branch West Reebok to a 31-4 record and No. 25 ranking nationally. In the video I saw of him, he kind of looked like a bigger version of Sir Charles Barkley. He grabbed rebounds with authority and dunked with it too, soaring above the rim in the footage I watched of him on Scout.com. But when I mentioned the comparison to Barkley, Gottlieb snuffed at it.
"Barkley was the Round Mound of Rebound," Gottlieb said. "He wasn't good until he lost all that weight. Tyrese is big strong power forward who can play with his back to the basket. I know he's listed by some people at 6-6. But he's really more 6-7, 6-7 and half. But he plays 6-9 and jumps very well. He's also a sensational kid. 3.0 GPA, full qualifier. Very coachable. Washington, Washington State, UCLA, Boston College all liked him. But he went to Miami and fell in love with the place. He's a kid in my estimation that is right on the border of being recruited by the Top 10 programs in the country. But everybody else in the country would take him in a heartbeat."
Haith is supposed to give me a call when he gets back from his recruiting trails next week and I'm hoping to talk cover a lot of ground with him, including what Lance Hurdle, Edwin Rios and others have been up to during the summer, why Dwayne Collins didn't make the Team USA Under-19 team, and how Anthony King has been progressing.
Something to keep in the back of your hat: Plantation American Heritage center Eloy Vargas (6-10, 205) is expected to make a decision soon. He told Scout.com Miami was in his top six alongside, Ohio State, Louisville, Florida, Florida State, and Pittsburgh. Vargas is Scout.com's No. 46 prospect and likely the next domino to fall in UM's recruiting process. If the Canes get him, they're finished with the Class of 2008.
OK. That's all I've got for now. But I'm sure to be warming up soon for a strong comeback when I'm officially back at work on July 23. For now, feel free to chime in on Northwestern, football recruiting and what you think about Breshers.