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Still in Charlotte

When the University of Miami exited the ACC Tournament on Friday with a loss to Virginia Tech I was kind of bummed The Herald wanted me to to stick around and cover the rest of the tournament. I was looking forward to returning home and being with the Canes later today when they find out where they are headed on Selection Sunday.

But being the only remaining South Florida reporter in Charlotte for the final two days of the tournament, I've come to appreciate and learn a few things here in ACC country. I've really come to appreciate the beauty of playing in this conference. I'm sitting here at Charlotte Bobcats Arena watching the championship game between North Carolina and Clemson with 20,000 fans. And they all aren't wearing Carolina blue or Clemson's orange and purple. I see Maryland fans. North Carolina State fans. Wake Forest fans. Georgia Tech fans. Boston College fans. Virginia Tech fans. I'm still looking for green and orange. I'm sure there has to be at least one UM fan who decided to stick around for the rest of the weekend. UM's radio crew of Joe Zagacki and Josh Darrow are here, broadcasting the games back home. But I really wonder who is listening. Does anybody back in Miami really care the ACC Championship game is being played? Will they ever?

Look, I know college basketball will always play third fiddle to college football and college baseball in South Florida. The fact UM won five national titles in football and four more in baseball are good enough reasons why those two sports are higher up on South Florida fans' radars. Furthermore, throw in the fact that the majority of South Florida born sports stars like Jacory Harris and Yonder Alonso come out of the womb carrying footballs and beisbols and the picture becomes even clearer why basketball is naturally cared for by so few back home.

But the day it changes -- if it ever does -- we South Floridians may finally come to no longer feel bored during the months of January, February and March. You know, that period most of us have come to learn as the end of the football season, the wait before the start of spring football, those boring months before pitchers and catchers report and you fill out those brackets and try to win those $500 office pools. I'm not going to lie. I was one of those people. Watching the Canes struggle after Leonard Hamilton left and Miami stopped being a Sweet 16 team, I could have cared less about college basketball.

But in my two seasons covering Frank Haith's basketball team, I've come to appreciate this sport and this conference more than I could have imagined. It's more than just those special nights when UM beats Duke or when Carolina comes to town with future NBA stars. It's the grind, the ride through the conference year to year. It's the struggle Frank Haith's team endured during it's 2-6 start -- the tough losses on the road at N.C. State and Wake Forest -- and seeing Jack McClinton will Miami to a 6-2 finish thereafter. It's going into Cameron and trying to pull off the impossible and laughing everytime Duke fans come up with some new creative way to make fun of their opponent. It's going to Maryland on a Tuesday night and seeing the way the students pay homage to Gary Williams when he walks onto the court. It's watching Tyler Hansbrough dive for a loose ball. Or DeMarcus Nelson play defense. Or Deron Washington sky for an alley-oop dunk. Or Sean Singletary and McClinton go at each other for 40 minutes and drain big shot after big shot.

I know these things might sound foreign to most of you. After all, the University of Miami doesn't have much history when it comes to playing in a conference. The rivalries Canes revel in are when the Gators or Seminoles or Golden Panthers are the opponent or if No. 1 -- be it Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame -- are next on the schedule. I can understand why. UM has never really had time to develop much else. The Canes played as independent before it joined the Big East in 1991. And this is just the fourth season Miami has played since it moved to the ACC.

But maybe one day, South Floridians will come to appreciate what the rest of ACC country has been enjoying for more than 50 years. Maybe they'll care about these rivalries and be as excited as Clemson fans are to be playing in today's ACC championship game. Who knows, maybe January, February and March won't feel so boring anymore.

* By the way, ESPN's Joe Lunardi predicts Miami playing as a 10th seed against OJ Mayo and USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. We'll find out at 6 if he's right.

* Got to experience something pretty special Saturday -- an interview with former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. The inteview didn't last very long. But the fact I got to speak to one of the legends in all of sports was pretty cool.

* I also got a chance to speak to former Cane Tim James, who was honored as one of a dozen ACC Legends. The 31-year old former Northwestern Bulls star, Miami-Dade Herald Athlete of the Year, co-Big East Player of the Year and Heat draft choice said he finally decided to end his career a few months ago. He was playing out it Israel after a tour that included stops in Israel and Japan. James told me he's now living "a normal life" in Atlanta working for a document printing company. He said he hasn't had much contact with the folks at UM since he's been overseas. But I can't imagine a better guy for Coach Frank Haith to bring in to talk to players this postseason or even next year. James was a huge part of Miami's rise in the mid to late 1990s. I'm sure he'd have something to say Haith's team would listen to.

* Among the other legends honored this weekend was Florida State Heisman winner Charlie Ward. We talked for nearly 10 minutes and I got to say it was pretty cool to interview an athlete like Ward who was so good at two sports. He's now going to be a first-year head coach at a high school in Houston. The thing I came away impressed with was how small Ward was. If this guy (who couldn't have been taller than 6-1) was able to lead FSU to a national title and win the Heisman, Miami fans should not be worried about freshman Robert Marve's height issues.