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21 posts from December 2007

December 31, 2007

The No Spin Zone

I'm not really a fan of FOX's Bill O'Reilly. But there is a segment/concept on his show -- The No Spin Zone -- I see befitting for the topic related to the Patrick Johnson saga.

On my way home from today's Virginia Tech practice -- yes I'm covering the Hokies who are in town for the Orange Bowl -- I called back some of my buddies at The U who had left me a few irate messages pertaining to the Rivals.com 5-star cornerback, who announced yesterday he was no longer considering The U (I know this will be it for the PJ stuff, I promise!).

As you know, college coaches and staff members are prohibited by the NCAA from commenting publicly about potential recruits. But it doesn't mean they can't tell us how they feel off the record. Let's just say The U is steaming over Johnson. No, nobody at The U was surprised Johnson, USA Today's Defensive Player of The Year, decided to officially cross UM off its list. They are just surprised at how he has tried to spin the story. Johnson told reporters Sunday that UM "wasn't showing him enough love."

According to UM sources, it was apparently Johnson who wasn't showing UM any love. In fact, the source said UM tried on several occassions in the past month to reach Johnson on his cell phone and usually never received phone calls back. One assistant who was handling his recruiting visited Johnson at Blanche Ely High. Officials supposedly called Johnson in his classroom to tell him to meet up with the UM official after school. Johnson agreed. But according to the source, Johnson never showed or explained why he blew the visitor off.

Hurricanes fans can at least thank Johnson for this: his announcement Sunday gives UM more than a month to fill his scholarship. Tallahassee Lincoln's T.J. Bryant and Booker T. Washington's Brandon Harris may not have the size and athleticism of Johnson. But UM sources say either are more than capable of being just as good as Johnson if not better. As for Johnson, the UM source said this: "Bet the house whenever we play him the first ball is going over his head for a touchdown."

Anyway, I figured that would light U guys up. I've got my Hokies story and notes to write.

** By the way, the Hurricanes dropped out of the Top 25 in men's hoops. Can't say I'm surprised. But I will say this, UM fans shouldn't be so down on this team. Not only is Winthrop a very good mid-major, this UM hoops team in my eyes is still very good and capable of making the NCAA tournament. Are they Top 25 material? Not yet. Did they play a favorable schedule to get to 12-0? Yeah. But I really believe the chemistry and makeup of this team is good enough to win at least 20 games and push for the tournament. Winthrop was a veteran team that knew how to beat UM. And it might be a blessing in disguise for UM. The Hurricanes needed a jolt before ACC play and this might have been what they needed.

** By the way, I saw new Dolphins head-man Bill Parcells at today's Hokies practice. I had never met the Tuna before, but the dude is intimidating. He's tall, about 6-3, 6-4 and he carries around a real-life intensity. You could feel it. He spoke to the Hokies players for about three minutes about what he was there for -- basically to check them out. He said "I'm looking for some football players. No dope heads or lazy guys. Football players." Got to say it was encouraging for the Dolphins to see their head-honcho already at work.

December 30, 2007

The Circus Is Leaving Town

Sound the alarm again! Ely cornerback Patrick Johnson does not want to be a Hurricane anymore. In the great words of my all-time favorite SNL character Matt Foley, played by the late great Chris Farley: "Well, la-dee-freakin-da!"

Can't say anyone should be surprised by this. In fact, I think Johnson, a five-star.com Rivals recruit and one heck of a cornerback, deserves some sort of an award. Maybe, Hurricane Recruit Hustler of The Year. Not once in the decade I've been covering recruiting in South Florida -- and I had a doozy with Willie Williams -- has a recruit created more of a stir/confusion among locals than PJ.

When he committed to UM in April, he flashed The U every chance he got. He told the local media everything Canes fans wanted to hear. And then he told the media from LSU everything they wanted to hear. And then he told the Florida folks the same thing. And then he told the FSU people he was going there. And then everyone wasn't sure where he was going. And then it turned into the greatest mystery in South Florida this football season.

I'm not trying to put Patrick Johnson down. After all, he's an 18-year old with a bright future, which he said today will no longer include the University of Miami. And, every kid deserves a chance to enjoy the recruiting process whichever way they see fit. Want to fool everyone? It's your right. Johnson obviously loved the limelight as did his family throughout this process.

But I hope this PJ saga will teach everyone involved a lesson.

To the fans, I hope it reminds you not to hang onto every word a teenager tells you. I hope this shows you this recruiting process -- this need to know which way a kid is leaning when he wakes up and then when goes to sleep is absurd. It ultimately means nothing until they sign a letter of intent and until they prove they have the grades and the test scores to get in.

To the kids and potential recruits who hope to follow in the footsteps of Johnson, I hope the outrage pouring out of bitter, local UM fans today will teach you that when you are in the public limelight, telling people what they want to hear and being dishonest is never good. Nobody likes liars. Johnson could have very well been a confused teenager in this whole process. His heart could have been with the Canes, but his interest in other places. But there is no need to be committed to any school if you aren't sure. It's OK to say I don't know. There certainly isn't a need to go on the radio or TV and pledge allegiance to someone when you know nothing is further from the truth. It makes you look like a liar.

The media isn't void of taking some heat here either. After all, there is a hungry machine that needs to be fed. The interest in high school recruiting is hitting all-time record highs. At The Miami Herald alone, the most read stories I've written in the past few months all pertain to the Hurricanes recruiting efforts (those Northwestern player profiles were huge hits). God knows .Com's have cashed in big-time with this recruiting talk. But I hope in some respect maybe this PJ saga will teach us all to settle down a little bit. News should only be news when something actually happens or is going to happen. I'm not perfect. I've fielded questions before on this blog about what-ifs and what-nots plenty (it's what this blog is for). But I think it's safe to say we've all gone a little overboard with recruiting -- the fans, the kids and the media. And maybe this PJ saga finally showed us all how bizarre it is.

Good luck PJ -- wherever you end up.

December 29, 2007

Courtside blog: Winthrop 76, UM 70 (F)

Checking in courtside from the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise where the 19th-ranked Canes are set to take on Winthrop in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic.

I'll be here to provide my thoughts. So, will my homeboy George Richards over at his blog -- On Frozen Pond. George covers the Panthers for us. But he knows his Canes content better than most.

Enjoy the game. It's live on FSN and on WQAM. But if you want to vent or shake your pom-poms during the game, I invite you to do it here.

By the way, I just remembered my favorite George Richards (G-Man) moment of all time during the national anthem. 2004 Florida High School Athletic Association State Basketball Championships. National anthem ends and the PA announcer begins to talk about fans respecting the players. Its the same intro read all weekend long and by now G-Man knows it by heart. So, he shouts in his best Cartman voice: RESPECT MY AUTHORITY! The entire gym goes dead quiet and stares at two silly Herald reporters who are red-faced. That's G-Man.

- It's 7-7 after the first break with 15:27 left in the half. Winthrop looks like its frustrating UM's offense a little bit. Eagles are putting some extra pressure on the ball and forcing UM to make tough passes. Most teams come out respecting UM's inside play a little more. It will be interesting to see if UM comes out of this time out trying to push it inside and take advantage of those Winthrop players double-teamming the point.
- The Canes are struggling in their transition defense. Winthrop is really pushing the ball up the floor and Miami is struggling to get back.
- Here's the story of the first half in a nutshell: UM, the balanced undefeated team, has 10 points from Anthony King and five from Jack McClinton. That's why the Cares are losing.
- And just like that, UM puts together a 14-2 run in less than five minutes to retake the lead.
- The Canes close out the half on a 10-2 run to go up five at the break.

- Coach Frank Haith said this would be like an NCAA tournament game and so far he is right. Winthrop's 12-0 run has given the Eagles a 42-40 lead with 12:51 left to play. Miami has fallen asleep offensively again. The Canes had a 40-30 lead with 17:17 left and then got comfortable. UM is taking too many jumpers again.
- Jack McClinton has turned up his intensity. Unfortunately, his teammates aren't matching it at this point.
- It's 62-57 Wintrhop with 3:48 to play. Miami has been getting killed with the three-point shot and they aren't rebounding as well as they were in the first half. Great game though.

December 27, 2007

Kirby Freeman leaving UM

We've wondered if he would return. Now, we know he won't. Kirby Freeman has asked the University of Miami for a release from scholarship, which means the Hurricanes will not have a veteran arm on its roster next season.

Freeman hasn't had the type of career he envisioned when he came to UM. His career numbers are ugly: 92 completions on 197 attempts, 1,311 yards, 12 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. But he'll always have that memorable game-winning drive against FSU.

I know freshman Robert Marve and Miami Northwestern High's Jacory Harris were expected to compete for the starting job anyway. But how do you feel about not having a veteran to turn to just in case?

I've been working this story for a few days and finally got the confirmation on it this afternoon. Susan Miller Degnan and Barry Jackson chipped in too. I'll have more thoughts for you later. But I figured I'd leave you a forum to pour your thoughts out.

As for Freeman, I'm hearing he could end up at Baylor, which isn't that far from his hometown of Brownwood, Texas. Freeman graduated from UM in May and has one year of eligibility remaining. But according to NCAA transfer rules, if he transfers to a Division I program he is supposed to sit out. The rule shifted for a short time last year to allow seniors who had already graduated to not have sit out the mandatory one year time frame. But the NCAA quickly went back to its old rules last January...

UPDATE... I spoke to the NCAA. Freeman would need a waiver to go to Baylor and be eligible. Getting a waiver is not easy. 

December 23, 2007

Courtside blog: UM 95, N.C. A&T 64 (F)

Checking in from BankUnited Center where the 22nd-ranked Canes jumped out to a 17-0 lead on North Carolina A&T Sunday afternoon.

I took Saturday off and now realize I probably shouldn't have. Does news ever stop leaking out of The U?

C.J. Holton, a four-star RIvals.com recruit and safety from Crawfordville Wakulla High in Florida, switched his commitment from Florida State to Miami yesterday. I know. I'm the last one to report on this. But don't I deserve a free pass? I know. No free passes at The U.

Anyway, I'm working on getting an interview with C.J. later today. But I did speak to some folks at The U about him on my way into the basketball game. Coaches are certainly excited about getting C.J., whose mother actually works at Florida State. From what I've heard, he's been on UM coaches hard to get him since UM won at Florida State earlier this year and has simply been waiting for the right time to announce the switch knowing his family would catch a lot of heat for it in Seminole country. I can tell you Canes folks felt it was important to make sure Holton's interest in The U was kept on the down-low. Although his name surfaced here and there, they never mentioned him when I asked about remaining targets.

Anyway, I'll hold off on anything more until I speak with him. As for the basketball game...

- Jack McClinton did not start. But quickly came into the game moments later. Not sure what that was about.
- UM jumped out to a 17-0 lead before you could blink in this one. Brian Asbury had a nice start scoring the first two baskets.
- Steven Rush finally scored for A&T with 14:02 left in the first half. Until then, UM had more substitutions (6) than the Aggies had points (0).
- A&T started to climb back into the game and went on a 8-0 run because the Canes started missing too many three-pointers.
- Dwayne Collins has continued to play well off the bench, providing inside scoring, defense and rebounding. He's getting better.

- James Porter's field goal with 17:05 to play cut it to 47-32 -- the closest the game has been since UM opened on a 17-0 run.
- The Canes then went on a 18-4 run to pull away again.
- Jack McClinton, who has his buddy Heat forward Dorrell Wright in the stands watching him, has 17 points. James Dews has 16. This is another impressive blowout victory for UM.

December 21, 2007

Holiday Break? Not at The U

The holiday season is supposed to be a time when you get to sit back, chill and spend time with your family. But covering this beat isn't allowing for any of that. Questions are abound heading into the holiday break at The U. The list of inquiries are endless...

There is the whole defensive coordinator dilemma. Could coach Randy Shannon take on part of the defensive responsibilities next season? Who are some of the candidates? Do the Hurricanes already have someone picked?

Speaking of picking, who is going to be the next athletic director? Weren't we supposed to hear something by now? And is the list really down to five?

Then, there is recruiting. Where is Matt Patchan going? When is he announcing? What about Tommy Streeter? Is Brandon Harris a silent commitment? Is Patrick Johnson really a UM commitment? Whose the next big time recruit? How many scholarships are left?

And then, there's a few basketball questions. But the main one: Is this basketball team for real or the result of what appears to be an easy schedule?

I'm not going to pretend to know I have all the answers. I wish I did because this job would be a lot easier. But I'll give you my insight as well as what I've heard through the grapevine and from my sources. But first...

WEEKLY RECRUITING PODCAST: With recruiting information at a premium and since I now more than half the questions you guys feed me are about recruiting I've decided to do something new for you Podcast here at Eye On The U -- a weekly podcast. What is a podcast? Basically a radio show without commercials you can download to your IPod or listen to online. For the past year, I've conducted a weekly podcast on high school sports (I'm willing to bet most of you had no idea) on The Herald's website called The Countdown. High School Writers Andre Fernandez and Bob Emanuel record at my house every Tuesday and usually its up on our site every Wednesday morning. With the high school football season finally over, I've decided to dedicate our weekly podcast from here until National Signing Day on recruiting. I've called on two of the best in the business -- longtime South Florida resident recruiting guru Larry Blustein (he's been on recruiting since 1971) and MSLCombines.net's National High School Scouting director Charles Fishbein.

Both of them are about as in-tune with recruiting as you can get. Blustein, who also works for MSLCombines.net, travels the country, attending combines and camps to not only get an idea who the best high school seniors are going to be, but also the best ninth, 10th and 11th graders. Fishbein does the same. You'll often see them on the sidelines here in South Florida. But they usually travel all over the state. Fishbein's job is to provide scouting information to schools who are willing to purchase his services. So, he goes to dinner with guys like Randy Shannon and Bobby Bowden. He hears the rumors, the thoughts coaches really have about potential recruits. And then, he hears the other side -- the recruits themselves and what they are really thinking.

This week, our first recruiting episode, touches on a number of key topics: their thoughts following the state championship games in Orlando; how UM got Arthur Brown and how they feel about his skills; the Patrick Johnson saga; Armwood offensive lineman Matt Patchan and where they think he'll end up; Fishbein breaks down UM, UF and Florida State's recruiting classes; and lots more. It's about 50 minutes of audio conversations with a set of music to break up the two segments. Anyway, for those of you interested check it out here. You can either download it to your IPod or listen to it online.

Back to the hot topics...
- I'll start with the defensive coordinator position. I've spoken to two sources at UM who told me there are no current solid candidates out there yet and that they didn't expect a decision until after Dewayne_walker bowl season. Is there speculation? Tons. I've seen and heard the names UCLA's DeWayne Walker, Georgia Tech's John Tenuta, Michigan's Ron English and UF's Charlie Strong. But from my conversations with UM brass, I get the sense money will likely be an issue in this hiring. Are the Hurricanes going to be cheap? Not necessarily. But they are going to be "money smart." Jim Frevola, who has been at UM since the fall as the assistant AD for external operations, told me it made sense to think UM could go after a talented, young NFL position coach or an up and comer from another school. Getting an established college or pro defensive coordinator will not come cheap. Granted, this is a coordinator position. But when Shannon brought in Patrick Nix from Georgia Tech last year, Nix was only in his first season as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.

- Speaking of Frevola, he did tell me he spoke to UM brass for an hour about the athletic director position. But he said he wouldn't necessarily consider it an interview. The only solid name he's heard is Army athletic director Kevin Anderson. When I asked Frevola if he really thought the list was down to five, his response was "I don't think so. I still think they're in the process of trimming the list down."

- Now to your favorite -- recruiting. As I mentioned earlier, in my podcast I broached Matt_patchanthe subject of  Matt Patchan. I think the general consensus out there is that Patchan is at best a 50/50 chance he ends up at Miami. I know his father played at UM and there is that connection. But by no means do I or any of the folks I spoke to at UM (that would be folks who cannot be quoted on recruits) believe it is a slam dunk Patchan ends up at Miami. He could decide today, Saturday or Sunday. Either way, I along with everyone else who covers recruiting expects it soon.

- Whether Patchan ends up at UM or not, UM is near completion on filling its scholarships. Those folks at UM tell me the commitment of WR Travis Benjamin received Thursday all but locked up the scholarships the Hurricanes were planning on spending on receivers. Right now, UM has 27 commitments. The shaky one is obviously DB Patrick Johnson. UM is going to give Johnson a scholarship if he wants one. But guys on the fence like Northwestern WR Tommy Streeter could be running out of time soon. I've been told Streeter's window will not be open much longer because the Hurricanes are looking to sew up other spots at tight end and offensive line.

- As I've reported before, UM is planning on using 33 scholarships -- eight for spring enrollment and 25 for the fall. Assuming LB Arthur Brown, QB Jacory Harris, LB Jordan Futch, DT Marcus Forston, WR Aldarius Johnson, LB Sean Spence and ATH Johnny Calhoun enroll in January, that would give UM five scholarships left to use for the fall and only one for spring (possibly Patchan).

- So, who are the other five scholarships for? Miami is working hard to pull in another defensive Brandon_harris end. FSU commitment Markus White and current Illinois commitment Corey Liuget from Hialeah High could fill that role. If they don't, look for UM to take  Whether Patchan ends up at Miami or not, the Hurricanes feel good about their chances of getting Northwestern offensive lineman Ben Jones. He would give UM three offensive line recruits in this class -- not bad. Miami wants Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris (who will announce on national signing day) and has Jacksonville Trinity Christian safety Daniel Andrews and Tallahassee Lincoln cornerback T.J. Bryant (whose mom is a Miami Central grad) on the radar. But Harris is the most likely possibility. Andrews is part of the package deal UM could get with RB Jamie Harper, which I've been told by others will be tough for UM to pull. Most experts tell me they expect Harper and Andrews to choose Clemson. The biggest vacancy in this class is tight end. Streeter could potentially become a tight end. But UM also has another big body in Laron Byrd on its radar.

- Onto basketball... The Hurricanes are going for their 12th victory before Christmas Sunday against North Carolina A&T. UM had 12 wins all of last year. The Canes are likely to move up in the Frank_haithnational polls after this weekend and could climb into the teens. I still feel pretty bad for coach Frank Haith. While I understand many of UM's students are home for the holidays, his team is nationally ranked and is still barely drawing 2,000 fans. College basketball is a tough draw in this town and it only makes things harder in recruiting when he can't get folks to show up. I know attendance will pick up when UM begins ACC play. The place should be packed for Georgia Tech on Jan. 12. But there is no reason the Jumbotron at BankUnited Center should be inviting fans in the upper levels to move down closer to the court when the team is 11-0.

- As for UM's plans in recruiting. The Hurricanes have one scholarship left in 2008. Haith told me  and InsideTheU.com last night he will likely turn his focus to landing a scoring guard that can penetrate and create. Haith had told me earlier this season he was interested in signing another big man. But I think he feels guard is a greater need with Jack McClinton and Lance Hurdle gone after the 2009 season. Freshman point guard Edwin Rios is still struggling to find his shooting stroke. Haith had hoped for Rios or Hurdle to emerge by January. But I don't think either of them are ready yet to take the starting point guard duties from Jack McClinton. It appears UM is going to have to stick to its point guard by committee approach the rest of this season.

December 20, 2007

Q&A and Courtside blog: UM 85, North Florida 63 (F)

Checking in from BankUnited Center where tonight in front of 4,000 green empty chairs the nation's No. 22-ranked men's college basketball team will go for its 11th victory against North Florida. I'll be here to bring you highlights from the game.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the latest Cane developments. I'll try to answer some of the leftover questions from Tuesday's chat I didn't get to and any other new stuff you might have for me.

- Canes get off to a slow start missing their first five shots. Jack McClinton has five early points.
- As expected, Ray Hicks started for Jimmy Graham again.
- Brian Asbury did not start, snapping his 29-game streak. Coach Frank Haith went with three guards -- Lance Hurdle, McClinton and James Dews.
- The Canes are starting to pull away...
- My favorite moment so far looking up at the Jumbotron and reading: Hey Canes Fans If You Are Located In The Upper Levels Feel Free To Move Closer To The Action. Priceless.

- Brian Asbury has 11 points and Jack McClinton has 10 to lead the Canes in another blowout here.
- Haith has spent most of the night mixing his lineup, playing the new guys and trying to get them some playing time.
- Dwayne Collins has a nice job in the post tonight. He's got 11 points and a bunch of boards. Good to see more and more growth from him game to game.

WR Travis Benjamin commits

Another high profile high school receiver has committed to the University of Miami. Belle Glade Glades Central's Travis Benjamin, a four-star Rivals.com rated recruit, said he told recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt moments ago he's chosen the Hurricanes.

"I felt like it was time -- Miami's a great fit for me," said Benjamin, who at 5-11, 165 pounds and 4.4-speed in the 40 said he hopes to not only play receiver but contribute on punt and kick returns next season. " I'm very excited to be a part of this class. I think when you put a lot of good players together you can turn things around. I want to help turn things around at The U."

Benjamin, the cousin of former Hurricane defensive back Alphonso Marshall, becomes the fifth receiver to committ to the Hurricanes joining Northwestern's Aldarius Johnson and Kendal Thompkins and Booker T. Washington standouts Davon Johnson and Thearon Collier. The Hurricanes are likely done recruiting receivers although I'm told a spot will likely be left open for Northwestern's Tommy Streeter.

Benjamin says he is qualified for UM with a 2.8 GPA and 18 ACT score and will enroll at UM in the fall.

I'll have more on this and recruiting later tonight at the basketball game.

December 18, 2007

Tuesday's Live Q&A

I'm going to hold off on our weekly live Q&A until 10 p.m. I'm doing a story on Sean Taylor being selected to the Pro Bowl posthumously. Feel free to leave me your questions below.

December 17, 2007

Walton out as defensive coordinator

I haven't been around for tonight's basketball game because I've been working the latest breaking story coming out of UM -- the firing of defensive coordinator Tim Walton.

The Herald has spoken to two UM sources confirming the news, which began to spread on message boards late this afternoon. My source told me coach Randy Shannon simply wasn't happy with the way the defense finished the season.

Walton was in charge of the defense for one season. He obviously didn't fare as well as when Shannon was running the show. My source said he did not know how much more involved Shannon wants to be involved in the defense, but he likely will be more involved next season.

I spoke to Northwestern defensive tackle Marcus Forston moments ago who was shocked to hear the news.

"That's the guy I built a relationship with," Forston told me. "He's into the lord. He's a holy man. I really like him a lot."

Walton recruited the six current commitments at Northwestern as well as the two receivers from Miami Booker T. Washington.

"It won't change how I feel about UM. But I really coach Walton a lot. He was somebody you could always go to."

My source said there are currently no candidates for the job. When asked if that person might be someone already on staff, they said "I have no idea. But I don't think so."

Canes land Arthur Brown (updated)

Arthur Brown is going to be a Miami Hurricane. On a local TV broadcast in Kansas, Brown, a 6-1, 225-pound five-star linebacker according to Rivals.com just announced his college choice.

"In the beginning I said it would all come down to how I feel," Brown said during the TV interview on KAKE.com. "I prayed and it was the University of Miami."

Arthur_brownBrown visited UM in November and built a special relationship with linebackers coach Michael Barrow. UM coach Randy Shannon visited him at his home Dec. 8. He chose the Hurricanes over LSU, Florida, USC and North Carolina.

"I met with a lot of the players, the coaches, we really got a good connection - that's what it was all about."

Brown becomes the sixth linebacker recruit to choose the Hurricanes, but without question the most highly touted. He joins Hollywood Chaminade's Jordan Futch (4-stars), Northwestern's Sean Spence (4-stars), Memphis' Antonio Harper (3-stars), Gulliver Prep's Brandon Marti (2-stars), New Jersey's Zach Kane (2-stars). Homestead's Marcus Robinson will likely convert from linebackerr to defensive end in college.

- Brown's younger Bryce, a junior, is a highly-touted running back recruit in the Class of 2009. The family has said it could potentially follow their eldest son to college, which means Bryce would likely enroll at a local high school.


I just got off the phone with Brown's future teammates -- Northwestern linebacker Sean Spence and defensive tackle Marcus Forston, who were both thrilled to hear the news of Brown's commitment.

Forston, who has tried to play UM ambassador since committing to the Hurricanes, said he spoke to Brown two weeks ago and encouraged him to pick Miami.

"I just told him to come own down be a part of the family, be a part of the comeback of The U," said Forston, who went to The Herald today to take his All-Dade photos.

"Arthur is good guy. He's a god-fearing guy like me and he just wants to be a part of a family. I told him I can't wait to see what we can do with him, Sean Spence, Robinson and Futch behind me. It's going to be too easy."

- I called Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris to get his take. Harris, who has UM among his finalists, told me Brown's addition would not have an affect on his decision. He said he will announce his decision on national signing day. "It's great for those guys," Harris said. "I'm excited for them. But I got to make the best decision for me in the end."

Canes ranked; Jacory Harris update

I've been a little under the weather with a sore throat since returning home from Orlando on Sunday. So, I apologize for not posting in awhile. But let's get to the latest news updates.

- As expected, the Hurricanes basketball team has cracked the Top 25 in both polls. Hats off to Frank Haith and company, who are now. No. 22 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN Coach's poll. It's more than deserved. Normally, I'd be listed as questionable for tonight's game against Stetson at 9 p.m. But I'm bringing my tired, sick self to the BankUnited Center anyway. The better question: How many Canes fans will be there tonight? Hopefully, more than usual.

- By the way, Jack McClinton was selected as the ACC's Player of The Week following his gutsy 29-point performance last week in lifting UM to the impressive road win at Mississippi State. He was picked as the conference's player of the week once last year too.

- Just spoke to Herald High School Andre Fernandez who went out to Northwestern this afternoon to speak with quarterback recruit Jacory Harris, who was injured in Saturday's Class 6A state championship victory against Orlando Boone. Andre tells me Harris was wearing a cast on his left knee and told him he suffered an ACL and MCL strain. Harris told Andre to tell Robert Marve: "Don't worry, I'll be there ready to go and battle with you." Harris is expected to be out of commission for six weeks. After the six weeks are up, he plans to rehab and be ready for the start of spring practice.

- Highly-touted Kansas linebacker Arthur Brown, who has considered UM throughout this recruiting process, will announce his college decision later this afternoon. North Carolina, USC, LSU and Florida are the other finalists. Canes coaches have been optimistic in their chances for a while. Rivals.com will have the announcement live at 4:30 p.m.

- In other recruiting news, as expected kicker Jake Wieclaw and JUCO fullback Pat Hill committed to UM over the weekend. I'll try to get my own audio interviews with these guys as the week progresses.

- Last but not least, I wanted to give a shout out to the Canespace.com crew who made its way out to Orlando this past weekend for the state high school championships. I spent the first half of the Class 4A state championship game chatting away with a diehard Canes fan from Tampa then smiled for the Canespace cameras after the 6A game. For those of you who don't know about Canespace yet, it's a great place for diehards who want to talk about everything related to The U.

- Check back later tonight for updates when I'm at the game.

December 14, 2007

A team to root for

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 Jack_mcclintonthis 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.

December 13, 2007

Off to Orlando

I'm leaving to the land of mouse today for the state high school football championships at the Citrus Bowl and I've got to say this is probably the most excited I've been about covering football all season.

Northwestern, St. Thomas and Booker T. Washington have a chance to do something special as teams. But what's most exciting to me will be seeing this amazing collection of talent -- many of  them future Canes -- play their final high school games. The past couple of months, I've grown to get to know these kids, like Jacory Harris, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence and Brandon Harris about as good as I did guys like Kenny Phillips, Bryan Pata, Dwayne Bowe and many others while I was on the high school beat for six years.

This group of seniors is about as talented and as special I've ever been around. Not only are they amazing on the field, but they have tremendous character and personality off it. And they're all smart kids too, who don't want to be around trouble. I spent four hours at Northwestern on Tuesday watching Forston and Spence break down film, then chucked it up with the guys during practice. With the exception of Streeter, whom I'm still convinced is 50-50 on the Canes, I think all of the best players on the Northwestern and Booker T. rosters will end up Canes.

Not that other coaches aren't trying to stop that from happening. Forston and Spence told me North Carolina's Butch Davis stopped by last week. Florida assistant Doc Holliday was there on Tuesday when I was at there and Andre Fernandez spotted Tennessee coach Phillip Fullmer there on Wednesday. On Tuesday, I saw Holliday take Spence and Forston into Billy Rolle's office for 10 minutes alone.

But Canes fans have no reason to worry. Behind the scenes, I get the sense these Northwestern kids are simply having fun with this recruiting process. But what about the rumors? The players are just having fun with the people who call them everyday to bother them about where they're leaning. The biggest thing is they're trying not to be rude to these college coaches -- or those recruiting reporters -- who stop by their schools to see them. When Holliday left, Forston rolled his eyes and told me, "That guy doesn't quit. But I guess he has to because if not he'll get fired."

Forston, who is slowly becoming a bit of a UM fan favorite through this recruiting process because of some of his comments, hit me with some great lines Tuesday when I asked him about what opposing coaches were telling him to try to sway him from The U. Forston said many opposing coaches are trying to put down Miami's facilities, they bring up safety, the shooting deaths of Pata and Sean Taylor, the current losing going on and the future of Randy Shannon as coach. Forston, though, isn't buying any of it. And he's even got a nickname for Holliday -- "Snake Eyes."

"Like I said before and I'll say it again even though they don't care, I'm committed to the Hurricanes. That's the first thing I tell them. The things the tell me is how big their facilities are. How they got a stadium on their campus. How they got an academic building inside the stadium. But that doesn't matter to me. It's the coaching staff around you and the work ethic that's built in you that's going to get you to the next level, not no facilities. The University of Miami might have two whirlpools and the next one might have six, but it's still doing the same job.

"The worst thing anybody said was how Miami is not a safe environment. But they don't know where I stay at. I live in the Pork 'N Beans projects, Liberty City housing. It can't get no worse than that. So, I tell them, if I can stay out of trouble around there, how am I going to get in trouble in Coral Gables? You can take me to hell and I'll find a way to get out of that."

"Another thing, people have been saying, 'Oh its not the old Miami. They're finished.' But I'm going to prove them wrong. Once you're a great program, you'll always be a great program. Everybody has a bad season... they had a group of young guys. Now, we come in, guys from Northwestern and Booker T. who have played together for a long time and things will change."

Forston said he expects for him and Spence to be roommates when they enroll in classes in January. Although, Forston told me he's still waiting on his test score to return before he can enroll. "I'm going to be there," he promised me. "Don't worry about that."

- As for quarterback Jacory Harris, who told me he liked Oregon last week and caught slack on websites for saying what he said, he told me Tuesday that after a day or two he realized it was crazy to think about leaving South Florida. Jacory, though, did tell me his feelings were hurt a bit by some of the comments he read online from irate fans. "People we're saying on your blog, we don't need Jacory. Forget him. We got Robert Marve. That's messed up man." Can't say I didn't warn you guys.

- As for Spence, he told me he did like his trips to North Carolina and Tennessee earlier this year, but like Harris realized "there's no place like home." Spence, who is close with cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, said he had conversation with linebacker coach Michael Barrow that made him feel better in the recruiting process and "sealed the deal." He said he and Forston love the fact UM players have been treating them "with open arms."

December 11, 2007

Rios, Graham uncertain for Thursday

The University of Miami's men's basketball team (8-0) could be without starting power forward Jimmy Graham and freshman point guard Eddie Rios when it makes its trip to Mississippi State (5-3) Thursday night.

Coach Frank Haith said Graham tweaked his ankle during practice Monday. Rios, who bruised his right thigh Saturday night against FIU, did not practice at all Monday.

Sophomore Dwayne Collins would likely replace Graham in the starting lineup. Rios, who started three games before returning to the bench against FIU, will have his minutes spelled by junior Lance Hurdle. Thursday night's game at 8 p.m. will be broadcast on FSN and on 560 WQAM.

Reminder, tonight I will host a live Q&A at 8 pm on Canespace.com. Feel free to leave questions on this forum.

December 10, 2007

My take: Jacory, recruiting, hoops, BTW and The West

I don't want to sound like a hater because nothing is worse than covering a losing team, but I'm kind of happy the Hurricanes aren't preparing for another trip to Boise or some bowl game nobody cares about. It's allowed me to zero-in on more important stories in the last of couple of weeks including the amazing runs Booker T. Washington and Northwestern, two of our local high school football programs, are putting together, the great start UM's basketball program has gotten off to, and of course everyone's favorite -- recruiting.

Obviously, nothing is more important to The U right now than that. It's more than obvious the level of talent this team has harbored the last two seasons has been simply not up to standard. And I'm being nice saying that. I'm sure most of you could come up with more colorful descriptions.

That being said, the biggest surprise to me has been the high volume of new names that have surfaced since the end of the season only two weeks ago. As U know, UM can only sign 25 in February and will push for as many as eight for early enrollment in January. Yet, lately, I've been hearing new names all the time, which makes me wonder if Miami is expecting some already committed to either not qualify or not sign with the program. Obviously, there isn't enough scholarships for everyone. But it looks to me like UM is trying to make sure it doesn't lose out on filling all of its 33 spots. By the way, the only players who will be gone, I've been told, are Dajleon Farr and Daren Daly.

- As for the latest... the Hurricanes had 22 commitments already before the season ended, a number which grew to 24 this past week before Canesport reported Sunday night that linebacker Lerentee McCray was dropping his commitment. Miami from what I've been told wasn't exactly crying over losing McCray and had actually been hoping he'd cut himself loose after some of the recent finds they've picked up including New Jersey's Zach Kane (6-3, 220), Vero Beach's John Calhoun (6-3, 225) and local boy Brandon Marti (6-0, 200). Calhoun is most likely to end up a fullback.

- If Marti and Kane, currently listed as athletes, are counted as linebackers that would currently give UM a total of five linebackers in this incoming class -- alongside Northwestern's Sean Spence, Chaminade's Jordan Futch and Memphis' Antonio Harper. Harper and Kane are middle linebackers. Futch, Spence and Marti, who I was recently told received an offer from USC, are outside linebackers. Homestead High's Marcus Robinson, who will be making trips, is expected to end up playing defensive end. Recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt told me the team was looking to land between 6 and 7 linebackers in all. The biggest and best target, Arthur Brown, hosted coach Randy Shannon at his home Sunday night in Kansas. Brown is set to announce on Dec. 17 according to Rivals.com reports. Ultimately, I've been told Brown and Spence would be considered the real gems of the linebacker class. Seeing Spence play up close several times this season I can tell you he's as talented and as smart a linebacker as I've ever seen in the county. And I expect him to be a star with the Canes.

- As for what else the Canes are going after, I've been told the focus has turned to defensive back -- including a pair of new names out in California and another safety in Jacksonville. The feel is talented Ely cornerback Patrick Johnson will be a question mark up until the end. I know Johnson has gone on the radio recently and told several fellow UM commitments he's going to be a Hurricane, but I won't believe it until I see him put on the cap and sign the scholarship papers.

- Even if Johnson goes elsewhere (it would be a huge loss), Miami still has a great shot at Booker T. Washington's Brandon Harris, who would be one of the final 25 signing and expected to arrive in the fall. I watched Harris' team beat offensive line recruit Matt Patchan and Seffner Armwood Friday night in the Class 4A state semifinals. Nobody on the field was better than those two. Harris might not have the prestige or size of PJ, but I absolutely love his heart, hustle and intensity. He made so many great plays in coverage, but it was the little things I loved too. He set a big block for BTW's first touchdown of the game, which sprung receiver Thearon Collier for a 39-yard score. Then, when his teammates on the sidelines had fallen asleep on a punting assignment, he simply ran out onto the field and filled in, blocking an oncoming rusher from getting to the punter. Longtime recruiting analyst Larry Blustein compares Harris to Antrel Rolle and I agree. Both of them were so smart, such good kids and leaders in high school. I can see Harris going to UM and having the same type of career there.

- Last week, I reported Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris' new-found interest for Oregon and I know it caused a bit of an uproar especially considering Harris is not only the most important recruit in UM's class, but also someone who has been UM all the way since he committed. Some of you ripped him on this blog for it. But personally, I don't see a reason why you would put a high school kid down for saying how he truly felt. Harris took a trip to Oregon and liked it. He has every right to. And the things he said comparing Oregon's facilities and fans to UM's are not off base. I know I've talked about the latter a few times here and how it disgusts me how some UM fans get abusive in the treatment of players. If anything Harris' comments about fans should be taken seriously. Fans should know ripping current players in front of potential recruits simply isn't good for business. Harris, by the way, isn't the only current commitment to tell me he's been bothered by the foul-mouthed criticism of players at games. Harris, by the way, engineered one of the greatest drives in high school history against Deerfield Beach last Friday night, leading the Bulls 99 yards in the final two minutes for an amazing come-from-behind win. I was told he also had two touchdown passes nullified -- one was a drop by Aldarius Johnson on what would have been an 80-yard touchdown strike and another by Tommy Streeter on a penalty. Harris has 47 touchdown passes against only 6 picks this season.

- This weekend, I'll be up in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl to watch Booker T. Washington, Northwestern and St. Thomas Aquinas play in three of the four large-school state titles games. For any of you interested, St. Thomas plays at 7 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, Booker T. plays at 1 p.m. and Northwestern plays at 7 p.m.

- Couldn't end this blog without something on UM hoops, which improved to 8-0 with its win over FIU on Saturday night. It was nice to see Canes fans show up in force, including a strong representation by the students in the upper level. Coach Frank Haith's team was up by 25 points with 9 minutes left before once again beating the press became an issue. Miami turned the ball over 9 times in the final five minutes. Freshman point guard Eddie Rios and junior forward Brian Asbury each finished with five turnovers in the game. We knew point guard was going to be an issue, but at this point I'd consider it the achilles heal of this team.

- Haith said Saturday he wants his veterans on the floor late to make sure those type of mistakes don't happen again. But with Jack McClinton playing with a splint in his left hand, I'm not sure how good he'd be having to beat double teams and traps. McClinton in my eyes shouldn't be handling the ball anyway unless its in spot duty. Miami is going to need Rios to pick up his play if they aren't going to fall victim to some late game collapses. Lance Hurdle did a nice job Saturday beating the press with his speed. But when Miami goes into hostile environments in the ACC, that's not always going to cut it. Haith knows that. His team has a stiff test Thursday at Mississippi State and a few more ACC warm-up games before conference play begins. Hopefully, McClinton will get healthy in that time and show he can handle the point guard duties or Hurdle or Rios will learn quickly. Otherwise, it will come back to haunt Miami down the road.

December 08, 2007

Courtside blog: UM 67, FIU 53 (F)

Checking in before tipoff where the Canes are about to take on FIU. I'll be here to bring you updates and thoughts throughout the game. Feel free to throw me some questions if you like.

- Jack McClinton is back in the starting lineup for the Canes alongside Brian Asbury, James Dews, Jimmy Graham and Anthony King. The Canes are sporting those nice new black uniforms for this game.
- Talk about a way to start. Canes come out and score 12 straight behind back-to-back threes by McClinton and Dews, a pair of free throws by Graham, an Asbury jumper and a Graham lay-in off a beautiful pass from King. This could get real ugly.
- Alex Galindo finally gets FIU on the on the board with a three-point basket with 15:30 to go in the half.
- Edwin Rios left the game with 11:27 to play after appearing to injure his right leg. His right quadriceps appears to be wrapped up with idea. The Canes have been having trouble protecting the ball tonight. There have been six turnovers so far.
- Rios checks back in after a timeout with 6:46 left.
- Here's an impressive stat in this one. Second chance points: UM 13, FIU 0. Miami outrebounded FIU at the break 21-14. Dwayne Collins and James Dews go in with a team-high 8 points each. McClinton and Asbury each had 6 points each.

- The Hurricanes start the second half with a 5-0 run. Have to say I've been impressed by the hsutle on the boards again for the Canes. FIU has some size. Yet, still, the Canes are beating them to many loose balls and boards.
- Miami now has its biggest lead of the game at 54-29. Collins has 12 points and seven boards and Dews has 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Miami has 28 points in the paint.
- Canes finished this one sloppy with lots of turnovers at the end. But we did get to see a reverse dunk from Lance Hurdle on an alley-oop at the end. It just didn't count.

December 07, 2007

The Hoops Report with Haith, Hurdle

With his team 7-0 and set to take on a struggling FIU team Saturday night at Pharmed Arena, coach Frank Haith and guard Lance Hurdle filled us in on the latest surrounding the Hurricanes men's basketball team.

Here's some impressive stats you should know about the Canes before we get to what they said.
-- The Hurricanes are ranked No. 1 in the RPI, 290 spots ahead of FIU. According to the RPI, UM has the fourth toughest strength of schedule in the country. But before you get all excited, here's a disclaimer -- St. Mary's is No. 2.
-- UM's defense, which is much improved this season, ranks No. 1 in field goal percentage, No. 1 three-point percentage and No. 2 overall in scoring (59.3 ppg) in the ACC.

Q: You said after the 19-point win at home Sunday against St. John’s you guys still have a long way to go, a lot more to improve on. Have you identified where?
A: I think obviously we would like to be more efficient offensively and consistent with our offensive play. I think its getting better. There are certain guys we want to see more production out of. I’m ecstatic about what we’re doing defensively and I think that’s how your going to win ballgames. If you look at our numbers, we lead the league in points allowed. I think we’re second in the league in field goal percentage defense. Three-point percentage defense, I think we’re one or two in there. Our defensive numbers is what we’ve done to be as good as we are and play as well as we’ve played.

Offensively, I think we’re OK. But I’d like to see us be better. And we’re capable of being better. Granted, we’ve lost some consistency there when you lose a guy like McClinton for some time. Even, though he was back last game, he still wasn’t Jack McClinton. He’s a big part of your offense. Even if he’s not scoring a lot, he draws attention, which will open up other things for other players. So, I know we’re not going to be great until we get him back into the flow completely.

Q: When is that going to be?
A: I don’t know. We’ll see. The biggest thing for Jack is learning how to play with that thing on his hand. It’s something he’s going to have to do for awhile. I think he’s fine. The thumb is fine. It’s just getting used to having that soft, whatever it is that is holding his thumb in place. I think its going to be a couple weeks. He’s got to get used to it.

Q: Is it a soft cast?
A: No. It’s kind of like a protective wrap. A splint. That’s the word.

Q: So, is Jack going to handle the ball less and just set up and be a shooter more?
A: It’s just of matter practicing and seeing his ability and where it's at. I don’t know if I can sit here and say he’s not going to handle the ball. A lot will depend on how comfortable he’s gotten. Now, we’re a week later. That was only two days he was playing with that thing on his hand. So, now, he’s gotten more time with it, more comfortable with it. Maybe he’s more ready to handle the ball more. So, I don’t know, we’ll see.

Q: What would you like having Jack back and get in the flow. What is that you want to do offensively that you are not doing?
A: We want to continue to get our post guys involved and be consistent with that. Our post guys being consistent with how they’re attacking the basket and continue to play inside-out. I like to see us run better, transition-wise. In our early offense I’d like to see us be more effective. I think we’re very capable of being a team from a transition standpoint being better than we are. Those are areas I’d like to see us be better at.

Q: I think you are two spots out of the Top 25. Can you just talk about that? I know that’s something that hasn’t happened here a lot.
A: I don’t know. We’re not worrying about that. I think our guys are continuing to focus on doing what we need to do to get better. If it happens, it’s great. If it doesn’t... All we can do is worry about what we can control and that’s going out, competing and putting ourselves in position to win ballgames. The Top 25 if your able to get in there, it’s a great thing. And at the end of the year, weeks in the Top 25 is something obviously in terms of improving your resume in terms of the NCAA tournament is a good thing. There’s no question it’s a good thing and it’s something you want to shoot for. But I think our focus is our team getting better and understanding this thing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We’re only at the beginning stages.

Q: Last week, Brian Asbury kind of disappeared. In Puerto Rico, he had one half where he didn’t score, then he came out and scored 16, is that part of that consistency you’re looking for on offense.
A: Absolutely. But I will give Brian credit he didn’t score and wasn’t scoring and he didn’t come out and start jacking up shots. I went back and looked at the St. John’s game, I think we probably had a 4-minute stretch, maybe 5-minutes where we didn’t play good basketball and that was in the first half. I think we had 20 minutes in the second half and 15 in the first half. But that five minute stretch, we had a group of quick jump shots and it became contagious. One guy did it, another guy did it. But Brian never lost his focus and went to that losing the focus and I applaud him because he didn’t get into that. But we do need Brian’s productivity because we need that. We need Brian scoring different ways. We need him offensive rebounding, stick backs, which he did in the second half. We need him driving the ball to the basket, getting fouls, putting fouls on people because he is a very good free throw shooter. So, it’s more than him just standing out there and hitting jump shots, we need him getting points a lot of different ways.

Q: In the end of the St. John’s game we saw a lot of Dwayne Collins and Anthony King out on the floor together. Is that something we’re going to see more of?
A: We’ve done it all year. Those guys have played together all year, I don’t think it is anything we haven’t done. I think Dwayne and King have been out there a lot. I think sometimes we put Ray in the game late because he’s a good free throw shooter, better ball handler. Dwayne and King have played a lot together. Dwayne is our first post sub. So, there is no question. A lot of times Jimmy’s got two fouls and Dwayne will come in and that’s how its been all year.

Q: Speaking of Jimmy, how is his [right] foot doing. I know he injured it in the second half against St. John’s. Is he going to play Saturday against FIU?
A: Yeah, I think he’ll play. He had a little bit of a stress reaction. We think he’s going to be fine. We think he’s going to play.

Q: Has Jimmy been able to practice?
A: Some. We’re in exams and that’s the one thing in playing this game and the timing of it. We’re right in the middle of exams, so we haven’t practiced a whole lot. We haven’t had a lot of time on the court and we want our guys doing their things academically.

Q: How much does not being able to practice as much hurt your rhythm?
A: It’s hard. This is very similar to the way Mississippi State was. We’ll still be taking exams next week. So, we have two games in the middle of exams. When we go to Mississippi State we’ll be done with exams at that point in time. We try not to do as much as we can. Good thing about playing Saturday is they got one day to prepare for exams. But preparation is where it takes its toll. We’re not able to practice at our facility and we have to come over here.

Q: So, how many fewer hours are you guys practicing?
A: We went an hour the other day. Today, we’ll go maybe an hour, hour and half. So, we’ll probably go three days. Compared to normal, we’d go every day with the exception of one day off.

Q: Lance [Hurdle] had a good game against St. John’s. Did you see anything different there?
A: Just confidence. Getting court time. I think the more Lance plays, the better he’s going to be. It’s a matter of him just getting comfortable with that offense and getting comfortable with what we’re trying to do. It’s just a matter of confidence and that comes with him getting court time. He was outstanding the other day against St. John’s. Defensively and offensively and I think that’s the key. And that’s what we want Lance to do. Because I think Lance can be a tremendous defender. And that’s what he does bring. But also, Lance can make a shot and he did a great job with that and getting us in our offense. He’s hard to press. He’s got the speed and quickness and athleticism to outrun people.

Q: Can you talk a little about FIU and the challenge they present?
A: The biggest challenge is its their biggest game of the year. They’ll be excited to play us and geeked up and it will be a great crowd. I’m sure we’ll get their best effort that they’ve had all year. This is their Super Bowl. We’ll have to go over there with that mindset against a team that is going to be ready to play us as hard as they can play and give us everything they’ve got.

Q: Can you talk about the two recruits you guys signed – 6-6 forward DeQuan Jones and 6-9 center Robert Johnson – a few weeks ago?
A: I’m extremely excited about both of them. I think DeQuan is an impact player. I get reports of how well he’s playing. Coach Morton went and saw him and said he’s just growing each day. He’s 6-6, I think he’s the best athlete in the whole class. I think his impact is going to be immediate with our program. I think he’s that good.

I think Reggie Johnson is a kid that has only been playing basketball for four or five years, but I think his upside is incredible because he’s so big. I was in for a workout and I saw him break a backboard. And he has shattered three backboards. He so powerful. You hear his numbers you think he’s this fat kid. He’s really not. I mean obviously, he has to have some fat because he’s 300 pounds. But I thin once he gets his weight down and gets more conditioned, he has a chance to be really, really good. He has great hands and he’s pretty agile. Great agility for a kid his size. Very much like Jimmy, whose 258 and light on his feet. Reggie is a lot like that. It’s just a matter of him learning the game. But I think his upside is really good. We’re excited about both those kids.

Q: Julian Gamble is a guy who you said wasn’t probably going to play much this year. How is he progressing?
A: Jules is coming along well. Lance will tell you he’s made great strides in his game. His thing was confidence. He and Cyrus are big guys that aren’t playing and that’s a nice luxury to have, to have two guys in your program that will be playing next year.


Q: What did you get out of the 13-point effort on Sunday?

A: Like coach said it was a big confidence booster. And it was just fun playing out there. Atmosphere was great. Everybody was ready to play. It was just fun going out there with my teammates and winning the game.

Q: Were you feeling like you were pressing, trying to impress that sort of thing before it?
A: No. I just think I had to relax some. I was getting to excited sometimes. I’m starting to relax and calm down a little bit.

Q: How are you adjusting after coming over from California?
A: It’s pretty much the same weather. I’m having fun out here. I chill with my teammates all the time. I thought I’d be homesick, but I’m not. I’m just having fun out here, plus we’re winning so, it’s a good life right now.

Q: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you?
A: Probably the speed of the game, it’s quicker at this level. People are stronger. You just got to stay poised and composed at this level.

Q: I know one thing your teammates were saying was how good of a dunker you were and how much of a vertical you have, I know we haven’t had a chance to see you break one off. Is that in the plans?
A: I don’t think about it. If it happens, it happens.

Haith: “His teammates are sick and tired of the two-handed dunk. They want him to do something different.”

Q: What is your best dunk?
A: Probably the 360.

Haith: “Actually, we told Lance when he got here we were going to run alley-oop plays for him and that’s the only reason we got him. But we haven’t run one yet.”

December 06, 2007

Key UM recruit says he's considering Oregon

If there is one member of the next University of Miami football recruiting class considered a must-get, have-to-have, no question "we need this guy," most experts would agree it would be Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris.

The 6-3, 172-pound signal-caller for the nation's No. 1 high school football team is one of six current Jacory_harris_actionBulls committed to the Canes. As captain and leader, he has tremendous pull with many of his teammates. Well, after taking a trip to Oregon with receiver Tommy Streeter last weekend, I caught up with Harris moments ago -- the first reporter to do so since they returned (CHECK OUT THE AUDIO) -- when I visited Northwestern's practice and spoke to Harris and several players. What did Jacory say? Something Canes fans DO NOT want to hear. Harris said he loved his trip to the Oregon so much, he is now strongly considering the Ducks. In fact, he's sent both Oregon and Miami applications for enrollment in January.

"The trip to Oregon was wonderful," Harris said. "They came out here yesterday and talked to me, [Coach Mike Bellotti] asked me about the trip and I just told him I enjoyed myself. Me and Streeter, went up there, had fun, seen the facilities and seen what they had to offer athletically and academically and you know, we really liked the program. And they will be a thought, something I'll be considering. I'm still committed to Miami, but I'll still be considering the University of Oregon too."

Harris told me he and Streeter, a receiver The U is also trying to chase down, were impressed by the facilities at Oregon and the atmosphere before the team's final game against Oregon State. Harris said he was impressed by the way the crowd responded to its hero, quarterback Dennis Dixon and said he was very impressed by the ovation Dixon was given.

"Soon as he came out, my ears started hurting," Harris said. "It was super loud. They really impressed me. I love the stadium. The stadium is built kind of weird, but it looks good. And I like that feel. The fans there are real supportive, its really a football town, that's all they have there. Oregon Ducks football and Oregon Ducks athletics."

Were there things he liked about Oregon more than UM?

"Yeah, there were a lot of things I liked better than UM. People are always going to say the facilities are better elsewhere than UM. But UM has the tradition of winning games with or without the facility. That's not going to determine where I am going to go. The fans are kind of better because of the fact that's all they have to cheer for. And the fans here if you do bad, they're going to get on you. You do bad there, they don't say too much."

Harris said among the many things he did on his visit was have dinner with Dixon, whom he said coaches were constantly comparing him to.

"He wasn't really trying to convince me to go there, but he was saying how I look very much like him from film. He said how his style of play is. He came in 6-3, 178. I'm coming in 6-3, 172. So, we basically have the same measurements. He runs a 4.48. I run a 4.52. We're kind of similar, both of us."

So, will this open things back up for Harris in recruiting?

"Yeah, I've been open. But it's just the fact I'm still committed to Miami. I don't know, that's still a place that strong in my heart, but Oregon has taken a big chunk of that away. Hopefully, I'll make the right decision."

Harris said he's going to sit down with his parents and talk things over soon. I spoke to Jacory's father, Northwestern defensive coordinator Rodney Harris, who told me "my son would first have to convince his mother to allow him to leave." Jacory said his mother mentioned that to Oregon coaches last night.

So what is UM doing to make sure it doesn't loose a huge commitment? Jacory said he spoke to coach Randy Shannon last night, whom Harris said asked him about his trip and encouraged him to "go on more visits and see other places."

"Your word is your word. And he's not worried about anything," Harris said. "I told him don't be worried about anything."

But should Hurricanes fans be worried, especially after Harris was walking around campus Thursday wearing an Oregon Ducks skully?

"I don't know," Harris said. "I've been messing with everybody today throwing up a University of Miami sign then curving it into an O. I have everybody scared. But those are just the little things I do to mess with everybody."

-- So is Harris going to end up going to Oregon? My money still says no, that he's going to stay put and go to Miami. But after hearing him speak Thursday, I definitely feel there's a chance Dixon and Oregon could sway him. Until now, I had always thought the Northwestern guys were locks.

-- As for the rest of the Bulls, I got a kick out of the way defensive tackle Marcus Forston, another key UM recruit, took to hearing Harris talk about Oregon. Forston refused to shake Harris' hand and told him, "Man, get away from me, you ain't no real Cane." Forston told me when LSU coaches attempted to visit him last week, "I pointed and told them to go home."

-- Forston told me other schools have calling him of late trying to trick him and other recruits by telling them coach Randy Shannon has only one year left on his contract. Forston and Harris both told me they've been receiving calls from UM coaches to stop the false information from spreading. I got a phone call from a UM assistant who pleaded with me and said "please put it out there that coach Shannon's contract runs through 2012. People are spreading garbage that he's only got one year left. That's bull."

-- As for Streeter, landing him at this point is not going to be easy. He said he hasn't spoken to UM coaches in a month. Although, I hear from the other end, it is because Streeter is not returning phone calls, a sign UM coaches have taken as a sign he isn't interested. When I spoke to Streeter for 10 minutes tonight, he seemed a bit brainwashed by the apparent pitches other schools are delivering. He brought up Sean Taylor, safety and how going away can be a good experience. Streeter, who has also visited Boston College, said he won't make a decision until February. But the likelihood of him ending up a Cane is tough at this point. UM coaches are going to have to work hard to convince him. Although, he also told me that the thought of winning a national championship in high school and then following his teammates to the same school is what entices him most about UM.

-- I'll have audio from all of my interviews up shortly, including an interview I did the other night with New Jersey linebacker Zach Kane, a 6-3, 215-pound senior who could become the 24th player to committ to the Hurricanes. Kane told me he plans to visit UM in January and will likely commit then.

-- I've been told UM is down to its final 10 scholarships and will attempt to more of an emphasis in the coming weeks on defensive backs. The Hurricanes are also trying very hard to sway current Illinois commitment Corey Liuget, a 6-3, 260-pound defensive end from Hialeah High. This is the early report. Check back later tonight and tomorrow for more on recruiting.

December 04, 2007

Remembering Taylor, Pata

I was at the funeral yesterday, among the flock of reporters sitting in the upper level of FIU's Pharmed Arena to see the world pay its last respects to Sean Taylor. I sat through the service, saw the images up on the projection screens and sucked in the deep level of sadness that place was emmiting.

I'm not much for shedding tears. But listening to Sean's family and friends talk about him made my eyes swell up. I had to walk out right after his girlfriend's sister delivered her speech, thanking Taylor for loving her sister the way he did and for giving the family the most precious gift in the world -- their 18-month old daughter.

Yesterday, was a tough day for me, but nowhere near as tough as it was for the people who really knew Sean. I didn't know Sean Taylor the way I got to know many other local high school athletes. He was about a year before my time as the high school writer for this paper. But over the years, I got know his family. His cousins Emory Williams and Anthony Leon were very good high school football players in their own right at Gulliver Prep. His father, Pete Taylor, was still very much a supporter of Gulliver even after Sean left. I got to know them all at Gulliver and even better the day Taylor was drafted by the Redskins. I was there the moment his name was called and his family rejoiced. Seeing them go through some unbelievable anguish was heart-wrenching.

The courage Pete showed everytime he dealt was the media was amazing to me. How could a man who lost his son be so strong? How could answer each and every question thrown his way? The truth was, Pete Taylor really wasn't OK. Pete Taylor was dying inside everytime he had to talk about Sean. When I drove down his house last Thursday, I sent him a text message to let him know I was on my way. I wanted him to know among with the throng of media who were parked on his neighbors lawn, hoping to pick at the one scab he wanted left alone, he had a friend. When he came out and spoke, I shook his hand and told him he was doing a great job. He spoke, then vanished into his house behind police. About 15 minutes later, he came out and gave ESPN and The Miami Herald 10 more minutes of his time. He didn't have to. But he did because of how much he loved Sean, because of how much he wanted his son to be remembered not for those run-ins with the law but for the good kid he raised. When I left his home, he sent me a text message: "I'm trying to do my best. I'm grateful for everything. U take care and may god continue to bless u."

Pete Taylor didn't need to do any of that. But that's the type of person he is. The type of father he wanted to be for Sean and the type of person he hoped Sean would become. As a former wrestler at Southridge High, he knew the strength of sports and how it kept young men on the straight and narrow. He will never say this publicly, but he was always worried about Sean. His family and close friends will tell you so. It was natural. As a police chief in Florida City and a guy who grew up near Goulds, Pete saw many young lives go awry. He always worried Sean might befriend the wrong people and it might come back to haunt him.

Sean Taylor grew up in two houses -- the stern, disciplined one his father the police chief had and the little less stern his mother had. There were different elements in and around both homes, one was a little further away from trouble than the other. Sean, I've been told, embraced both environments. Pete, the police chief, always warned his son to stay clear of the shady elements where his mother lived. And for the most part he did. From what I've been told, he basically shut that part out of his life after his daughter was born. He became more deeply connected with his NFL bretheren and the guys he met at the Pro Bowl and spent more and more time with his family and young child. The problem was those bad elements already knew where he lived and knew he wasn't home much. According to investigators, one of the four men arrested for this crime admitted to being at Taylor's home for a birthday party this summer.

Pete Taylor told me he found out his son's house had been broken into a week before Sean Taylor came home. Pete told me he warned Sean on Thanksgiving, the last time they spoke, not to come home. He told him if he did, to let him know when he was coming. "I would have made sure the place was secure if I knew he was coming," Pete Taylor told me. "But I didn't know he was coming back." Pete found out his son was home after he had been shot in the leg. Sean Taylor died a day later. The four men under arrest for it claim they didn't know anyone was going to be home. The sad part is, had Sean known it was going to be his last moment on earth, he likely would have obliged and handed over some money to these young burglars. It was always Taylor's nature according to his uncle Anthony Leon to help those less fortunate around him. But now, Sean Taylor is gone. The young 24-year old who was starting to grow up and be the dependable father, the loving boyfriend, the big brother and wonderful son is gone. And it is a tragedy. Nothing else. Sean Taylor was simply the victim here and nothing else.

Taylor's family will survive this misery. His daughter and longtime will be financially stable, well taken care of by a wealthy family. But they'll never be able to replace his smile, his love, his hugs, his personality.

Yesterday, I kept thinking about Bryan Pata and his family and how different the situation is for them. Taylor's family has the knowledge that his killers have already been arrested. It's been 13 months for the Pata family and there are still no answers. I can't imagine the pain they are feeling. All I will continue to do is hope justice is served quickly, that Bryan Pata can rest in peace the way Sean Taylor is today.