Here's a quick preview of what could be in store next Wednesday, National Signing Day.
> NOTE: I wore the old Cubs jersey in honor of the late great Ernie Banks.
Just got back from Wednesday's baseball practice and have a few quick tidbits of info I'd like to share with you from all three sports:
- Frank Haith's basketball program has picked up another player who will be part of the 2009 class, 6-8, 205-pound power forward Donnovan Kirk. Scout.com's Dave Telep reported it this afternoon. Kirk, a Scout.com Top 100 junior from Detroit County Day, picked UM over Michigan State, USC and South Florida. Rivals.com rates Kirk 56th in its Top 100. Telep reported UM got in early on Kirk and swayed him from the hometown Spartans. Assuming Kirk sticks to his word, he becomes the second member of the 2009 class, joining Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant. Miami has four seniors heading into next season and likely two more scholarships available to use in '09. I've got a call into Kirk's high school coach and hopefully will have more for you later tonight.
- Baseball coach Jim Morris said Wednesday he's going to leave freshman Chris Hernandez in the Friday night starter role instead of going back to now fully healthy sophomore Eric Erickson. Hernandez was named Pro-Line Athletic National Pitcher of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) on Tuesday. The former Monsignor Pace standout matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in a career-long eight innings to lead No. 1 Miami to a series-opening 1-0 shutout of No. 16 Virginia last Friday. He improved to 7-0 on the season with a 2.77 ERA. I caught up with Hernandez this afternoon and will have a Q&A later this week for you.
- Booker T. Washington football coach Tim "Ice" Harris told our Andre Fernandez today he will indeed be leaving the Tornadoes to work at UM. Harris is waiting until after his team competes in the Class 3A state track and field championships this week to formally announce it. He'll be following his son Brandon, a star cornerback and '08 recruit. Rumor is the job Harris will be taking is Community Liaison. Harris led Booker T. to the state football championship this past December and won last year's state track title. UM coach Randy Shannon has been friends with Ice for years and I'm told UM is very much interested in letting him coach down the line.
One of the biggest areas of need the University of Miami had when building its 2008 recruiting class was finding big bodies to plug-in on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Hurricanes addressed the defensive side with three of the best players in the state -- Northwestern's Marcus Forston, Pahokee's Micanor Regis and Palm Beach Lakes' Jeremy Lewis.
Tuesday, Miami added more depth to the position when it picked up its fifth commitment in the 2009 class in 6-3, 280-pound junior Luther Robinson of Fort Pierce Westwood. Robinson, a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, earned Defensive Line MVP honors last month at the Nike Camp in Gainesville and is one of the highest rising recruits in the '09 class. While he's being recruited as a defensive tackle, don't rule out the possibility he could move to offense. Robinson plays both sides of the line at Westwood
"I watched him play some last year and I think he's OK," new Miami Herald recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said of Robinson. "He's a solid pickup, a good early pickup for Miami. I think he's definitely going to add depth to the position. He's got some good physical attributes. And he's got a whole season to get better."
I spoke to Robinson and his father Tuesday evening and both were excited with the decision to pick UM. In the last month, the Robinson said his son had received offers from UM, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, UCF, Georgia and Georgia Tech. He took an unofficial visit to UM last Friday and saw the campus for the first time. He said he fell in love with the small classes and is excited about majoring in Engineering. Robinson, who boasts a 3.4 GPA, takes honors Algebra II, English, Chemistry, Physics and American History at Westwood.
"One of the things I can say is he's been a good kid on the field and off the field," Robinson Sr. said. "He's just as dedicated to his academics as he is to football."
Robinson Sr. said his son bench presses 315 pounds and squats 500 pounds, but UM coaches would like for him to work on his strength and his speed (Robinson currently runs a 5.0 in the 40). He said while his son will be orally committed to the program, he still wants his son to take his visits to other schools.
"He gave a verbal commit and he's going to ride on that," Robinson Sr. said. "But I want him to see some other things too, ask more questions. But we really like what we saw at Miami. Coach Shannon and everyone opened the doors and really made my family feel at home."
I couldn't help but wince Sunday night when I realized only three Canes had been selected over the weekend. Sure, Kenny Phillips kept The Streak alive of first round picks (albeit with the final pick of the first round). But the other streak (which means a lot in itself too) of having at least five players chosen in the draft since 2000, came to a crashing halt when linebacker Tavares Gooden turned out to be the final UM player chosen with the eighth pick in the third round.
To me, Sunday's draft results tells us not only was UM's 5-7 football team bad, but it without question
lacked more pro talent than any of the previous mediocre Hurricanes teams. And for all the hype the 2003 and 2004 recruiting classes received, they never came close to living up to their billing (the '03 was rated fifth by Rivals and the '04 class was fourth). Remember those 5-star blue chip recruits in Kyle Wright and Lance Leggett? Undrafted. How about 4-stars Darnell Jenkins, Vegas Franklin, Willie Cooper and Tyrone Moss? Ditto. There are several ways you can look at what happened and place blame. One, the kids were overrated to begin with and never developed. And/or two, Miami coaches not only failed in making those players better when they got here, but UM's staff made huge mistakes in the recruiting game by even bringing those guys in.
One thing should now be clear and without debate: Randy Shannon's team was worse this year in part because it simply wasn't as talented as those UM teams previous to it. The two previous Larry Coker coached teams had a combined 14 players worthy of being drafted (including four first rounders, three second rounders and two third rounders). Say what you will about coaching. But the bottomline is you need the horses to get the job done. And even when you look at this team going into next season, finding horses among the upperclassmen is still an awfully hard task. Up to this point have any of the 2005 recruits honestly lived up to their hype? Has Reggie Youngblood performed like a 5-star recruit? How about those four-star guys in that class? Dajleon Farr (no longer on the team), Spencer Adkins, Richard Gordon, Courtney Harris, Randy Phillips, Christopher Barney, Bruce Johnson, Demetri Stewart (no longer on the team), AJ Trump, Luqman Abdullah and Antonio Dixon? How about the 2006 class which featured these four-star guys as the best in class -- Ryan Hil, Tervaris Johnson, Kylan Robinson, Dedrick Epps, Josh Holmes and Sam Shields.
Right now, the only UM player in either the 2005 or 2006 class (those eligible for the 2009 draft) even on first round radar is running back Javarris James. Left tackle Jason Fox should be. Linebacker Colin McCarthy eventually could be. So, too could Reggie Youngblood and a few other seniors with really strong, breakout seasons. But the point is Sunday's draft, as well as next year's, should only further emphasize just how big of a hole this program has been in of late and how much it needs to improve to get back to the level it once was when the NFL was beating down the door to get Canes players. Like many of you, I'm confident the newest guys Shannon has brought in the last two seasons are going to be a lot like the studs this program used to turn out a few years back. Allen Bailey, Sean Spence, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Arthur Brown, Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, Graig Cooper, Orlando Franklin are all guys you should be really excited about. But they are all young. As much as I want to be optimistic UM will be a lot better next season, its hard to imagine those talented young players being good enough to make UM much better than it was two, three seasons ago. For UM -- and any program for that matter -- to be special, it needs its juniors and senior classes to have some first round talent and dependable studs. And right now, Miami's junior and senior classes have a lot to prove.
By the way, my money is on Jason Fox to extend the streak to 15 years in '09. NFL teams are always looking for good left tackles and he's played like one since he walked in the door.
CANES SWEEP VIRGINIA: Got to give Jim Morris' boys another pat on the back for bouncing back from their loss to FIU on Wednesday by sweeping a solid Virginia team at home this weekend. UM is now an impressive 36-5 on the season and should still be the consensus No. 1 team in the country despite its hiccup against the Golden Panthers.
That being said, I think one of the best stories of the season -- outside of how Yonder Alonso and company
have been tearing the cover off the ball -- is just how good freshman left-hander Chris Hernandez has turned out to be. I know he was the star Friday with his 11-strikeout, 8-inning performance in UM's first ACC shutout since the 2006 season. But maybe we ought to consider him the MVP of this season.
In 10 starts, he's 7-0 with a 2.77 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 14 walks. He's pitched 65 innings -- 19 more than anyone else on the team. He's also picked off five runners. And without question, he's more than picked up the slack for an injured Eric Erickson in the Friday night starter role. Miami has won all 10 times it has played on Friday nights.
--> FYI... for those of you wondering what I've been up to of late since I've been a little lost, I'm working on laying the groundwork for The Herald's new and improved recruiting coverage which will begin next month. Aside from Larry Blustein's weekly columns, we'll have plenty of stories on other players and high school teams. And I'm going to be a big part of that. So, my plan is to pop in here and continue writing blogs on hot new stuff when it is warranted, but I'm also planning on spending a lot of my time over the next couple months on recruiting before college football picks up iat the end of July and the beginning of August. I'm still planing on doing my spring recaps and all of the other stuff we've talked about it including chats and doing podcasts. But the next couple of weeks I'll be busy with recruiting.
This weekend as Hurricanes fans sit and watch the NFL Draft wondering if Calais Campbell, Kenny Phillips or Tavares Gooden will continue The Streak, I hope they'll be able to look back at the greatness the University of Miami has achieved over the years instead of dwelling on disappointment (should it happen). After all, since 1984, UM has produced more first round draft picks (47) than any other school. And even if The Streak (of having consecutive first round picks) ends at 13, Miami will still own that better record after Saturday.
So, in honor of The Streak and good times the program has had over the years, I decided to take a look back and come up with something for U to talk about heading into Saturday. Who do you think has been the Canes' best First Round pick of all-time? Who has turned out to be UM's best pick after the First Round? And which Canes just never lived up to their billing as first round picks? There is a lot of criteria to consider when you bring up these topics. I consider what the player has achieved, where and when they were drafted and who was taken ahead or behind them in their draft. I also take into consideration what was expected of them going in. Anyway, it's just my opinion. Feel free to chime in with your opinions and thoughts below.
UM's Best First Round Picks of All-Time... according to me
1. LB Ray Lewis (1996, 26th overall, Baltimore Ravens):Picking Ray-Ray No. 1 wasn't easy, but after considering where he was taken compared to the rest of the guys on this list it was. A nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year as well as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV. He has career totals of 1,520 tackles, 1367 solo tackles, 11 forced fumbles, 90 passes defended, 83 tackles for loss, 30 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, and 25 interceptions in 162 games in his twelve seasons. He's led the NFL in tackles five times (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004). The funny part now is looking back and seeing who passed up on him. The two linebackers taken in front of him -- Kevin Hardy and Reggie Brown. The Dolphins, who picked 20th, took defensive tackle Darryl Gardener.
2. WR Michael Irvin (1988, 11th overall, Dallas Cowboys): The Playmaker finished his Hall of Fame career with 750 receptions (10th all-time in the NFL) for 11,904 yards (9th all-time in the NFL) and 65 touchdowns. His 47 100-yard receiving games remains the third most in NFL history, behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (65) and Don Maynard (50). He was selected to five Pro Bowls and was a key playmaker for the Cowboys that won 6 division titles and three Super Bowls. He was the third receiver taken in his draft -- behind Tim Brown and Sterling Sharpe. He is also the only Hall of Famer in the first round of the 1988 Draft.
3. S Ed Reed (2002, 24th overall, Baltimore Ravens): A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 a season in which he picked off nine passes and set an NFL record for the longest INT return for a touchdown. He owns the Ravens franchise record for picks with 34. He's also blocked four punts in his career, returning three for touchdowns to tie an NFL record.
4. QB Jim Kelly (1983, 14th overall, Buffalo Bills): Kelly doesn't exactly qualify as a first
round pick considering he skipped out the Bills to play two seasons in the USFL. But when he finally did return to the NFL he was one of the best in the game, running the K-Gun offense in Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls (1990-93) -- even though the Bills never won. Kelly made the Pro Bowl four times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. Kelly might have ended up with the Chiefs if Kansas City wouldn't have been so stupid to pick Todd Blackledge instead of Kelly with the seventh pick.
5. RB Edgerrin James (1999, 4th overall, Indianapolis Colts): For all the hoopla Mike Ditka made in drafting Ricky Williams in 1999, it is The Edge who has turned out to have the better career after all. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Edge led the NFL in rushing in 1999 and 2000. He's currently the record holder for most total yards from scrimmage per game in a regular season career.
Honorable mention: WR Reggie Wayne (2001, 30th overall, Indianapolis Colts), DT Warren Sapp (1995, 12th overall, Tampa Bay), RB Ottis Anderson (1979, 8th overall, St. Louis Cardinals), QB Vinny Testaverde (1987, 1st overall, Tampa Bay), CB Duane Starks (1998, 10th overall, Baltimore Ravens), WR Eddie Brown (1985, 13th overall, Cincinnati), TE Jeremy Shockey (2002, 14th overall, Giants).
Biggest Cane Draft Day Steals
1. C Jim Otto (1961, undrafted, Oakland): It's amazing to see how little Canes fans honestly connect with Otto. I know it's been a long time since he played at UM, but considering what he
accomplished in his career, you'd think he'd be more of a UM posterboy. After all, he is the ultimate steal. After no NFL teams gave the undersized center a look, Otto signed with Oakland in AFL. For the next fifteen years, Otto became a fixture at center for the Raiders, never missing a single game due to injury. Including pre-season, regular season and post-season games, Otto competed in 308 consecutive games and was a 13-time All-Pro. He punished his body greatly during his NFL career, resulting in nearly 40 surgeries, including 28 knee operations (nine of them during his playing career alone) and multiple joint replacements.
2. DE Ted Hendricks (1969, 2nd round, 33rd overall, Baltimore): Hendricks played for four Super Bowl winning teams and was a Pro Bowl selection eight times. Nicknamed the Stork, his height was a major obstacle for quarterbacks. Hendricks picked off 26 passes in his career and blocked 25 point after tries and field goals combined an unofficial NFL record. I know people are knocking Calais Campbell's 40-time. But I'm sure Hendricks wasn't fast in the 40 either. I think Calais can be a great one too. He just had a tough junior season -- so did everyone else on a 5-7 team.
3. LB Jessie Armstead (1993, 8th round, 207th overall, Giants): Considered too undersized for linebacker, Armstead made the most of his chance in the NFL, becoming a five time Pro Bowler with the New York Giants. He finished his career with 752 tackles, 40 sacks and 12 interceptions.
4. WR Devin Hester (2006, 2nd round, 57th overall, Chicago): A two-time Pro Bowl selection in just two seasons and already considered the most electrifying return man in the game.
5. RB Clinton Portis (2002, 2nd round, 51st overall, Denver): The NFL's 2003 Offensive
Rookie of the Year rushed for over 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Broncos, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in that span. The latter is an NFL record for a running back's first two seasons. He's slowed down a bit since being traded to the Redskins, but you can still consider him a steal. Other running backs taken in front of him in 2002, T.J. Duckett, DeShaun Foster and William Green.
Honorable mention: RB Frank Gore (2005, 3rd round, 65th overall, San Francisco), OL Chris Myers (2005, 6th round, 200th overall, Denver), LB Micheal Barrow (1993, 2nd round, 47th overall, Houston), DB Fred Marion (1982, 5th round, 120th overall, New England), CB Ryan McNeil (1993, 2nd round, 33rd overall, Detroit).
1. WR Yatil Green (1997, 15th overall, Dolphins): As a Dolphins fan I used to wonder why Miami rarely selected Hurricanes in the draft. Then, Yatil Green happened. And I've been worried about
a jinx ever since. On the very first day of training camp, Green tore his quadriceps, ACL and cartilage in his right knee. He came back the next year and again tore the same ACL in training camp. In his third and only season he played in 9 games catching 18 receptions for 234 yards and 0 touchdowns. After three years and a total of 10 surgeries on his right knee, he was cut by the Dolphins and signed by the Jets, but never played a down and was cut during the season.
2. DL Jerome McDougle (2003, 15th overall, Philadelphia): I'm sure this will win me points with Drew Rosenhaus (McDougle's agent). I'm kidding. Truth is, Jerome's entire career has been marred by injuries. He missed eight games his rookie season ankle, knee and hip injuries. He was shot during a robbery in Miami and missed the entire 2005 season. He missed all of 2007 with an injury. It's a shame because I thought he was going to be a stud.
3. DT William Joseph (2003, 25th overall, Giants): Hate to do this to a guy from Miami Edison High, but Big Willie has only made 17 starts in his five-year career and has seven sacks. He didn't play at all during the Giants Super Bowl winning season and is now starting over in Oakland.
4. DT Russell Maryland (1991, 1st overall, Dallas): Even though he played 10 seasons in
the NFL for Dallas, Oakland and Green Bay, Maryland never really lived up to being the overall top player chose in 1991. He was selected to the Pro Bowl only once (1993) in his career after winning the Outland Trophy in 1990. By comparison, Cortez Kennedy (taken 3rd overall by Seattle in 1990) and Warren Sapp (taken 12th by Tampa Bay in 1995) had far better pro careers.
5. CB Phillip Buchanon (2002, 17th overall, Oakland): It was hard to come up with a fifth guy for this category until I remembered what a big deal was made when he decided to leave school a year early and enter the draft. After a strong second season in Oakland in which he picked off six passes, the 27-year old stepped up his game this past season in Tampa (his third team) and recorded 61 tackles and three interceptions in 13 starts. But his career certainly hasn't lived up to expectations on a whole -- especially when you consider he was taken nine spots in front of Ed Reed.
Late addition: WR Randal "Thrill" Hill (1991, 23rd overall, Dolphins).
It's not going to happen often from now until the start of fall ball in August, so when it does, it leads. Football coach Randy Shannon spoke for 10 minutes with reporters during Tuesday's ACC Teleconference.
* Shannon said he still isn't sure if Luqman Abdallah (who moved from defensive line to offensive line) will play tackle or guard. He said the team moved Ryan Hill to defensive back "to get more out of him" and because he gives the team more depth at safety. He said moving Damien Berry to running back was about "depth."
* Aside from praising the play of the quarterbacks and receivers, Shannon also praised the play of sophomore defensive end Allen Bailey. Shannon said he wouldn't be surprised if Bailey, who switched from linebacker to end before the spring, weighs 310 or 315 pounds by the fall. Bailey told me he weighed 292 at the end of the spring.
"We were really, really excited about the way Allen Bailey picked up," Shannon said. "He still has a couple of things to go, but as far as his first time playing defensive end, we're really excited by him. He has a lot of pass rush natural ability. He really controlled the tight end, the offensive tackle, had a good get-off chasing the football and mentality on the defensive line. He's an explosive, big kid. I don't know if he'll ever stop [gaining] weight, getting bigger."
BASEBALL TALK: There is confidence and then there is cockiness. When the University of Miami has been at its greatest -- whether its on the diamond or on the football field -- the Hurricanes have usually been perceived as the latter by outsiders around the country (I call it envy).
I know there will be some people out there who will assume that little tiff between Florida State and Miami Sunday was a result of "those hot dog Canes feeling cocky again because they're No. 1." I haven't been around the baseball team as much as the basketball and football teams this year. But I was out at the Light again Tuesday and I can tell you my cocky-o-meter didn't really register much of a hit again with this team.
"We just go out there everyday knowing we're going to win," said first baseman Yonder Alonso, who earned his second ACC Player of the Week award after hitting .556 with 10 runs scored, nine RBI and homering twice over the weekend."The confidence right now is sky high. We just feel everytime we go out there we're going to come out on top. Right now we feel invincible. But we just got to stay even keel and every team we play we know they're going to come at us with their A-game every time. They're going to come out ready to go. We just have to come out better."
To me, Jim Morris' baseball team is just really confident and happy they're having a great season. And what happened at the end of Sunday's thrilling 11-10 victory should be construed as nothing more than a happy team celebrating an emotional victory.
"It was an emotional end," said Morris, who talked to reporters at length Tuesday about Sunday's tiff, which started with some colorful conversation between the teams at home plate and escalated when fans at Dick Howser Stadium began spitting, tossing drinks and obscenities at UM players as they left the field.
"Florida State did a great job fighting their way back into the game and then there was that [situation when they had runners on] first and third and there was a called strike to end the game. Our guys celebrated like they normally, do like Florida State does or North Carolina or anybody does after a win. It kind of went south from that point..."
Morris talked about a lot of things Tuesday among them feeling a bit surprised Florida State didn't leave its dugout to shake hands. He said he hasn't spoken to FSU coach Mike Martin or anyone from the ACC about the skirmish, but he hopes both teams will "turn the page" if and when they meet again this season.
Miami (31-4) has no choice but to move on. The Hurricanes host crosstown rival FIU (13-29) Wednesday night at 7 p.m. before welcoming Virginia (31-11 and ranked 20th in the USA Today/ESPN Coach's poll) on Friday for a three-game weekend series.
NALEPA TO START WEDNESDAY: Morris said he will send 6-2, 225-pound right-handed sophomore Anthony Nalepa (2-0, 5.00 ERA, 9 IP) to the mound Wednesday in his first career start.
"Nalepa has good stuff. He's a tough guy. He gets himself in trouble by walking a few guys here and there. But that's because he's trying to be too fine with his pitches," Morris said. "It's not because he's too wild or anything. Because he's not. He's close. He just needs to get ahead of the hitters. He's got good movement, he's got good stuff and he's just got to get ahead of the hitters."
ERICKSON IMPROVING: The bigger news regarding Miami's rotation revolves around its ace, left-handed sophomore Eric Erickson, who pitched four innings in Sunday's win. Morris said he is going to move Erickson up in the rotation a day to Saturday, switching him with Enrique Garcia.
"I thought he pitched really well considering he hadn't pitched in a month," Morris said. "He had trouble early locating his changeup and curveball but toward the end he pitched better the last two innings than the first two innings... He was a little sore [afterward]. But you always are."
Erickson (6-0, 3.28 ERA) pitched four innings Sunday and his pitch count was limited to 60 pitches. But Morris said he'll probably move the pitch count up to 75 in an effort to gradually move it back up. Erickson said the soreness he's suffered from in is in his forearm.
"My fastball was fine. I was hitting my spots. But I almost forgot how to throw a changeup since I hadn't done it for awhile," Erickson said Tuesday. "My curveball was OK too. I was able to get those two pitches and I did the best job I could. I absolutely knew I wasn't going to have my best stuff and that team can absolutely hit and there is a short right porch. I knew with all their left-handed hitters it might creep up on me. The three solo home runs I gave up were only three runs and I thought that was a good enough outing to keep us in the game."
BANGED UP: Morris said while his team is healthy overall, it is still battling a lot of little nagging injuries. "We got a lot of guys banged up. We got an injury report this morning when I met with our trainer and we had 16 of 31 guys listed on the injury report. So we're kind of banged up. We're trying to get through that. We're going to have a short practice today and get ready for tomorrow."
NOT SATISFIED: Being No. 1 is great and all. But Alonso and his teammates have their eyes on a bigger prize. "To be honest its fun thinking about it. Yeah, we're No. 1 in every poll. But we haven't done anything. We don't get a trophy for that. We don't get a ring for that. We got to go out there everyday knowing we got to prove something to everyone, to the United States that we are the No. 1 team and no matter what we're going to be No. 1. Throughout the year, we got to stay there."
FYI... To hear the audio interviews from today click on this link.
In the five years I spent as the high school sports writer in Miami-Dade County, one of the recruiting gurus who always impressed me with his wealth of knowledge was North Miami High's very own Larry Blustein. Over the years, Larry and I have developed a great friendship and it was always one of my goals to one day bring him over to our side at The Herald. Well, I'm proud to finally be able to say I've achieved that goal.
Starting next month, Larry will start writing a weekly, year-round recruiting column in The Herald and working hand-in-hand with me on trying to provide the best recruiting coverage of any newspaper in the state in what we both believe is the richest talent-base in the country for high school football. You guys who are regulars here on the blog know Larry and I have recorded a number of podcasts in the past year. On our shows, we often talk about about high school players the Canes are interested in, getting or looking at. We have plans on continuing that -- and doing much more.
With the interest in recruiting reaching new levels every year, I think having Larry on board with us will give us something very unique in the industry. I call Larry the Mel Kiper of high school recruiting -- and truth is he is more than that. He's been around South Florida and studied recruiting in this state for more than 40 years. He knows everyone and has seen just about every great high school player play -- from those old 60s Coral Gables teams to the loaded Northwestern team of a year ago that produced current Canes Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, Jacory Harris and Aldarius Johnson. Unlike many other so-called recruiting experts who just watch film on kids, or make it out to a few combines, Larry travels around the country and sees many kids play in person in addition to the many hours of film he watches. Every summer, he literally travels from Key West to Pensacola on his own dime because high school recruiting is his passion. All of that in my opinion makes his perspective when it comes predicting the stars of tomorrow quite special. I hope you all will take a moment to welcome Larry (who comes on the blog every now and then to chat with Canes fans) to the paper. I know I'm excited.
All eyes will be on Tallahassee this weekend when the Canes and Noles get to square off in a battle of No. 1 versus No. 2. The matchup of course pits two of the best hitting ball clubs in the nation.
FSU ranks second in batting average (.352), third in scoring, third in runs, sixth in hits, fifth in doubles, third in slugging percentage and 11th in home runs in the nation and has Buster Posey (.482, 10 HRs, 42 RBI) behind the plate. UM ranks sixth nationally in batting average (.344) and fourth nationally in slugging percentage (.573) and has big Yonder Alonso (.366, 9 HRs, 35 RBI) and Jemile Weeks (.403, 7 HRs, 39 RBI) on the right side of its infield.
But if you're looking for a key to this game, look no further than defense. The Hurricanes lead the ACC and rank second nationally in fielding percentage (.977) and have committed an ACC-low 30 errors. Florida State has committed 62 errors and is fielding .955 as a team, which ranks second to last in the ACC. FSU has a slight edge in pitching (3.53 team ERA) to UM's 3.78 ERA. But I say glovework makes the difference this weekend.
"Our defense has just been phenomenal," UM centerfielder Blake Tekotte said earlier this week. "It's kind of good we have all these five game stretches in a week because we get to be in a rhythm. Practice wears you out more than games, so we're all fresh. And games are a lot more fun."
WILL THE STREAK CONTINUE?: The NFL Draft is now almost a week away, which means its almost time for Canes fans to start worrying if this is the year THE STREAK ends. Yes, we know its been 13 years in a row now that UM has managed to have at least one player find his way into the first round. The closest call came two years ago when cornerback Kelly Jennings slipped in at No. 31.
Now, the question being raised is if defensive end Calais Campbell or safety Kenny Phillips will break into the first 31 picks. It's shakey right now at best. Draft experts have been sliding both players in and out of their first round projects for months. While Susan Miller Degnan will have a nice Sunday feature on the topic (and I'll have my own story focusing on the other guys) I wanted to gauge how important it is to you THE STREAK stays intact.
I know one of the selling points UM has long had is the fact it is an NFL factory for stars. Are you afraid if the streak ends and Miami continues to struggle on the field, it could have a dangerous domino effect? Or are do you share my opinion and not really sweating it? Feel free to partake in the poll and to share your thoughts below.
THE DRAFT: I caught up with a few agents and former Canes this week for my Sunday sidebar. From the people I spoke with in and outside the program, it sounds to me like UM will be lucky to have more than four players taken in this year's draft. That would end the streak UM has enjoyed of having at least five players taken in each draft since 2000. So, who are NFL teams looking to draft after Calais, Kenny and linebacker Tavares Gooden are gone?
UM officials are privately saying it will likely be defensive end Vegas Franklin, who at 6-3, 255, has done well enough in workouts to impress scouts. One agent told me he thought Franklin would end up being better than Campbell in the long run. I caught up with Franklin Thursday and he told me he's been working out hard on UM's campus with trainer Andrew Swasey and teammate Teraz McCray. Franklin said he flew to Houston for a private workout with the Texans earlier this month and worked out with the majority of his UM teammates at the Dolphins facility last week. "I'm hearing second day to free agent," Franklin told me when I asked him what he's heard about his draft stock. "I just want a chance to show people what I can do."
*Receiver Darnell Jenkins' agent told me regardless of what has been said or written about his clients slow times in 40-yard dash testing, he believes an NFL team will invest a pick in UM's MVP from last season. Agent Daniel Rose told me Thursday Jenkins has been doing really well in private workouts for teams. "Swasey has clocked him at 4.26 and I know at Dolphins day he ran under a 4.4. It's just when he's been timed on bigger stages he's run slower times. The bottomline is Darnell is faster on the field than in the 40. The best way to describe his speed is that North Carolina game when he had the 97-yard touchdown. He's just a guy who is much faster in games than when there's a stopwatch."
* Mel Kiper said quarterback Kyle Wright, who quarterbacked the combine in Indianpolis, is likely headed to the free agent route but said he wouldn't be surprised if Wright is drafted late.
* Offensive lineman Derrick Morse, who returned home to workout at his high school in Bonita Springs, Fla. after UM's Pro Day in late February, told me Thursday he's been encouraged by the emails of support he's been receiving from Canes fans here in Miami. He said he won't get discouraged even if he isn't picked Sunday as Kiper expects.
"There is only 250 guys who get picked," Morse said. "And there is only a 52-man roster. I know if I don't make it, I'm just going to continue to work at my dream. I've seen lots of guys make it in other places like the CFL and the All-American football league. [Anthony Wollschlager] is still trying. He didn't make it last year, but he's still busting his butt. I've got a degree in Criminology and Liberal Arts. I want to at least try for a couple years to make it. It's the only time I'll get to do it because once your done you'll never get a chance to do it again in your life."
POSITION SWITCHES: Canesport.com and InsideTheU.com reported this week position switches for three Hurricane players following the spring. They were defensive lineman Luqman Abdullah (he was buried on the depth chart) moving to offensive line, junior Ryan Hill switching from receiver to cornerback (he was recruited as a corner) and the real eye-opener of sophomore Damien Berry getting moved from safety to running back.
In my conversations with UM officials Thursday, I was told the move to switch Berry was made to "create more competition in the backfield." Another UM official said, "we're loaded with safeties, but last year injuries killed us at running back. Coach made the move to make us more secure there. It wasn't because Damien was upset. He was asked and he accepted it."Reading between the lines, I get the sense a few things could have led to it. One, perhaps coaches were disappointed with the play of freshmen Shawnbrey McNeal and Lee Chambers -- the slotted No. 4 and No. 5 running backs. Or, the injury to No. 3 running back Derron Thomas was serious enough to get coaches worried they'd be short at running back this coming season.
Either way, Berry has plenty of experience with the football in his hands. At Glades Central, he was the team's star running back before suffering a knee injury. What I'm interested to see is how long this experiment lasts or if Berry becomes the next Cane to be lost in translation, ala Devin Hester, James Bryant and a cast of other former Canes. After all, Bryce Brown is supposed to come in '09 and Javarris James and Graig Cooper aren't going anywhere right now.
OK, I'm back again with the next installment of the lengthy interview with UM men's basketball coach Frank Haith. In this episode we discuss the immediate future: what Haith wants to see out of his players over the next few months, how UM could end up playing national champion Kansas and NIT champion Ohio State, what type of impact incoming freshmen DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson might have and who he could end up moving into the starting lineup now that Anthony King is gone.
Q: There is a chance you guys could end up playing on the road against the national champions (Kansas) next season. Can you update on that and how the rest of next year's schedule is coming together? I hear you are also playing the NIT champ, Ohio State. And what about the home games against the ACC?
A: We're still working on [Kansas]. We've talked about it and we're in the process and trying to see if its going to happen. It's not definitely out and it's not definitely done either. We're really working h ard to get it done. We're opening up in the Virgin Islands where there are some really good teams. You got Wisconsin, you got Connecticut, you got San Diego, you got Valpo. It's going to be a great event. Then we play at St. John's in New York. Then, we got a Big 10 challenge game at home with Ohio State. And obviously we're going to play FIU at home. We've been invited to play in the Wooden Classic, but we still don't know for sure based on the opponent. That's still up in the air too. We're kind of holding that off because we'd rather have Kansas for a home and home series. We got some other games -- our bye games -- we want to finish out too. As far as the ACC, I know we do have Carolina coming to our place, Maryland, Wake [Forest]. It's a great schedule. I don't think we have Duke and Carolina both. We're getting to the point where we hope our fans are excited about Georgia Tech and Virginia coming to town and how important it is to win those games too."
Q: Can you talk about the homecourt advantage and maybe what you guys are doing to build it? Let's face it, South Florida is still a place that really hasn't caught college basketball fever. What are you guys doing to try to help the situation?
A: I think we had a great homecourt this year winning 14 games and I think our fans supported us. I think we had the highest numbers. And they're adding seats. 850 will be in. We're adding parking. You can see the basketball program and all the things are getting better as we continue to build. I think next season, trust me we're going to have the Big 10 challenge. We're going to have a great ACC schedule that hopefully a lot of our fans will come out and support our fans from the get-go. I really want our fans to not come see who we play, but us play. And that's what we're building, that's our plan to have our fans say hey we don't care who we're playing, we're coming to watch the Hurricanes play.
I think its a fun sport. It's indoors. Its fast paced. Its quick. Its over in two hours. We got a building on campus. There's not a bad seat in the building. I think the pricing of our tickets has helped. Obviously when we first moved into the building, tickets were overpriced. I think we've done somethings for people to bring their families to games. when you look at some of the things in this town and how pricey it is. Its affordable, its fast paced. I think as we improve our product, its going to get better. That's the neat thing about our place -- even when we add the seats, its not going to be more than 9,000 seats. So, its not going to be that far to go. We're in a pro town, so I know there is a lot going on. I think we got to have great interest in Hurricanes football. I'm thinking of trying to create our own tailgate spot. Getting people in the stands in the first part of that. Now, we got to continue to educate in helping our fans and understanding and engaging them in the game. The Duke game this year was unbelievable. Somehow we got to capture that every night and I think our fans realize how important that is to winning. If we can get that night in, night out we can have a special place.
Q: A big part of your success this season was the fact that after last year's 12-20 season, the guys were hungry and wanted to get right back in the gym and bust their tails. What are they doing now?
A: We can work with them two hours a week. We had an individual Tuesday. We had another one Thursday. Our kids worked really hard. We had eight guys there. Four bigs. We had 10 guys there actually working out. That's the beauty of this whole thing. We had 10 guys in the gym for those days working on our skill development and working really hard. That's what we're basing our program on -- hard work and development. We want to get our guys better. And I think that always has to be in place as we're building the program.
Q: Last year Jimmy Graham went to Australia, Brian Asbury went to China and a few other guys went places to work on their game. Any special destinations or camps this offseason?
A: We're still investigating Jimmy going to Pete Newell's big man camp. We're looking at Jack McClinton working in Steve Nash and Chris Paul's camps. There's still a chance of him getting into Lebron's and Jordan's camps. Those are all based on invitation. Hopefully, that works out for him. But our guys plan on being here all summer. That's important those guys are here all summer and there are plenty of opportunities to work out with other guys. That's the pretty neat thing about being in this town of Miami. There's no shortage of good players around in terms of the NBA guys. They got an opportunity to work. I think if they're still here, they're going to work harder than they would back home. I shouldn't say that. Some guys do work hard back home. But there are a lot of guys we'd like to see here even though there is only one session in summer school, but I'd like to see them work as hard as they can on their game.
Q: What do you want to see out of the guys who are coming back? What areas have you told them to focus on improving?
A: What we do I think a lot of teams do. What I do is give them a couple days and then we'll have individual meetings where we'll go over the year and things they need to improve on and focus on to take the next step and we've done that with our guys.
ON DWAYNE COLLINS: A guy like Dwayne we've talked about being consistent and putting in more time. I think Dwayne's deal is repetition. I think the more he practices at game speed and repetition... we need him to be more consistent with his play. We all know when Dwayne is at that level when he's playing -- he is remarkable. But then we've also seen Dwayne when he's not at that level and we're not as good. I think when he plays at that level we're a much better basketball team.
ON JIMMY GRAHAM: Just continue to work on his skills, be more fluid around the basket. Jimmy is quick, athletic and explosive. He can continue to work on his ball handling skills and passing ability and ability around the rim. His skill set. That's what we need to get Jimmy working on.
ON JAMES DEWS: His conditioning. His body. We really want him to try to put on more weight and get more physical with his body.
ON LANCE HURDLE: Continue working on his point guard skills. I think Lance had an outstanding year considering his improvement over the year. He is a big part of his success. He needs to continue to move forward with that in being a point guard. He'll be here all summer. We can't work with him, but we'll give him stuff to work on in terms of tape and being around, just studying the game. That's a big part of Lance's development.
ON EDDIE RIOS: Same thing, just getting acclimated. Defense is the biggest thing with Eddie, guarding people. That's where he had his biggest weakness. And shooting the basketball. I think Eddie just has to sort of like James Dews -- from freshman to sophomore year -- just work on it. There is no reason Eddie Rios should be shooting 50 percent from the free throw line. His shooting has to get better. But I think it will.
ON JACK MCCLINTON: Jack still needs to work on his playmaking. He had a great year shooting the basketball. You got to continue to work and Jack knows that. But Jack in terms of things taking the next step. We want Jack to continue to lead because he's such a positive role model with that. That's a big part of our success. Guys will follow Jack if he continues to step up front.
ON BRIAN ASBURY: More consistency. Brian had a pretty good year. But I think his last five ball games he wasn't as good. The biggest area he took a step back in was his rebounding. Brian was a much better rebounder his sophomore year than this year and that hurt us because we need him being that thrust on the boards, rebounding and defensive rebounding. So that's an area he needs to continue to work on. And driving the basketball, continuing to be aggressive and get to the free throw line. I think all our guys need to do that -- Dews included, being more aggressive and attacking. Those guys got better, particularly better. But all four guys shoot free throws really well and that's a big part of our offense.
Q: What kind of team do you think you're going to have next season without Anthony King and Ray Hicks? Will it be much of a difference since so many guys are coming back? And how much of a change will a guy like DeQuan Jones make in this offense?
A: Well, he's going to make a change. I think we become way more athletic. I think there were some teams -- particularly the high level teams in our league and across the country -- we're not as athletic as those teams are. I think that's one of things we wanted to be -- bigger and more athletic. Now, we're adding DeQuan, an Adrian Thomas that helps. We didn't have Adrian Thomas all year. If you recall before he got hurt, Adrian was good. He was athletic, he was long. Adrian worked on shooting the basketball. We didn't have that big athletic wing. Now, we got three of them. I think that makes a difference. I think if you look at the two teams in the final. They both had big athletic wings. Memphis -- their game with Texas -- they just dwarfed them. And I think that's what we want to get to. DeQuan will help us with that. His athletic play, his toughness, his aggressiveness. All of the things he's about is what we want to build our program around. He's a competitor now. He is one tough competitive dude. Obviously, he's going to be a freshman and he's not going to know anything. That's why I tell those guys he's going to struggle learning and that curve is going to take some time. But there is no question I love his ability and what he's going to bring us from a defensive standpoint, rebounding standpoint and I think he can score a lot of different ways too. I think he's worked on his shooting. He can drive the ball and he's an offensive rebounder. He's an impact player because of his energy and his athletic ability.
Q: For people who haven't seen his YouTube highlights (above) or watched DeQuan play, is there anyone you can compare him to just the way he plays?
A: I compare him to the kid at Duke -- Henderson. He's athletic, long, rangy to the rim, quick. Henderson, I look at him and I think he's a lot like that. DeQuan might be a little taller. They're very similar type players.
Q: How are Cyrus McGowan and Julian coming along?
A: Great. There were times when I used to say this about Jack too -- there were times at practice when Cyrus would dominate our post guys. And when I say dominate, I'm talking about just rebounding, taking charges. He is an active player. Activity is what his strength is. He plays extremely hard. He's got to get better with his low-post game. He's a face up guy. He can shoot the basketball. But he's a rebounding fool. I think the guy will -- I wouldn't be surprised if he averaged, 7, 8, 9 rebounds next year. He's that active. Having a guy like that is a plus. He's got an unbelievable ticker. He's a lot like Jimmy. I think his motor is very similar to him.
As far as Julian Gamble, sitting out really helped him. His body has changed. He's a big man. But he's really -- before he had a little soft tissue around the midsection. Now, I think if you see him now, Mac has done a great job with his body. I think Julian is probably the most skilled of all our post guys. He keeps the ball up high. He has good skills around the rim. He'll definitely play. I think he'll be a guy that can score in the post, which we like. He has great skills around the hoop. Julian is nothing but a center and Cyrus is nothing but a power forward. They're both 6-9. But Julian is a big kid. He's 255. Julian is good. They're good players.
Q: What about incoming freshman Reggie Johnson?
A: I think Reggie is really good too. Reggie will obviously have to have an adjustment in terms of his weight and all that stuff. I think Reggie's potential is off the charts. I think his ceiling is very high where he can get to because he has great hands. One thing I look at when we're recruiting big guys is their feet and their hands. He is tremendous in both those areas. He can really catch the ball -- has those nice, soft hands and he has great footwork. He runs. Now, he's obviously got to shed about 30-40 pounds. But once he does, I think the kid can be really, really good because he's huge. He knows how to wedge, create angles and score through defense. In high school games, people would hit him on the arm and they'd be like little gnats -- he'd go right through them. He set a state record in North Carolina in the state championship for most rebounds. He had 25 points and 23 rebounds. I think Reggie even though he's a freshman -- even though we got four other big guys -- he can help us.
Q: Do you see Reggie like Julian, though, needing a year to get acclimated?
A: We'll see how that plays out. I used to talk to [Texas coach] Rick Barnes about this. He loves to redshirt guys because it maintains your program. He'd love to get guys and coach for a year and it helps you sustain when you don't have dropoff. I don't want to waste a year for Reggie. You never know how he's going to come in. I know what he's weighing right now. But you never know once he starts working out where he can be and if he can help you. Now, we got some depth there. We got five really legit guys and if we wanted to play with some undersized guys, I think Adrian and DeQuan could play down there sometimes too and matchup with those guys and you got to be able to have a guy to do that too. I think there's going to be a lot of versatility with this team to be able to do a lot of different things.
Q: How healthy is Adrian Thomas and when do you expect him to participate and can he return to full strength?
A: I think Adrian will be fine. He's actually doing individual with our guys. I got to give a lot of credit to Wes Brown who has done a remarkable job with his rehab. I knock on wood because he's ahead of schedule. Now, he doesn't have quite the same explosion. He'll get it. But he doesn't have that yet. But he's doing our individual workouts now. Adrian is such a hard worker and I'm rooting so hard for him because he's had some tough breaks. And you're hoping if he's able to come back to where he was last year, we're going to have a good player on our hands. There's no question about that. Positioning wise, I think he can play the three. I think with some guys who are undersized, we can throw him in there at the four spot.
Q: You said this season you like having Jimmy Graham coming off the bench. Is that something you would like to continue next season or could you see him starting alongside Dwayne Collins?
A: In terms of the five spot, obviously Dwayne played a lot and Jimmy came off the bench. And we'll figure all of that out once we get into the season. I think it worked out great with how we figured it with Jimmy playing more with him coming off the bench and how aggressive he is. We needed it. He played really well at the end of the year. He was really quick with confidence and got adjusted. It ended up working out better that Jimmy played better and played more coming off the bench. We'll see how that goes. We got Dwayne and we got Cyrus. I think Dwayne is a guy you say is definitely in the lineup. But you don't know.
Q: You said point guard was the biggest question mark going into this season? Would you say center is now that spot heading into next season?
A: I don't know who we're going to start. But I think going into next season, the strength of our team is going to be the post players. I know I said that this year, but I believe it more so next year. I think we got a lot of depth there and I think we're bigger. We got some girthy guys, big, strong guys. I like that. That's how I like to play. Even though we lose King and Ray. King was 6-9 and Ray was 6-7 and Ray was strong. But you got -- you should see these guys. Julian is big and Cyrus is big. Obviously you know what Jimmy and Dwayne look like. Reggie -- he's huge. We got a lot of big, strong dudes. We got big strong guys and I like that in terms of our defense and being physical and aggressive around the rim which is what I like.
I got out to the Light this afternoon to catch up with the No. 1-ranked baseball team in the country before practice and had a chance to speak with coach Jim Morris and ACC Player of the Week, Blake Tekotte.
But the biggest news didn't involve either of those two, rather left-handed sophomore Eric Erickson, who did bullpen work for the first time in a month since his arm began to suffer from the same soreness he did a year ago. Morris told reporters there is a chance Erickson could pitch Sunday in Tallahassee when the Hurricanes meet the No. 2-ranked team in the country, Florida State, for a weekend series.
"I’m not sure [if he'll pitch]," Morris said. "I’ll know more today after practice when he throws his first bullpen in a month. I do expect him to be back to be honest, but I don’t know that for right now."
Morris said Erickson likely would go no longer than three innings if available. Morris said he'd likely use "Johnny Wholestaff" -- aka whatever he can patch together -- to pitch the remainder of the game Sunday. Freshman Chris Hernandez (5-0, 2.77 ERA) is scheduled to start Friday's game and Enrique Garcia (2-0, 5.56 ERA) to start on Saturday.
But first there will be a series tiebreaker with Florida Atlantic to take care of Wednesday night. Morris said Mike Rudman (0-0, 6.10) will start against FAU, which snapped Miami's 14-game winning streak with a stunning win at the Light last Wednesday.
"They played good against us there’s no question about that," Morris said of FAU's win last week. "FAU has a good team. There is a tendency for teams to focus more on weekends and conference games. But if you want to stay No. 1 or be No. 1 or stay in the Top 5 you got to play every game. We learned a lesson with them and we’ll play better tomorrow night."
Tekotte, who was named ACC Player of the Week after his big weekend at Georgia Tech, has been growing out his long blond hair and said he won't cut it until Miami loses a series. There's a chance of that happening if the Canes slip up Wednesday.
"I hope I don't have to cut it until after Omaha," Tekotte said Tuesday.
Among the other topics Tuesday... Morris talked about the play of Yonder Alonso, who is hitting .358 with 8 homers and 33 RBI this season. Morris said Alonso has more than lived up to his preseason expectations and has handled the pressure well.
"That’s what we hoped for him that he’d be a guy that could hit them out, play third base or first base. He’s developed into a possible first round draft pick and really helped our team win," Morris said. "To be honest, [the draft] is on everybody’s mind. That’s on every player’s mind whose eligible whether you’re a projected first rounder or a 10th rounder. It’s a huge year for him. There’s a lot of pressure on him even more so than playing for Miami or being ranked No.1. What’s even more pressure is the pro draft and being able to keep that perspective and stay in the game and be relaxed. Just playing the game and not being uptight.
"He’s got great power. He’s considered one of the best hitters in the country. The things he does best is he’s got power, but he can hit – he can really hit. He uses all fields and I think that’s what the pro people like. He’s not just a power guy who is going to hit for numbers, but he’s going to drive in runs, he’s going to hit home runs and he’s going to hit for average."
This season the NCAA trimmed down the length of the season to accomodate schools in the north who have to deal with the effects of winter. Morris said Tuesday he hopes the NCAA will reconsider and take a different course of action because he fears it affects the amount of time athletes have to study.
"The thing I don’t like about the schedule is the pressure it puts on our guys academically," Morris said. "I think even when we play on Tueday and Wednesday night, they don’t get to study. They don’t get out off the field until 11 p.m. or midnight. Or like me they don’t go to bed until 1 or 2 because they’re keyed up for the next game. And then they got to go school early the next morning. I would like playing five days a week instead of two or three times because it helps your rhythm and it puts a lot more pressure on the pitching staff. So as players I would like that. I’m just concerned academically. The NCAA is preaching APR and grades so much and this is just the opposite of that. It kind of discourages me from that standpoint. I’m telling you the grades will be. I’m not guessing. They will be reflected nationwide. A lot of teams travel. We don’t travel very much. We don’t travel during the week and most of these teams got to travel and those type things and I think its going to be reflected nationwide on baseball. I think its a big mistake what they’re doing – shrinking the season up and keeping the same number of games. They either need to spread it our cut back on the number of games, which I hate seeing (just for academics)."
Now, I shall begin unleashing the fury. Or as I refer to it, the one and a half hour interview I had last week with UM men's basketball coach Frank Haith in discussing the state of the program.
For those of you baseball and football fans wondering if all I'm going to hit you with is hoops now that I'm back from vacation, chill for a second. I'll be going to the Light today to talk with the No. 1 baseball team in the country before it heads off to FAU Wednesday and FSU this weekend. And football junkies, you'll get your fix and recap of the spring position by position soon enough. But for now, sit back and take in Mr. Haith, who after receiving a five-year extension and taking UM to the Round of 32 last month spent lots of time chatting with me on the phone last week. And I owe it to him to at least share what was on his mind.
In this first installment of Haith Q&A, we attack the big picture. Among the topics: his contract and his desire to stay UM long term, the team's new practice facility and what it means, what he thinks it will take for UM to win a national title, his coaching philosophy and how it might change next year. (PS, The second question is kind of moot now considering Miami ended up getting a transfer from Villanova guard Malcolm Grant Monday. But I'll leave it in there for you to see how honest Haith was when I asked him what he might do with UM's remaining '08-'09 scholarship).
Q: What have you been up to since the end of the season? Did you take a couple days off, relax? Or were you right back out there working?
A: The next day we were thinking about recruiting and I went out the next day after that. No time to rest. Every day we had available to recruit -- as a matter of fact I'm recruiting right now -- I think that's what important for our program is to continue to recruit. There is no time to rest. I'll get some time eventually. We've got somethings we can continue to do with the dates of recruiting that are left and I've got to get out there as much as I can to do as much as I can with the recruiting game.
Q: That last scholarship you have available what might you guys do with it? (Miami ended up filling it with Villanova guard and transfer Malcolm Grant Monday)
A: Right now we will not necessarily take a junior college transfer, but maybe a four-year college transfer like Jack [McClinton]. Because in terms of what's left out there [in high school recruits], we're pretty much looking at the other route. More than likely we're leaning toward a four-year transfer because we basically got everybody back. With two big kids sitting out and losing Ray [Hicks] and [Anthony] King, we got [incoming freshmen] Reggie [Johnson] coming and Dequan [Jones] coming. I think we're OK in doing what we did with Jack or Cyrus [McGowan] in getting a four-year kid transfer. Those things have worked out really good. As you know with Jack and Cyrus, guys have done well for us. Cyrus is still to be determined. But Jack did well in that role.
Q: Let's talk about the contract and where you guys go from here in the big picture? How did the contract negotiations come up?
A: Obviously they initiated it. It started with [athletic director] Paul Dee talking to me and saying 'Hey I want to make sure your here.' Obviously as the season wound down, [new athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt] reached out to me and we started a conversation. There are some things programatic we want to look at it and get better and as we looked into the future trying to build Miami Hurricanes basketball. And obviously that's the way it works when you win some games. Obviously, I was very humble and excited the university wants to have me. I'm very grateful to the President and obviously Paul Dee for giving me this opportunity and know they really want our program to stay in place. It's just very exciting to me. Obviously when we were hired here we wanted to build a special program. And obviously there are some things we want to continue to get better at.
I think we are. We were making great strides. In four years, we've been to three years of postseason. I think last year we would have had a chance at the postseason if it wasn't for all those injuries. I think the program is headed in the right direction. But we want to win big. We're ways away from that. We're not where we want to be. I want to be playing in the national championship. Every coach in this country -- particularly in the power conferences -- that's the goal, to win a national championship. That may be odd to say at Miami considering we compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But that should be our goal. I don't know if that's 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road. But however long it takes, we got to build our program to head in that direction. We don't want to stay status quo. But I think the university has made a tremendous commitment, getting the practice facility and doing some other things that are definitely going to help our program. So, there is no question I think the University wants to have a winner also.
Q: Being at the Final Four before when you were with Texas gives you some perspective with knowing what it takes to make it there. So, how far away are you guys from being there now? I mean you guys are already in the Round of 32 and Andy Katz comes out with his preseason rankings and has you guys 12th. The expectations seem to be rising so quickly. So, how far away are you guys from playing in a Final Four or playing for a national championship?
A: First I want to say Andy Katz and Jeff Goodman have lost their minds putting us in the Top 13. I mean, I don't know. I think we're a good team. I think we're getting better. Do I think we'll be playing in the Final Four next year? I don't know. I think we got some good talent. There are some areas we got to get better at. I look at those teams that were there this year and those were some really good teams.
I look at the teams when we went to the Final Four (Texas 2003) -- it was us, Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony, Kansas was there and Marquette and Dwyane Wade. It was an unbelievable Final Four. I think you need to have a great player and all those teams had great players. We had TJ Ford. There was Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. There were a lot of pros that went there. You got to have a legitimate pro to win it -- to win it all. Now, hopefully, this year's team will build on the NCAA Tournament.
Now, here's the thing people need to understand. We play in a tough, tough basketball league. I look at expectations will rise for us. But all the teams in our league get better. N.C. State was picked third on our league. Then, they had an injury and looked what happened. It's hard to just say we're going to win the league, be an Elite 8 team. Georgetown was in the Top 10 all year and they got kicked in the Second Round. You really can't put a finger on it. You just got to work on it. You can't say 'Hey we're going to be in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.' You just got to put your head down and work and grind it out. I don't want our program to ever feel like we got to put limitations on it. Maybe we can get to the Final Four. I don't know. But I know things can change quickly.
I think that's the one thing I'm proud of about our program. We don't ever get too high or too low. I think that's been a staple of our program whether we're winning or losing. We stay on the task at hand and that's just improving. And that's what we got to do. We can never stop. What I think the staple of this program should be is a tough team that plays hard that competes. Then, we'll see how far the wins take us. I think even if we do get to the Final Four, that's still going to be the staple for our program. I do know this -- we've made great strides in our program and I'm proud of where we're heading. It's all about recruiting. It's all about the players and the staff. Our staff is outstanding. I love our staff. That to me is when your building a program, those things have to be in place. You have to have a good staff.
Q: Let's talk about the change in expectations. Last year, I thought a big part of your team and what made you guys hungry every night was having that chip on your shoulder, having people doubting you, being picked 12th in the conference. Now, you're picked 12th in the country by one guy. How do you go about coaching these guys now when people are looking at them and saying you guys are good and one of the best 12 teams in the country?
A: We can't change. I think habit is a big part of it. Dwayne Collins came over to me the other day after a workout and he asked me, 'Coach are you Ok?' And that's a big step for Dwayne checking on me. He said 'You look angry.' That's definitely a big step for him (laughter). But no, I don't think we can change.
We got to go at it the same way. Now, there will probably be times I have to go at our guys harder because they're older. My expectations on them are higher. I don't expect them to make the same mistakes. So, if anything I'm going to be harder because I don't expect the same lapses. Now, with that said as the year progress on because they're older you'll let them go through some things. But I know one thing we're going to hit them pretty hard over the next two weeks while we have them, set that groundwork of what's going to be expected of them next season. This team, I don't think, will ever fall into the trap of being satisfied. I don't think Jack will let that happen. I don't think our coaches will let that happen.
We haven't won a lot in terms of this program. Tasting it I think is good because now they like how it tastes. They can always say remember how we got to that point. We can always refer back to that. Getting to the NCAA Tournament is motivation enough. So, they know man this was a great feeling. Going to Arkansas, having the band there, walking into that hotel, hearing that CBS song that plays in the NCAA Tournament, that Sunday watching our name flash, that was great. So, you can always refer back to that point. So, that's your teaching tool. That's how we're going to get it done. Our guys enjoyed that feeling and you can always remind them of that. So, to me, its going to be easy to get our guys motivated. Now, will we win 30 games? That's a different story. But our focus is going to be getting better and remember that's where we want to be and remember how we got there.
But that chip, that edge, that's got to be Miami. That don't have to be what somebody did to us because where they picked us. That chip -- that's where the University of Miami basketball program has to be. We got to play on edge. We got to play with that chip. We got to play with that aggression. We got to play with that toughness. A lot of that is recruiting, but a lot of that is understanding that's how we got there. People patting us on the back -- I always tell our guys you can't control what people say about us. Now that it's good shouldn't attack what we do. I know there is going to be slippage. When people are telling you how great you are, there is going to be slippage. But I got to make sure that doesn't happen.
Q: I have to imagine you encountered all that at Texas. Was there anything you did to battle that slippage?
A: I think when I first got there, they had made the tournament but lost in the first round. Coach was always the same. I think the latter part of my time there with Coach, he became even more relaxed. Now, I heard he doesn't even curse. He's gotten real relaxed. He became more and more just calm. I think that's because he's D.J. Augustin, TJ Ford and Daniel Gibson -- that helps (laughter). When you got a great guard that can just do it all. But I think the key was he's always intense. Our practices were always very crisp.
You always got to have a plan. It's amazing as a coach you always have to have a plan. Coach always had a plan. We always got to be prepared, look ahead and you got let the kids know what you expect from them. When I say we got to be tougher and more intense, you got to hold your kids to be more accountable. I think guys want to be held accountable. They want you to hold a fire to them because its all about getting better. They want that. They want teaching. They want discipline. Guys really do want that.
Q: When you look at what you guys need and I know you mentioned recruiting and having that NBA lottery pick that teams might need to have to get over the top, do you feel like with what you're doing in recruiting you guys are getting close to getting one of those guys?
A: I say that to you when you look at guys winning national championships. I think in terms of winning you need to have a lot of good players. I think when you look at our team, I don't think we recruited a lottery pick on our team. But I think we won 23 games with good players. We got good players. Now, how they worked to that level, whether their good players or how they worked at it, I think that has to be the focus. Who knew Jack McClinton was going to be as good as he is? I think Jack McClinton has a chance to be a first round pick next year. I really do.
You just got to get good players. [Kansas coach] Bill Self is going to lose seven guys after cutting the nets down. A few might be one and done or two and done. There's no question I'd like to have one of those guys (laughter). But I think where our program is right now we've just got to continue to recruit as good as we can recruit. If you look at any top 100 recruiting lists, we're involved with a lot of great players up from the top 15 on down. I think we're involved with some really good players and its just a matter of time before we get one of them. I think even if we don't, we're going to get good players. I'm confident we're going to get good players. That's the one thing you'll hear me be real confident about. We're going to get guys that fit what we want to do on and off the court and that's key to me. We don't want guys in our program we don't have to worry about. Now, we're going to make a mistake -- one or two of them -- down the road. But that's really important to me, that we find guys that fit into the University of Miami on and off the court and I will no sacrifice that for the benefit of the program. I'm not going to take a guy who is not a good citizen and gotten a good player.
Q: Frank you know basketball isn't my strong suit. I know football a whole lot better. But from the two years I've been covering this, it seems to me point guard is obviously a place where you need a special player. You guys had it at Texas. Kansas had some very good point guards this year and you look at Memphis with Derrick Rose. Is that still the one position where you guys are hoping to find a special player?
A: No question Manny and I'm going to pat you on the back for that one. You got some basketball IQ. See, I'm teaching you (laughter). You got to have a great point guard. We got to keep working at that. We got to keep recruiting and we're going to lose two guys at that spot next year. Since we've been here, I think Anthony Harris and Denis Clemente, I think Denis was moving in that direction to be a really good one. But we'll see what happens with Eddie and Lance.
I think if you're able to get one of those guys -- even UCLA had it with Westbrook and Collison. I think all four teams, the point guard play was pretty good. I think if you got a guy that can make plays for other guys on the court -- that's an advantage. I know when I was at Texas, we had TJ Ford and followed it up with Daniel Gibson. TJ Ford, you just let him play and that's less stressful in terms of getting shots on the offensive end. You got a guy that orchestrate and put it on a platter for himself and for other people, that definitely helps you. And they're hard to find. A great one. But we're close and improving what we have. Obviously we're going to have to recruit a point guard in next year's class.
Q: You've always said you loved Eddie Rios' game, the way he thinks like a point guard. If he can turn things around defensively and improve his shooting, can he be that guy, that special point guard? Or do you feel after one season he's got a ceiling and there is only so much he can do?
A: Well you know that's hard to pinpoint right now. I think one of the things with Eddie was that the expectations were so high. I think Eddie if he's real honest with you, he'll tell you there are some great players across the country and he was probably shocked at somethings and guarding some guys. But that's normal for a high school kid playing that postion to make that adjustment to college, you don't know how hard you got to play, defend, move your feet and how important it is. In high school, you don't want to get into foul trouble, so you really don't play defense in high school. I think Eddie is working hard at it right now. And we're going to see. Obviously we need him to take that next step in being that guy. I think Eddie is capable of doing it. There's no question I think he's capable because I think he has good instincts for a point guard. I think the kid can shoot the ball, those are one of his strengths too. But I also think he has a good sense of court awareness. He improved as the year went on, particularly offensively and ball-handling. But we need him to take the next step. It's such a hard position. It really is. I think Lance Hurdle you look at him. He made huge strides. You don't win 23 games unless that position is solid. It became a solid position for us with those two guys.
Q: The practice facility, when will it be ready? And what will it look like? Will it be as cool as Florida State's and Duke's facilities? What's actually going in the practice facility?
A: We're hoping in August. But there was a setback here and we got slowed up for about a month. We're hoping it doesn't slow us too much and we hope to have it ready when we start practice on O ctober 15th. It's one of those choked up buildings where they lay down the foundation do all that work and all of a sudden, you'll see it go up. It has a his and her court. Actually its going to have a lot of space. It's going to be like another area for banquet type things. The president is adding to it. It's going to be a nice deal. It's going to not only help us in recruiting, but with our team and practice -- guys having an opportunity to go in the gym and workout when they want to workout. It's going to be exciting to know they have somewhere to go and not be kicked out or have a certain time to be there.
Q: People don't realize why you need a practice facility. I don't think many people know BankUnited Center is operated by someone outside the university and it is often rented out. Isn't that the biggest reason you needed it?
A: We're never in there. Right now we have no access to it. The floor is never down. Matter of fact, we had a game this year when we played Virginia at home, the floor wasn't down the whole week until we played the day of the game. It was rented out the whole week for a band to practice. We had to work around their schedule sort of and that's tough. This practice facility will definitely help. Of course you got the Wellness Center where other students go to and then the Hecht which is basically volleyball's spot and then there's women's basketball. It is a tough deal to work through which is why this practice facility will really, really help.
Q: How about the McDonald's game coming to South Florida? Isn't that a big deal?
A: It is a huge deal. It is the premier basketball event in the country. It's only been on campus one other time I think and that was at Duke. It is a huge, huge, huge deal. Hopefully, we'll have a player in it. It is a tremendous deal for the University of Miami to have here. This has been worked on for a couple years. They get these things and start to work on it years prior. I was involved in some things early on. Katie [Meier] and Paul Dee. We're very fortunate to have it here. The President was very supportive of it. So, it's a huge deal for us. Obviously, the practice facility having that too and practice time. It's going to be an unbelievable deal to have it on your campus because its the premier event. And what Ronald McDonald stands for. The Ronald McDonald event is huge for charity, so its a big event especially here in South Florida when were trying to improve awareness of college basketball.
Coming Wednesday: Haith talks about the immediate future including what he wants his players to do this offseason, who UM will be playing next year, his take on incoming freshmen DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson and much more.
If Malcolm Grant ends up being as good as the first two guys coach Frank Haith has been able to bring in as transfers, then the University of Miami men's basketball team made another huge move Monday morning when it used its last available scholarship on the 6-foot combo guard from Villanova.
Grant, who was recruited by Haith when he was coming out of Paul Robeson High in Brookyln, was rumored to be headed Miami's way late Sunday night according to internet reports. I finally confirmed it this morning when I spoke with his high school coach Todd Myles. Grant, who will have to sit out the 2008-09 season per NCAA transfer rules, could essentially turn out to be Jack McClinton's replacement in 2009. Here's Grant basic description: Combo guard with a dangerous three-point shot who scores in bunches. Sound like Jack?
Grant, who asked for his release earlier this month because he was reportedly disappointed with riding the pine too much down the stretch of Villanova's Sweet 16 season, was pretty special when he was in the game for the Wildcats. Remember that 21-point comeback Villanova pulled off on LSU back in December that was all over ESPN? Grant was the architect. He scored 18 points in six and a half minutes in the win. He then scored 22 points in a big win against Pittsburgh. Grant, nicknamed the Microwave, finished the season having played in 29 games and leading Villanova in three-point accuracy at 47 percent.
As you guys know, I took the rest of last week off after returning from San Antonio and the Final Four. But I got a chance to speak with Haith for about an hour and half last week and have lots to share in the coming days. But this is once again very good news for UM's basketball program, which seems to have a dose of it nearly every week. Haith and I talked at length about his vision for the future, the type of players he wants to recruit and what he wants to get out of the guys he has now and what he wants to improve on in the coming seasons.
Grant could fit in nicely. After this coming year, Miami will lose McClinton and point guard Lance Hurdle and will have Eddie Rios, James Dews and swingman DeQuan Jones as its primary backcourt players. Getting Grant now will give him a full season in Haith's system the way McClinton did. He turned out to be pretty good wasn't he? By the way, Haith is turning out to be pretty good at finding gems in other people's heaps of junk. Hurdle went from nobody out in California to starting point guard on this team. Cyrus McGowan, who was on the bench for two seasons at Arkansas, was reportedly dominating practices this season the way McClinton was during his time off. Now, the Canes get the Microwave.
How good can the University of Miami's basketball team be next season? How high can Frank Haith, Jack McClinton and company lift the program in '08-'09? That's what I was pondering on the flight back from San Antonio and the Final Four on Tuesday night.
A year ago the thought of picturing Miami at the Final Four or even the Sweet 16 this soon would have sounded insane. Not after a 12-20 season and last place finish. But following this 23-11 season and trip to the Round of 32, there is at least one basketball analyst who already has Miami as one of the country's 12 best teams next year. ESPN's Andy Katz came out with his very first Top 25 rankings for next season, hours after Kansas cut the nets down at the Alamodome. And much to my honest surprise, Katz has UM slated 12th (in front of Duke and second overall in the ACC behind North Carolina). Granted, its extremely early. Katz was under some pressure to put a list together not long after the confetti stopped raining down at the Alamodome. But the fact Katz -- and Rivals.com (which has UM receiving votes in its early 08-09 Top 25 poll) -- already have Miami somewhere in their top 25 should shows you the experts already have higher expectations for this team.
That's a good thing. Personally, I believe this Miami is definitely good enough to make the Sweet 16 next year if it stays healthy. I expect McClinton to have another sensational season, Haith to develop a number two scorer (either James Dews, Dwayne Collins, Lance Hurdle or even incoming freshman DeQuan Jones) and for the team to take another step forward. But I'm interested to see how being patted on the back and having high expectations from the public -- instead of having none -- will affect this team. Miami enjoyed so much success this season in the underdog role. It's going to be a challenge being on the other side of the coin.
--> Covering the Final Four for the second year in a row was pretty exciting. But I kept wondering how much anybody back home even cared about what was happening in San Antonio. I know football and baseball are king around here, but did the Canes' good hoops season make anyone more interested in watching the rest of March Madness? Has anyone become more of a college hoops fan? Let me know.
--> Watching Memphis' Derrick Rose in action was amazing. Like my friend Israel Gutierrez said, he's a triple-double waiting to happen nearly every night at the next level. I was on the Michael Beasley bandwagon when it came to the Heat draft, assuming it earns the first overall pick. But after watching Rose dominate, I'm hoping Pat Riley decides to take Rose. Great point guards are a lot harder to find than power forwards. While I like Beasley's game, Rose is simply too special to pass up. A backcourt of Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose would be as good as it gets in the NBA.
--> FYI... I'm planning on taking the rest of this week off. I've got some days off The Herald wants me to use and this is probably as good a time as any. Besides, I've pretty much been nonstop since the start of the football season and I could use a break. See you guys next week.
SAN ANTONIO -- Got the news a little while ago that the Canes had inked Frank Haith to a new five-year deal, one that will have him signed at The U through the 2012-13 season.
First of all, the raise and extension are well deserved. Miami enjoyed one of the best turnarounds in the country last season (going from 12-20 to 23-11) and took the kind of step forward Canes fans had hoped for. While I'm sure this will not be the only time the news of a Haith contract will be discussed from now until 2013 (I'm sure other programs are still going make a run at him when Miami continues to improve), I've got to say I'm happy for Haith. He's a good guy who is the type of young, exuberant coach Canes fans ought to be happy to have.
Let's not forget where this program was when Perry Clark left it. Basically, the bandwagon emptied and the team was back in obscurity. Haith picked it up, put it back into the NCAA Tournament and now has a vision to not only take Miami where it once was -- the Sweet 16, but a long-term vision of turning Miami's men's basketball program into a national title contender. He's the type of guy who doesn't just dream of being where I'm at -- The Final Four -- but has a plan to get there. Today's news is just another step forward for Miami in the right direction. There have been a lot of them lately -- the 23-11 season, the signing of one of the country's top swingmen in DeQuan Jones, the building of the new practice facility (yes, Miami needed one to compete with the Joneses) and even the fact the McDonald's High School All-American game will be coming to town in 2009. Those are all signs this basketball program wants to grow and is ready to do so.
But believe it or not, they still need your help. As great a story as Miami was this past season, attendance was still not what it should have been. Yes, UM enjoyed its largest home crowds since it moved on campus five years ago. But if I'm not mistaken there were only a handful of sellouts this season. A 7,000-seat arena should be filled easily. Heck, there were more than 7,000 out for both of the football team's scrimmages. As big as Canes' baseball and football is -- yes I know they got those national titles to show off, Miami's men's basketball team is the type of team fans should gravitate toward, too. Trust me, it's going to be a lot of fun watching this team play next season.
CANES BASEBALL NO. 1: Even though I've been out of town since Thursday and a bit busy out here, I've been following the Canes' baseball team and have to give the guys a big pat on the back for their exciting sweep of Clemson. And now another Monday, for climbing to No. 1 in the country for the first time since 2004.
The Hurricanes (26-2, 12-1 ACC) climbed to the top of the Baseball America and the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll. I'm hoping to get out and see these guys once I get back out into town.
I never got around to giving you my thoughts on Saturday's spring game because I was a little tied up with other assignments -- the IndyCar 300 (Saturday night) and the Marlins opener on Monday. So, since most of that analysis may be a little stale, I've decided to do a Live Q&A segment tonight from 7 to 8 p.m. where I thought we could discuss it.
That being said, with football -- the official live blood of Eye On The U -- now on hiatus until the fall, I wanted to get some ideas from you guys on how we can keep this blog going. Obviously, we will have Canes baseball to discuss (even though I hardly cover the team) and I'm sure there will be offseason news on both football and basketball (which I do cover extensively). But I wonder if it will be enough. So, I need your help. Any other ideas and suggestions are welcome. Feel free to leave them below along with your questions for tonight.
See you at 7.