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.