I know football season was tough to swallow this fall. I know your heart still aches after all of that losing. But it's time for Hurricanes fans to stop feeling down in the dumps. It's time to let go of all of those Kyle Wright interceptions, the ugly losses and the 5-7 record. And it is time to get behind this UM basketball team.
Thursday night, to my chagrin, I watched UM's basketball team for the first time this season the way many of you usually do -- on a TV set. The Herald -- like many newspapers -- has some budget constraints and figured it was cheaper to have me drive up to Orlando with another reporter for the state high school football championships. I'm not complaining. This is a great place to be too. But I would have loved to be in Starkville, Mississippi last night to see coach Frank Haith's team take another step forward with an impressive win against a good SEC team on the road.
I know Miami isn't a basketball school. Football -- even at its worst -- is what makes The U go round. Baseball has its moments, too. But right now there might not be a better story in college basketball -- or in South Florida -- than the rise of the Miami Hurricanes basketball program. Did we forget how bad this team was last year? Did we forget how injured and shorthanded they were? Did we forget they finished last in the ACC with an ugly 12-20 record? I know it's early -- but this team is No. 1 in the RPI rankings. And they will most certainly get into the Top 25 next week.
Thursday's win in Starkville didn't come against a college basketball juggernaut. Mississippi State is good, not great. But it was another sign in the growth of this team.They were down by as many as five late. Then, Jack McClinton, who scored 29 points, took over the game to lift his team to a big win -- the ninth this season. I know the upcoming schedule isn't going to be sexy. UM won't play a team over .500 before its ACC opener at home against Georgia Tech. Of the next five -- Stetson (1-7), North Florida (0-6), N.C. A&T (1-4), Winthrop (4-4) and Penn (3-7) -- only Winthrop is really any good. But the Canes are undefeated! GO WATCH THIS TEAM PLAY IN PERSON! THEY DESERVE SOME SUPPORT!
OK, I'm done pleading, as for my thoughts on the game...
- I was thoroughly impressed by the way Miami is playing defense this season. On game nights, I'm usually on floor level and behind the basket. Watching UM on TV last night from the Front Row Friday's on International Drive, I got a chance to see just how much better Miami is on closing out on shooters. Last year, opposing three-point shooters had time to tie their shoes, sip coffee and clip their toenails before getting a shot off. This UM defense is a lot quicker and it makes opposing teams work for their shots. Last year, the Canes weren't healthy enough inside to play good defense. Wings had to sag in the paint and help. With Anthony King, Dwayne Collins and Jimmy Graham deflecting shots and redirecting dribblers, UM's guards are able to play honest defense. And it is forcing opponents to take tougher shots.
- That being said, Jamont Gordon has his moments yesterday when he blew past McClinton and some of UM's other guards. Coach Frank Haith did what he was supposed to do and adjusted, switching Brian Asbury and James Dews on Gordon to stop him. It worked and McClinton took over offensively. Haith deserves credit for that. But UM still has to find a better way to guard against talented, quick guards. I could see that being an Achilles heal for this team -- especially in the ACC.
- Getting back to McClinton, I know he hit some big shots, but what I loved most about his game was how he didn't just settle for threes. He made a few tough baskets inside the three-point arc, driving toward the basket. They were shots he worked for. Aside for a few bad decisions on passes, he put his team on his back when they needed him to. And showed that this isn't just a very good team, but also has someone who can take games over. Miami needs that when it starts playing its tougher ACC games.
- I know some of you came on here last night during the game and posted your thoughts. Among them, some great nicknames for McClinton -- Jack McMoney and Jack McBadAss. Personally, I like "McClutch." How about we try to come up with one everyone likes? I'll take some nominations before setting up a poll in another blog. Feel free to leave them below.
As for football...
- Everybody knows this weekend is going to be a big one for recruiting. Canesport.com has done a good job reporting on visitors and I always will suggest you visit their site and sign up with them or InsideTheU if you are a die-hard recruiting fan. But I've been told not everyone on the weekend visitor will be at UM this weekend. Pahokee cornerback Janorris Jenkins will not be visiting this weekend and I've been told he's sticking with his commitment to the Florida Gators. That means Pahokee teammate and UM commitment Micanor Regis, a big defensive tackle, will not be making his official visit until January (which was what he originally scheduled).
- So, who are the other visitors? Two are current commitments Johnny Calhoun, an athlete from Sebastian River, Fla. and Jordan Futch, LB, Hollywood Chaminade. Two are expected to be commitments by the end of the weekend: Patrick Hill, FB, El Camino, Calif. CC; Jake Wieclaw, K, Illinois. The other two, Georgia defensive end Toby Jackson and Mikhail Marinovich, are different stories. Jackson, a Georgia commitment, is someone the Canes are pushing hard for and hoping they well be able to convince to switch this weekend. And Marinovich, the step-brother of former USC quarterback Todd Marinovich, is someone Miami hasn't offered yet but is checking out.
- As for Calhoun, who played linebacker and fullback in high school, I've been told he could end up playing tight end at Miami.
- If you think the Canes are taking their Northwestern and Booker T. Washington commitments for granted, guess again. Six UM assistants will be up in Orlando this weekend for the state high school football championships; four coaches -- including Randy Shannon -- will be at home hosting visitors.
- I spoke to Northwestern linebacker Quavon Taylor and offensive lineman Terrell Killings on Tuesday about the Hurricanes. Both are very much interested in following their teammates to UM. Taylor, who has a 3.3 GPA and the test score to qualify, said he has offers from Tennessee and South Florida. Killings (6-3, 290) is an honors student who is looking at Ivy League schools. Both said they have spoken to UM coaches, but have not received offers. Expect to hear a lot about them too during the Class 6A state championship game Saturday night.
LAST THOUGHT: For those of you who get out to the movies, I need some reviews on Will Smith's newest "I Am Legend." I'm dying to watch it and probably won't get a chance to until Sunday. If anybody gets a chance to see it before then, let me know how good it was.