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.
Hello Eye on the U crew, this is Andre Fernandez filling in for Manny today from The Light. Navarro is moving out of his house in Hialeah, so I will be bringing you live updates throughout this beautiful, but extremely hot, day 2 of the Coral Gables Regional.
Just as yesterday, I can only bring you one update per inning due to NCAA blogging rules, but I'll be here viewing comments and can chat during the games.
No. 2 seed Mississippi advanced with a 14-1 thrashing of Bethune-Cookman in the loser's bracket game. The Rebels had 13 hits, including two home runs by Michael Guerrero in a 10-run sixth inning that blew open a close game. Ole Miss will play against Missouri Sunday at noon in an elimination game. Miami will face the winner Sunday at 4 p.m. Below is the inning-by-inning recap of UM's win against Missouri followed by Ole Miss' victory against B-CC.
NO. 1 MIAMI 6, NO. 3 MISSOURI 5
The winner's bracket game featured the nation's No. 1 team against a Missouri squad that blanked Ole Miss 7-0 Friday. The pitching matchup was UM's LHP Chris Hernandez (11-0, 97 Ks, 2.44 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Zagone (2-3, 50 Ks, 4.91 ERA).
1st inning - Miami 1, Missouri 0: Hernandez retired the side in order. Among the highlights was a nice diving stop on a grounder to first by Yonder Alonso for the second out. An RBI single by Ryan Jackson scored Jemille Weeks to give the Canes a 1-0 lead. With runners on first and second, Dennis Raben nearly added to it, but a sharp grounder back up the middle was snared by pitcher Rick Zagone, who threw to 1st to end the inning.
2nd inning - Miami 3, Missouri 0: The inning started sloppy with Sobolewski throwing wide of 1st on a groundball by Tigers' right fielder Jacob Priday. But Hernandez struck out two more and got Steve Gray to ground out to second. Dave DiNatale led off the bottom half with a double off the left field wall. Jason Hagerty and Yasmani Grandal struck out. But then Tekotte ripped a 2-run shot over the right field fence to put UM up 3-0. Weeks followed it with a line drive to right field that got past Priday and rolled to the wall, allowing Weeks to reach third. Alonso grounded out to 1st to end the inning.
3rd inning - Miami 5, Missouri 0: Hernandez walked Greg Folgia and gave up a walk to Ryan Lollis. But he settled down and got Aaron Senne to ground into a fielder's choice and Jacob Priday to ground out to third. Good throw by Sobolewski this time. Ryan Jackson smacked a 2-run home run to left field to extend the lead to 5-0 after a Sobolewski single.
4th inning - Miami 5, Missouri 0: After a leadoff single by Trevor Coleman, UM turned a double play on a grounder by Dan Pietroburgo when the umpire at second ruled Coleman interfered with Weeks' relay throw to 1st. UM did nothing in the bottom half as Grandal and Tekotte each struck out and Weeks flew out to deep right.
5th inning - Miami 5, Missouri 3: Four consecutive singles by Missouri helped them get back in the game. Kyle Mach, Greg Folgia, Ryan Lollis and Aaron Senne each had hits to drive in two runs. Then a ground out fielder's choice by Jacob Priday allowed another run to score. UM threatened in the bottom half when Alonso walked and Jackson singled, but Raben and DiNatale flew out to end the inning.
6th inning - Miami 5, Missouri 3: Another double play bailed UM out of some trouble. Tigers shortstop Andrew Thigpen grounded into the 6-4-3 double play after a single by Dan Pietroburgo. Jason Hagerty almost got a hold of a pitch in the bottom half, but it was caught near the wall in right by Jacob Priday. Grandal reached base on a fielding error by first baseman Steve Gray, but was picked off by Nick Tepesch at first base. Tekotte then flew out to center.
7th inning - Miami 5, Missouri 3: Kyle Mach reached on a bunt single and a batter later, Ryan Lollis singled to give Missouri two runners on with one out. Hernandez struck out Aaron Senne, but the ball got away from Grandal allowing runners to move to 2nd and 3rd. Jim Morris brought in Kyle Bellamy. Bellamy got Priday to line out to short. Hernandez's line -- 6 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 1 walk, 8 Ks, 112 pitches. Weeks walked to start bottom of 7th, Alonso grounded into fielder's choice. Sobolewski struck out. Jackson grounded to 1st.
8th inning - Miami 6, Missouri 5: The Tigers tie it on a two-run home run by first baseman Steve Gray off Bellamy. Trevor Coleman scored on the blast after leading off the inning with a double. With two outs and a runner at 1st, Morris brought in closer Carlos Gutierrez, who got Greg Folgia to hit a grounder back to him to end the inning. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (9-2, 3.40 ERA, 2nd best on team) enters for Missouri on the mound. Raben hit a blooper to left ball bounced out of Senne's glove, but umpire ruled it never hit ground and Raben was called out. DiNatale walked on the next at-bat and Adan Severino came up with a huge pinch-hit single to right field to give UM runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. Yaz Grandal belted the first pitch from Gibson opposite field for a single to left to score DiNatale and give UM a 6-5 lead. Tekotte flew out to left and Weeks flew out to right.
Final - Miami 6, Missouri 5: Carlos Gutierrez closed it up. Lollis grounded out back to pitcher. Senne struck out swinging (called on check swing by 3rd base umpire). Priday struck out swinging. Miami moves on and is in the driver's seat Sunday at 4 p.m. awaiting the winner of the Mizzou-Ole Miss rematch.
NO. 2 MISSISSIPPI 14, NO. 4 BETHUNE-COOKMAN 1
The first elimination game of the Coral Gables Regional featured a matchup between Ole Miss' lefty Drew Pomeranz vs. Bethune-Cookman lefty Joseph Gautier.
1st inning - Ole Miss 1, Bethune-Cookman 0: After Gautier gave up a leadoff walk to Ole Miss right fielder Jordan Henry, designated hitter Fuller Smith bunted him over to 2nd. Left fielder Logan Power looped a single over Wildcats' second baseman Mark Brooks' glove that allowed Henry to score the first run of the game. Gautier limited the damage, by getting third baseman Cody Overbeck to ground into a double play. Bethune center fielder Jose Ortiz reached base on a bunt single to lead off the bottom of the inning. Ortiz, however, was caught stealing at second by Ole Miss catcher Brett Basham. Right fielder Justin Hoyte reached on a walk. After shortstop Jose Lozada flied out to deep left field, first baseman Osvaldo Torres lined a single up the middle to give BCC runners at first and second. But designated hitter Chris Brown flied out to left again to end the inning.
2nd inning - Ole Miss 1, Bethune-Cookman 1: Gautier retired Ole Miss center fielder Michael Guerrero, first baseman Matt Smith and second baseman Zach Miller on a fly out, strikeout and fly out. In the bottom of the inning, third baseman Emmanuel Castro lined a double to left field that Ole Miss' Logan Power could only get the tip of his glove on as it carried past him to the wall. But catcher Drew Clark's sacrifice bunt rolled sharply to Pomeranz who threw Castro out at third. Second baseman Mark Brooks followed with a single to right field. Left fielder Patrick Jones grounded into a fielder's choice that moved Brooks to third. Center fielder Jose Ortiz tied the game with a single to right field. Justin Hoyte struck out to end the inning.
3rd inning - Ole Miss 2, Bethune-Cookman 1: The Rebels struck back with a double by Jordan Henry that he hit down the left field line and made an extra base hit by beating the throw to 2nd. Fuller Smith singled to right field to give Ole Miss a 2-1 lead. Logan Power flew out to center to end the inning. Drew Pomeranz struck out Jose Lozada, walked Osvaldo Torres, then struck out Chris Brown and Emmanuel Castro. Looks like he's settling down.
4th inning - Ole Miss 3, Bethune-Cookman 1: Bethune shortstop Jose Lozada's high throw to first allowed Michael Guerrero to reach first and it cost them a run. On the next at-bat, Matt Smith roped a double to the right center field gap that scored Guerrero to give Ole Miss a 3-1 lead. Zach Miller grounded into a double play - the second turned so far by the Wildcats today. Pomeranz retired Bethune in order in the bottom half, striking out Mark Brooks and Patrick Jones.
5th inning - Ole Miss 3, Bethune-Cookman 1: Gautier retired the side in order in the top of the inning on a fly out and two ground outs. Jose Ortiz led off the bottom half with a double to right field. Justin Hoyte singled to left, moving Ortiz to third. Drew Pomeranz struck out Jose Lozada for the inning's first out, but was lifted from the game in favor of right-hander Jake Morgan (4-0, 3.76 ERA coming in). Torres got Osvaldo Torres to line out to third base for the second out. Hoyte stole second, and Chris Brown walked to load the bases with 2 outs. But Emmanuel Castro grounded into a fielder's choice at shortstop to end the inning.
6th inning - Ole Miss 13, Bethune-Cookman 1: Where do I start? A 10-run explosion by the Rebels. The big highlight was two, that's right, TWO home runs in the inning by center fielder Michael Guerrero. The first was a 3-run shot that stayed a few feet fair to left field and came after Logan Power and Cody Overbeck walked and singled respectively to lead off the inning. The second capped the inning, a two-run shot almost to the same spot that scored Power. Bethune starter Joseph Gautier was knocked out after the first home run and the Wildcats went through three pitchers in the inning, (Roman Lancara, Phil Enright). Among the other highlights were a two-run single by Fuller Smith, an RBI double by Power, and an RBI single by Overbeck. In the bottom half, Bethune was retired in order. Unlike the high school baseball I'm used to, there is no mercy rule.
7th inning - Ole Miss 13, Bethune-Cookman 1: Joseph Munoz restored some control for the Wildcats retiring Miller, Ferguson and Basham in order. But B-CC didn't score either as Ole Miss reliever Phillip Irwin (2-1, 6.14 ERA) struck out the top of the order (Ortiz, Hoyte, Lozada).
8th inning - Ole Miss 14, Bethune Cookman 1: After getting the first two batters out, Cody Overbeck hit his team-leading 16th home run - a solo blast - to left field that landed on the track behind Mark Light Field. Osvaldo Torres led off the bottom of the inning with a single, but was stranded.
Final - Ole Miss 14, Bethune-Cookman 1: Mercy as three Ole Miss pinch hitters were retired in order in the top half of the inning. The Wildcats were then retired in order as well. Ole Miss 14 runs, 13 hits, 0 errors, B-CC 1 run, 8 hits, 2 errors. B-CC finishes season 36-22.
Hello Eye On The U Crew. I'll be at The Light all day today blogging live from both games. I can only update the blog once after each inning according to the NCAA rules. But I'll talk with you guys below if you like. We can talk about whatever you like. I'll try to answer questions as the day moves along.
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OK, Missouri took care of business against Mississippi 7-0 behind a three-hit shutout from Aaron Crow. Now, your No. 1-ranked Canes are scheduled to start on time at 4 p.m. I'll be here to blog throughout.
NO. 1 MIAMI (47-8) vs. No. 4 BETHUNE-COOKMAN (36-20)
- Bethune-Cookman has won three consecutive MEAC titles, but is still looking for more postseason wins. The Wildcats are 1-16 all-time in regional play with their lone victory coming against FIU in 2002. Today they'll send right-hander Hiram Burgos (9-1) to the mound. Burgos, who has the nation's second lowest ERA (1.20), suffered his only loss against UM on March 26.
1st inning - Miami 0, Bethune-Cookman 0: Enrique Garcia got the first two batters he face to line out to the outfield before walking Jose Lozada, who stole second. But Garcia got out of the jam by striking out Osvaldo Torres looking. Burgos then retired the Canes in order.
2nd inning - Bethune-Cookman 2, Miami 0: The Wildcats didn't come to South Florida to stay close with anybody -- that's for sure. Bethune-Cookman plates two runs, the first on a fielder's choice and then a two-out RBI single by No. 9-hitter Patrick Jones. The inning ends when right fielder Dennis Raben saves Yonder Alonso (who made an error) by throwing out a runner at second. Bethune-Cookman had the third run of the inning heading for home when shortstop Ryan Jackson applied the tag. Burgos, meanwhile, continues to roll along in the bottom half of the inning. He gets Mark Sobolewski to ground out to the mound, Jackson to ground out to second and Dennis Raben swinging.
3rd inning - Miami 4, Bethune-Cookman 2: Garcia and the Canes get a much needed 1-2-3 inning, retiring the Wildcats' 2-3-4 hitters in order. But Osvaldo Torres took him to the warning track on the last out. And then... the bottom of the order gets it started for the Canes. After back-to-back singles by Dave DiNatale and Adan Severino, the Wildcats get sloppy on defense. A botched ball by centerfielder Jose Ortiz on Severino's single allows DiNatale to run for third. The relay by shortstop Lozada then skirts by third baseman Emmanuel Castro and into the Canes' dugout, allowing DiNatale to score and Severino to reach third. Yasmani Grandal then brings Severino home on a groundout to short to tie the score at 2. Blake Tekotte keeps the rally going with a double down the right field line. Jemile Weeks appeared to have another one, but was robbed on a great running catch by Wildcats right fielder Neal Jones on the warning track. After an intentional walk to Yonder Alonso (his 65th walk of the season), Alonso stole second before Mark Sobolewski singled passed a diving Lozada for a two-run single.
4th inning - Miami 4, Bethune-Cookman 2: The Wildcats get Emmanuel Castro to reach base on a bunt single. He advances to second, but gets stranded when Garcia fields a bunt and throws Brooks out to end the top half of the inning. Miami got Dave DiNatale on base when he was hit by a pitch and two fielder's choices later Adan Severino was standing on second. But Burgos was able to get Tekotte to ground out to short to end the inning.
5th inning - Miami 4, Bethune-Cookman 2: Patrick Jones opened with a bunt single for Bethune and advanced to second on a passed ball. But Garcia struckout the next two batters and Lozada ended the inning with a groundout to shortstop. Yonder Alonso started the bottom half of the fifth with a one-out single to right. After Ryan Jackson walked, Torres made a nice grab down the first baseline on a shot by Raben to end the Canes' threat.
6th inning - Miami 5, Bethune-Cookman 4: The Wildcats had runners on first and second with two outs and Brooks at the plate with a 3-2 count when Mark Brooks laced a standup triple to the right-center field wall. UM coach Jim Morris went to the mound and took Garcia out and replaced him with Kyle Bellamy. But Bellamy gets out of the jam when he fields a bunt back to the mound and throws Jones out at first base. Miami gets a run back in the bottom half of the inning off Lamar Thomas' younger brother Eric Thomas (9-0, 2.04 ERA). Dave DiNatale opens the inning with a single to center and then gets brought home following a sacrifice bunt and a Yasmani Grandal RBI single to left. Miami loads the bases on Thomas with two outs, but he gets out of the jam, rallying from a 3-1 count to strike out Mark Sobolewski.
7th inning - Miami 7, Bethune-Cookman 4: Jose Ortiz opens the seventh with a leadoff single to center for the Wildcats and reaches second on a sacrifice bunt. After Lozada flew out to left for the second out, Ortiz reached third on a wild pitch by Bellamy. Following a walk to Torres, pitching coach J.D. Arteaga goes to the mound to talk to Bellamy. Whatever he said works as the Canes get out of trouble when Bellamy gets Neal Jones to swing and miss at strike three.
- The bottom of the seventh opens with Ryan Jackson taking a fastball in the back. After Dennis Raben chases a pitch outside for strike three, a ball gets away from B-C catcher Drew Clark allowing Jackson to advance to second base. Two pitches later, Dave DiNatale rallies from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. After pitching one ball to Grandal, B-C coach Mervyl Menendez takes Thomas out of the game and replaces him with left-hander Christopher Chapman (2-3, 5.34 ERA). Grandal switches sides to bat right-handed and strikes out looking. And then... Mark Light Stadium finally exhales. Blake Tekotte bloops a two-run single to give the Canes a 7-4 lead and some breathing room. The inning ends when Jemile Weeks (0-5) pops out to first.
8th inning - Miami 7, Bethune-Cookman 4: The Wildcats open the eight with a leadoff single by Emmanuel Castro, but leave him stranded at first after Kyle Bellamy strikes out the next two batters before Jones singles up the middle. But the inning ends with a groundout to second. Miami puts a runner on and moves him to third with two outs. But Raben can't beat B-C's first baseman to the bag on a groundout and the inning goes by scoreless.
9th inning - Miami 7, Bethune-Cookman 4: The Canes end the day with a victory as Carlos Gutierrez picked up his 12th save of the season by facing only four batters. Miami (48-8) will play Missouri (39-19) tomorrow at 4 p.m.
No. 2 MISSOURI (38-19) vs. No. 3 MISSISSISSIPPI (37-24)
- Mississippi at one point this season was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country behind UM. Then, they collapsed before rallying to qualify for the SEC tournament and finishing runner-up to LSU.
- Missouri is making its sixth straight regional appearance after finishing fourth in the Big 12 conference and going 1-2 in the conference tournament.
1st inning - Missouri 1, Ole Miss 0: Crow mowed down the Rebels in order 1-2-3 in the top of the first. The Tigers then had their first three base runners reach on a walk, single and hit by pitch before Jacob Priday bounced into a fielder's choice to drive in Greg Foglia in with the game's first run. But Mississippi starter Lance Lynn battled back to get out of the inning, striking out Steve Gray looking before Jonah Schmidt bounced out to short to end the inning.
2nd inning - Missouri 1, Ole Miss 0: Another 1-2-3 inning for Crow in the top of the second. He's got two strikeouts now. In the bottom of the inning, Lynn settles down and retires the Tigers in order. We're going to the third inning.
3rd inning - Missouri 1, Ole Miss 0: Crow finally allows a runner to reach base on a walk, but quickly retires the next three hitters. Ryan Lollis opens the bottom of the inning with a single (he's the only player on either team with a hit) and steals second with two outs. But Lynn gets out of trouble when he strikes out Trevor Coleman looking to end the inning.
4th inning - Missouri 1, Ole Miss 0: Mississippi cleanup hitter Cody Overbeck breaks up Crow's no-hit bid with two outs when he reaches on a slow dribbler to second base. Mississippi doesn't do anything with the base runner, though. Lynn has now retired six in a row -- four are strikeouts.
5th inning - Missouri 4, Ole Miss 0: Second baseman Zach Miller reaches on a 1-out single to right, but gets stranded. This bottom of the inning is where the action takes place. After No. 9 hitter Kyle Mach leads off with a bloop double (Ole Miss shortstop Tim Ferguson misplayed a Texas leaguer), Missouri puts runners on first and third when Lollis picks up his third hit of the day with a single to left. Aaron Senne then brings both of those players in with a double to right-center field. One pitch later, Priday singles to right field to make it 4-0 Mizzou.
6th inning - Missouri 4, Ole Miss 0: Even when things look like they might go well for Ole Miss, they don't. After Jordan Henry opens the inning with a single off Crow, he gets doubled up on a failed hit and run when Fuller Smith lines out to third. The top half of the inning ends when Crow strikes out Michael Guerrero with runners on first and second. Missouri gets a runner on in the bottom half when Andrew Thigpen singles, but Ole Miss catcher Brett Basham throws him out on an attempted steal at second (Basham has thrown out two runners now).
7th inning - Missouri 7, Ole Miss 0: Ole Miss gets runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs, but Crow struckout Jordan Henry to end the threat. Lollis then starts the bottom of the seventh with his fourth hit of the game. Lynn ends up getting pulled a batter later, leaving with 6 1/3 inning, 9-hit, four earned run effort. Two batters later, Trevor Coleman makes it 7-0 Missouri when he smacks a three-run home run to right center field.
8th inning - Missouri 7, Ole Miss 0: The Aaron Crow show rolls on. Eight scoreless innings. Nine strikeouts. Three hits. The Big 12 Pitcher of the Year has his game on and Canes fans ought to be thankful he's pitching today and not tomorrow. Ole Miss turns its 47th double play of the season to end the 8th in scoreless fashion. Now, we'll watch Crow close this one out.
Final - Missouri 7, Ole Miss 0: Crow closes it out with a 10-strikeout, three-hit effort. Guy was amazing.
Just got home from a busy morning which included attending The Miami Herald's 2007-2008 All-Dade Breakfast where four Canes were honored for their high school accomplishments.
Tim "Ice" Harris, who led Booker T. Washington's football to the Class 4A state championship and coached the track team to a state title in 2007 before taking a job as Randy Shannon's right hand man last month, was named the county's boys overall Coach of the Year. His son, future Canes cornerback Brandon Harris (whom I got a chance to speak with for about 10 minutes), became only the second athlete in Dade history to repeat as overall Male Athlete of the Year. Together, they became the first father-son duo to win the two major awards.
Northwestern, the Class 6A state champions, were honored by having quarterback Jacory Harris take home Class 6A-4A Offensive Player of the Year and linebacker Sean Spence taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award. Jacory, bashful as usual, cracked a smile and said "these people are crazy" when I handed him the award (he only broke every passing record in the county). Spence arrived fashionably late and had his father accept his award on his behalf. Jacory spoke to me briefly, but told me he and the Bulls currently at Northwestern have been hitting the weights hard this summer and are focused on competing for starting jobs. "We've all been doing real good," Jacory told me. "We're focused."
** BASEBALL UPDATE... After the breakfast, I made my way over to Mark Light Stadium where the Canes were practicing and I got a chance to catch up with coach Jim Morris and a few of his players as they prepare for Friday's Regional showdown with Bethune Cookman at 4 p.m..
Morris said he won't officially announce who will pitch when until Thursday. But word around the campfire is it will be the current No. 3 man in the rotation Enrique Garcia (6-2, 4.67 ERA) who gets the nod Friday. Current No. 1 starter and ACC Freshman of the Year Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.44 ERA) told me he's preparing to pitch for Saturday and will be out scouting both Ole Miss and Missouri in Friday's regional opener at noon. If that is indeed the case, then we know left-hander Eric Erickson, who has struggled a bit since returning for injury, would be the guy pitching on Sunday.
I'll be at Friday's games (blogging live). Andre Fernandez will be there for us on Saturday and Sunday.
I still haven't gotten around to that interview with Derrick Crudup because the last 48 hours for me have been a whirlwind around Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. I've watched portions of five high school spring football games and checked out some of the top recruits in South Florida on 12 different teams to supplement my Spring Tour Diaries.
The good news for Canes fans is that I haven't been alone. Nestled among the 20 scouts at Wednesday night's spring game at Hallandale High that featured faces like FSU's Chuck Amato were three representatives wearing green and orange -- defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix and the newest Canes' hire Tim "Ice" Harris. I'm sure UM's trio were there to watch highly touted Hallandale cornerback Ricardo Dixon, who made four pass breakups, a few other impressive plays and was dying for a Canes offer when I spoke to him last week. I'm pretty sure Dixon will be getting one soon if he hasn't already.
I left Hallandale right before halftime and stopped for gas before heading off to South Broward High. Apparently that gave Nix and McGriff too large of a head start. They were already standing on the sidelines checking out big Bulldogs offensive tackle Steven Jacques (6-5, 280). I spoke to South Broward coach Allen Held this afternoon who told me Miami coaches told him they were extremely impressed with Jacques and Held expects the Canes to be offering him soon. Jacques, a state qualifier in wrestling, is probably the best lineman I've seen during my tour of 24 teams in the last two-plus weeks. Held said Jacques benches 405 pounds and squats over 600 and has offers from 12 to 15 schools, most from the SEC. He said Jacques had been waiting on UM to stop by and likes them.
Wednesday night, though, wasn't the only night I saw Canes coaches on the prowl. I spotted more assistants at Tropical Park for Monsingor Pace's showdown with highly-touted running back Jamaal Berry and Palmetto High. Berry was impressive and every bit as good as the combine reports made him out to be. He flashed speed, strength and moves. But I still kind of like Killian's Lamar Miller a little better. Miller, Miami-Dade's No. 1 recruit, will be on display Friday night at Tropical at 8 p.m. against American High and UM soft commitment and star defensive end Olivier Vernon.
By the way, I had conversations with both Plantation American Heritage offensive lineman Jared Wheeler (6-6, 305) and Plantation defensive back Brandon McGee (6-0, 180). Although both of Broward's two most highly-coveted recruits have made unofficial visits to UM in the last month, I get the sense Miami will have to overcome a lot to get either. Wheeler's older sister just finished her freshman year at Florida and helps visiting football recruits on tours at the school. McGee idolizes Deion Sanders and grew up a Florida State fan. Both would be huge gets for Miami in their '09 class -- especially since they would help fill the team's most glaring needs, corner and offensive line. What's could help the Canes in their battle? McGee is looking to play right away. Wheeler is looking for a school with a strong engineering program and small classes.
I'll have my two newest installments of my spring diaries up by this weekend. But if you want to check out my impressions and some of the photos I've shot at other schools (as well as mentions of some of the Canes' potential targets in 2010 and 2011) click on the link to my diaries above.
UM BASEBALL 2-0 IN ACC TOURNEY: Ok, so I'm not in Jacksonville for the ACC Tournament. But 86Cane and the Canespace crew are. And they've gotten to enjoy two impressive Miami wins in person over the last few days.
On Wednesday, Miami got a pitching gem from freshman phenom Chris Hernandez (check out my Q&A with him from earlier this month) and then put their bats to work in a stellar come-from-behind win on Thursday over Georgia Tech. (86 sent me several photos from his afternoon and it would be a shame not to share some of his work).
SUGGESTED READING: For those of you wondering what Miami's head coach is up to these days be sure to check out Ivan Maisel's tour of the Middle East with a handful of college coaches that include Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Georgia's Mark Richt and The U's very own Randy Shannon. Among the best stories Maisel has shared was Shannon meeting a soldier he supposedly recruited.
Team seems very relaxed, ready to go and try and win the school's first major ACC tournament title since joining the league full-throttle in 2004-05.
Miami is going to have its hands full, with a very desperate Clemson team on the docket Wednesday afternoon. The Tigers slipped into the tournament when Virginia Tech beat Duke last weekend. So, for the Tigers to move on into the NCAA tournament, they probably need a very good showing (like winning the thing) here in Jacksonville this weekend.
But fear not, UM fans, Jim Morris is going with the ace, freshman Chris Hernandez, in Game 1. Says he's not going to change up things, not going to burn out the pitching staff to win the ACC. Miami has bigger fish to fry, and that fryer opens up next weekend in Coral Gables when the NCAA regionals come to town.
Miami plays Clemson, Georgia Tech and N.C. State in their side of the bracket, the Canes going 8-1 against those three this season. The Canes have outscored those three by a whopping 86-45 this season. But, temper that: Those three are 5-0 against UM in the past three ACC tournaments. Miami doesn't play well up here, going just 2-6 in the previous (and only) three tournaments it has been in.
Maybe the move to Boston's Fenway Park next spring (yes, college baseball at Fenway) will be a more suitable host.
-- All three Miami games on either Sunshine or Fox Sports Florida this weekend, with all the games on student station WVUM 90.5 FM and XM Satellite Radio. WQAM going online only tomorrow, with the other games over the AM airwaves.
-- GEORGE RICHARDS
Just made it back home after my 13-hour drive down I-20, I-75 and the Florida Turnpike from attending Herald Gator's beat writer Joseph Goodman's wedding this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama. I've been to my share of weddings over the years, but I got to give Joey G, his new wife Sarah and the families for both props for putting together quite possibly the best wedding bash I've ever been to.
There were plenty of highlights -- including the coolest wedding cake I've seen (it actually looked like a collection of newspapers with articles on the bride and groom). Some home-brewed beer compliments of Mr. Goodman Sr. (I'm going to be ordering the products from Alabrew.com to make some of my own). An afternoon lunch trip to the world-famous Dreamland for ribs, mac & cheese and banana pudding. And a guest list that included Heisman winner Tim Tebow, Alabama coach Nick Saban, former Cane Lamar Thomas and Crimson Tide George Teague (Lamar stripped the ball back) and the ghost of Bear Bryant. OK, none of those people were there. But plenty Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel staffers (including our George Richards and their Shandel Richardson and Steve Gorten) were there to throw back plenty of drinks and enjoy the weekend.
OK, I know this has nothing to do with the Canes. But does everything on this blog always have to be? Anyway, I feel compelled to share something with you guys considering I've been on other duties the past week and a half and have neglected to share much in the way of the Canes. Truth is -- and many of you know this already -- I don't cover the Canes baseball team. Here is some good news -- we will have someone out the ACC tournament this week. Plus, if you want more -- I hear the Canespace crew will be out there. You can always see what they have going on over there at Canespace.com.
Meanwhile, my plan is to try and stick to giving you football and basketball stories and Q&As (I do cover those teams) as I come across them over the next couple of months. One thing I want to do more of is catch up with some former Canes, the way I did with Ryan McNeil two weeks ago (I've got an interview with former Canes quarterback Derrick Crudup I'm hoping to get done this week inbetween my recruiting coverage). Anyway, I think that might be the best way to provide some original content for you, stuff you won't necessarily get other places that has been reheated over 30 different ways. I hate doing that.
Anyway, I want to generate some discussion on here. I'm going to give you three topics based on some of the conversation over the weekend with some pretty annoying Alabama fans. 1. Where does your hate for the Crimson Tide rank as a Canes fan considering what happened with in the '93 Sugar Bowl and now with Saban as their leader? 2. What is the longest interstate drive you've done and why? 3. Best wedding and or wedding story?
P.S. -- Whoever said the Canes losing 2 of 3 to the Tar Heels this past weekend was an embarrassment is insane!
There is no doubt where Canes fans will have their attention for the next three nights. Nope, not the first hour of tonight's three-hour finale of Lost (I've got it set to record on my DVR). Rather, Mark Light Stadium where the No. 1-ranked baseball Canes will attempt to lock up their first regular season ACC title with a series win against No. 2 North Carolina.
Miami (42-6, 22-3 ACC) hasn't really enjoyed its time in the ACC since it moved over from the Big East a little more than five years ago. Make that ditto for the football and basketball teams. The ACC really has turned out to be a lot tougher than I think we all expected. But this weekend, Jim Morris' team can finally put The U atop the conference.
And to be honest, playing the second-best team in the country the past two seasons is probably the perfect way to accomplish it. North Carolina (43-9, 20-6 ACC) is no joke. The Tar Heels have the No. 1 pitching staff in the country with a 2.28 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .226 and have struck out 525 in 470 innings pitched. Miami owes these guys dearly. UNC has won the last two series including a sweep in Chapel Hill last year.
I won't be there (Susan Miller Degnan will be). But I've also got my DVR set to record the series on CSS. I'll be leaving for a wedding this weekend of fellow Herald Sports Writer Joseph Goodman. I know I've been gone from the blog this week. But as I've told you guys before, I'm busy working the recruiting trail here in South Florida. I've already made visits to 12 different South Florida high schools in the past two weeks. You can check out my spring tour diaries on our Herald.com recruiting page. My next diary will include visits to Central -- the school I predict will take over as the power in Miami-Dade -- and Hialeah. Both teams are loaded with 2010 prospects Miami should be very interested in.
As for the Canes, they picked up another commitment today from a little known tight end out of Fleming Island named Cory White. I'm going to try to reach the kid when I get back home from a making a few more local visits to a few high schools tonight. See you guys later.
Ryan McNeil doesn't wear either of the two national championship rings he won at the University of Miami. Those are put away. The 37-year old former Canes defensive back, 11-year NFL veteran and successful entrepreneur wears one ring that ultimately represents both -- his 2006 UM Hall of Fame ring.
"I don't wear [the national championship rings] and I'll tell you why," McNeil explained to me in a phone interview Friday. "Once you go to the next level, your focus and hunger is on something else -- a Super Bowl ring. The only regret I have about playing professional sports is not winning the Super Bowl. So many guys I know have Super Bowl rings. When [former Canes] Darren Smith, Kevin Williams and Russell Maryland went to Dallas and won Super Bowl rings, it was like wow -- that's what I wanted. That's something that's special. I don't know if I might eventually have one of my own one day, maybe as a coach or involved in management."
If you know anything about McNeil, nothing he said should surprise you. Since the day he stepped on UM's campus, the Fort Pierce native has always strived for more. And that's part of the reason McNeil is where he is today, living a successful life in Atlanta after retiring from pro football in 2003. He has his own publication, OT Magazine, and is the President and CEO of the Professional Business & Financial Network. Both businesses, among other things, try to teach athletes how to make a successful post-retirement transition from sports into the business world. I caught up with Ryan Friday to talk about his latest editorial in his magazine about the heavy dose of reality recently drafted athletes will encounter soon enough. It didn't take long, though, for us to start talking about the Canes, Randy Shannon and much more.
Q: I know its been a couple years since The Herald has caught up with you. Tell us what's new. Married? Kids? Where are you living?
A: (Laughter) I'm not married yet. Hopefully that will happen sometime soon. But I live in Atlanta now, been here for four years since I left Miami. I wanted to live on the East Coast so I could be near home in Fort Pierce and Miami. I have one daughter who is 11 now. Other than that, life is great.
Q: I've got to ask you the Dan LeBatard question -- the one you don't want to ask out of shyness, but Dan can because he's Dan. Are you making more money now than you were as a player?
A: [Laughter] That is a Dan question. I think revenue wise, I'm not making as much. But its an investment. Anytime you make an investment, you have delayed gratification. I haven't made as much money doing this as I did as player, not yet. But it's close. To be honest, sports is something I love. The media space has been intriguing to me because I've learned so much. The more I'm in it, the more avenues I'm finding having tremendous amounts of potential. i think i'll stay in the media space for awhile. We launched the magazine in 2004 as a business and lifestyle magazine with 360 degree viewpoint of athletes. We talk money and finances, health and fitness, charity and philanthropy. Its basically the complete 360 degrees of it and we circulate it among all pro athletes. Female sports and male sports.
Q: You went from being a second round draft pick of the Detroit Lions to having an 11-year pro career in which you played for six teams and actually led the league in INTs in 1997. As successful as that was for you, I have to imagine what you've done afterward is about successful as it gets for guys out of the league? Basically, you are teaching other guys now how to do it through your magazine.
A: I think a lot of other guys enjoy success as well. I think success is defined differently by everyone. A lot of guys have been very successful in life after sports. I think I'm a bit of a risk taker being a cornerback. So, being an entrepreneur was a natural for me. I see a lot of opportunity in terms of sports. I've got a lot of connections in sports. I thought I could leverage that and make a little money as well. Its one of the things I surveyed, researched. I thought it would be a really sound investment. But there have been other guys who have done well in real estate. To be honest, though, it's not an easy business at all. It's more difficult thaIn I thought it would be. The work itself, though, I have one of the easiest jobs in media. My job is to tell the positive stories of other athletes. As I take this journey I'm understanding the business more and more. I'm learning the things to do. I'm starting from the ground up. I've never been one to shy away from work.
Q: In your latest editorial, your taking your message to a different level. You are actually targeting guys just getting into the league, not out. What inspired you to send a message to those guys?
A: I always write my editorial page in my magazine. It was something I was thinking about and flashing back to my time when I was drafted and my team. I was thinking you could almost cheat being at the University of Miami, going pro and how maybe some guys took that for granted. It was almost a given you'd have an opportunity to play professional sports. Yeah, you still had to do what you had to do and you could make it. But I think as a whole, the one ting I realized is how ill-prepared guys are going into the league. At Miami, our expectations were always to play at a high level. When you have Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades, Alonzo Highsmith, come back to the U and work out with you, you have a huge appreciation for what to expect and strive for at the next level. But you aren't ready for disappointment or the other struggles. I see guys who are athletically gifted, but aren't prepared for what else comes along with being a pro athlete. Being a professional athlete is not eating at a restaurant a-la-cart. You got to take everything that comes with it.
Q: What else comes on that cart maybe that guys aren't ready for?
A: I think first and foremost, I think of any professional sport as a business. i think the perspective is still viewed is it's a game. But its a business. It's serious fun. I always tell the rookies all the time, have fun, but treat it as a business at the same time -- that way you won't have any surprises. You can really take advantage of the head start you have from the get-go, from the social standpoint, being a role model for the people where you are from. Because it's an unwritten rule. You are a role model whether you choose to or not. They have to keep in mind the dynamics are different and the consequences are different. The NFL has a program where they have actors and actresses come in and act out and life choices, decision, consequences. You got to be careful of each decision you make. You want to have as many positive experiences as a professional athlete. To me, it's really a time to grow up. College is a time to have fun. It's an incubating period going into adult hood. Now, you got to be an adult. That's one thing a lot of young guys, whether its basketball, football, hockey, you got to position yourself to act like an adult. I think a lot of the younger guys are trying to do that, but there are a few who share a negative light not only with themselves, but their teammates. Pro athletes are connected and I kind of try to share with them that they should think about themselves as a brand. You should be careful about your brand.
Q: Now that you are in Atlanta, do you still make the time to come to the U and spread that message?
A: I don't visit the campus enough. I haven't been able go back to Miami lately. I have these business endeavors that take up a lot of time. But I still try to make it back every now and then. I catch about 3 to 4 home games and when they play Georgia Tech here. I've got to support them, especially since Randy [Shannon] is the coach. I want to support him as much as possible. i think he's the right guy for the job. I think he handles the pressure and expectations better than anybody else. And I'm excited about the 2008 recruiting class. I keep up. I think its important to go back to the talk where the mystique fits in. At UM, we always played at a high level. Then, its about carrying yourself as a gentleman in the community.
Q: Then, I'm sure this past season and the one before was tough for you to watch. Any thoughts?
A: Let's be honest: that's not Hurricanes football. I think Randy would be the first to admit it. That's not what's expected. The reality is it has to change. What's more disappointing than anything else is knowing where you been and where you want to be. The record could have been totally different with five, six, seven plays going the other way. But that's everywhere. I think randy did a great job recruiting though and I assume a lot of young guys are going to play this year. What the guys need to remember is what it means to wear The U. I remember Bennie [Blades], Melvin [Bratton], coming back and saying 'You cant take the field wearing the U and expect teams to lay down.' I got there, was recruited in Jimmy Johnson's last year. I redshirted, but we practiced just as hard as the seniors did. The work ethic, the expectations, There were outlines for you. There were no margins for error. It was simple: this is how we do things and why we do things. The results spoke for themselves. I think that's what we'll get back to this year. I think we're moving in the right direction. I think sometimes it takes a setback to get things in order. I think that setback was last year. Don't get me wrong. I thought [Larry] Coker was a great coach. But its always special when you have one of your own become a head coach. I think that's very unique. I think all the guys I spoke to want to support Randy for that reason. We expect to have a winning season and participate in a major bowl game this year.
Q: You've mentioned a few of the former guys. Any you spend more time talking to these days than others?
A: The guy I try to keep up with the most is college roommate Coleman Bell. He and I were like brothers. I hung out with Stephen McGuire a week ago in New York. Lamar Thomas and I talk at least once every couple weeks. Gino [Torretta] and are close too. He lived with me when we were in Detroit together. Darryl Spence and i are tight. I see Melvin Bratton here in Atlanta, so we each other quite often. It's hard not to go into any place and not see anybody from UM. i just saw Willis [McGahee] at a Hawks game. if you don't see somebody for one or two years, you catch up and the feeling of the brotherhood is still there.
Q: You got to know Randy Shannon when you were a freshman? What's the best Randy story you can give me? And what have you seen from him over the years and now that's he's grown to become the head coach of the program?
A: I see the maturation of a player to a coach. I was able to see it there as a freshman. When he was a senior, he was there to tell you what to do. We went through the whole process, being the new kids on the block. Randy was always a teacher. He was one of the ones who taught me about covering. It's funny too because I remember saying to myself, 'This guy is a linebacker, what the heck is he doing trying to teach me about covering?' [Laughter]. But he went to the league and came back still being a teacher. The thing that I love about Randy is he doesn't forget where he's from and he understands everybody is different and that you can't teach everyone the same. I think that's what he'll do more of this year. You can see it in his demeanor and his mannerisms. He was the kind of guy who would get on you right away. He has more patience now than he did as a teacher and player. I think you need to have that as a player and a coach. I really don't have a great Randy story. I just remember as freshmen we had our own lockerroom, a small little dungeon hole at the Hecht Center and the upperclassmen dared us every couple times to come out.
Q: Maybe I can get you to give me the best teammate story. Come on, its been a couple years.
A: [Laughter] I can't break the code. We honestly truly care about each other. Thing is we a close knit group and breaking the code would cause trouble [laughter].
Frank Haith told me shortly after UM's season ended last month that I was going to love Reggie Johnson, the 6-8, 290-pound center he recruited from the same Winston-Salem neighborhood he grew up in. He said everyone would eventually fall in love Johnson's big personality. After spending 20 minutes this afternoon chatting with big Reggie, I'd say this is another prediction Haith is going to nail.
Johnson, who is scheduled to graduate from Winston-Salem Prep soon and arrive in Miami on June 8th, was about as fun an interview I've had with an athlete in quite some time. He's not shy about much and he's even a big fan of the Eye on The U blog. Johnson, whose coach compares to Clippers forward Elton Brand, told me he is currently working hard to get in shape for his UM arrival. He's come a long way for someone who didn't even start playing basketball until the 10th grade. After doing what he says was the hardest thing he's ever had to do "leave McDonald's alone and leave my mother's fried chicken alone," Johnson has developed into one of the best big young men in the country.
Scout.com rates him a three-star recruit. But he played much better than that. As a senior, he set the state record for rebounds in the state championship, averaged 24.1 points, 17.3 rebounds and 7.1 blocks a game and had an impressive 25-point, 21-rebound effort against Oak Hill Academy, consistently one of the best high school programs in the country. Now, he says, his goal is to take Miami to the next level. As he was busy curling 50-pound weights, I caught up with Reggie Thursday. And this is what he had to say...
Q: You've come a long way from being that big guy who was on the sidelines doing nothing. You remember the old Reggie and what made him become the new Reggie?
A: What made me start playing basketball was the competition. I'm competitive for every competition. I didn't take it very seriously at first. But then I found out I could go to school for free and that got me working hard. My mom. I know her background financially. I knew I could help my mother out and that got me on the ship. It all started when one of my close friends introduced me to Coach [Andre] Gould. He said to me 'God, you aren't playing ball?' And I said 'No sir.' He said 'Come to my school, I'll get you in shape and get you into someone's college for free.' I said, 'I'm there.'
Q: Talk about your visit to Miami back in October before the start of the season. I know Jack McClinton instilled a new work ethic in his teammates, pushed them to the limit. DId you pick up on that?
A: I was very impressed. It wasn't just a visit. It was the first day of actual practice. The first day of practice, it wasn't lazy. They were going at it hard. They were willing to work. Coach was digging at them, telling them what they need to do. I was like 'Yeah. This is what I need right here. A coach that is going to make me work for something, not going to hand me anything, shortcutting me and my career. It was great. They work hard. They work extremely hard and they got me right there.'
Q: How much more excited are you about coming to Miami now that they're coming off a great season?
A: It was a very dramatic turnaround. They finished 12-20 the previous season. When coach Haith and his staff started recruiting me the following week, I started looking at the record they had and the people they had coming in. DeQuan Jones had already committed to Miami. The pieces were coming together. So, it felt great at the time.
Q: I spoke to '09 recruit Donnovan Kirk about this earlier this week and he said seeing Miami have that dramatic turnaround really helped him in choosing UM. Had the Canes not gone 23-11 and made a run to the NCAA Tournament are you a Hurricane right now?
A: I'm a Hurricane. I'm a Hurricane until I die. Actually, it wasn't even a factor. Coach Haith, he's young and upcoming. I believe he knows what it takes to get it done. I think either way I was going to become a Hurricane. And plus, I look at it like this -- me coming in can be a very good contribution to the team, along with DeQuan Jones and Malcolm [Grant] coming in. I believe the best is yet to come for the Hurricanes.
Q: UM had a great season, but so did you. You averaged 24.1 points, 17.3 rebounds and 7.1 blocked shots a game and set a state record for rebounds in winning the state championship. How do you feel the year went?
A: I feel it went great. I got a state championship so I can't complain. That's what I was striving for. Getting MVP was a great feeling. I can't picture it better. Coach tells me rebounding and defense are going to win the game. I'm a person who knows rebounds win the game. So, I go after them. I'm a Ben Wallace type.
Q: Being from North Carolina, I'm sure you get to know a lot of guys going to other ACC schools. Any rivalries we can look forward to?
A: Anytime I'm around Ty Walker (Wake Forest) or CJ Wiiliams (North Carolina State), we just kind of joke around about what who is going to do what next year. It's going to be fun. We had an all-star game not too long ago. Me and CJ Williams just talked about N.C. State and Miami. And we just kicked back and talked about that. If you don't get up for that, something is wrong. You got to love that.
Q: What are your strengths?
A: My post play. My post play alone. I just believe I'm going to be heck down in the paint to guard. I got a counter move for every move. I just believe that I'm going to dazzle.
Q: The Canes are losing Anthony King and Ray Hicks, two veterans in its frontcourt. They'll have Jimmy Graham and Dwayne Collins back. But after that it's all new guys with Julian Gamble, Cyrus McGowan and yourself. How do you see yourself fitting in next season?
A: Coach just told me to come in and bust tail. Coach also told me who knows what can happen. I've never set foot on Miami's campus and actually practiced with them. So, who knows what can happen. They're going to be throwing so many things at me, this play, that play, what kind of set is this? It's all going to depend on how I come down and adjust to it and catch on to it. The post play is a big part of Miami's offense. That's really what got me to come to Miami because I know we're going to play inside-out regardless.
Q: Tell me about the recruiting process with you. VCU was really after you. But you ended up going with coach Haith, who grew up in the same neighborhood as you. How much did that play into you choosing Miami?
A: Coach Anthony Grant. He and I were close. He's a heck of a coach. When I first met with coach Grant, I clicked with him. He was kind of a father figure to me even in a short period of time. He's a great, up-and-coming coach. But with VCU, I just believe coach Grant is such a great coach, he's not going to be there as long. I believe Coach Grant could end up going to some place like Florida. He's a great coach. Coach Haith, I didn't even know he was from the same neighborhood as me until after I committed. That got me even more closer to Coach Haith. I love him. I love coach Haith.
Q: What kind of characteristics make up a guy from Winston-Salem?
A: We're going to work for anything we want and we're going to go through anything. Look at Chris Paul, Josh Howard. Those guys are from Winston-Salem and them guys are making names for themselves in the biggest league. Those guys just work. And that's what we want -- a championship at the end of the day.
Q: I talked to coach at the end of the season and he talked about what he wanted to see out of his guys this offseason. He said the No. 1 thing for you was cutting some weight, get that body in shape. How much weight have you lost and how big are you now?
A: In the state championship game I was around the 300 mark. Now, I'm down to 290, 288. I've just been busting tail to make sure I'm ready for college. I'm working out from 3:05 to 6 p.m. every day, conditioning and then basketball. I'm participating in track too, throwing the discus and the shot put. In college you got to be in shape. So, I'm in the gym everyday. It's a routine I pretty much picked up from when I went on my visit and watched what they did in practice and everything. My coach kind of took note of that and I'm starting to do things they did in practice in too. I'm doing the ladder. We got a strength and conditioning coach here. He's busting my tail too. He's getting my feet right, building stamina. All the pieces are here. I just got to take advantage of it.
Q: When you envision the future of this UM team what do you see? Are you already talking to the younger guys, game-planning what is going to happen?
A: Me, Malcolm and DeQuan have gotten real close. We talk at least once every two weeks. DeQuan is a gym rat also, so I don't bother him too much. Be we talk often. I talk to Malcolm Grant and I welcome him to the family. I just talked to DeQuan like two days ago and Malcolm. We've just been talking about winning the championship, just showing the world Miami is not just a football school. I mean that's what was on my mind. Miami -- that's a football school. Then, DeQuan talked to me and helped recruit me also. I believe in the system. I believe we can show the world Miami is a basketball school as well as a football school.
After making a few pit stops Monday at a trio of high schools in South Florida for spring football, I got a chance this morning to squeeze in some blog work by speaking with the newest big-time basketball recruit headed to The U -- 6-8, 213-pound forward Donnovan Kirk of Detroit Country Day.
Kirk, rated the 56th-best recruit in the 2009 class by Rivals.com and a Scout.com Top 100 player,
committed to UM coach Frank Haith last week to become the first recruit in Miami's '09 class. (Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant, a 6-foot point guard, will also make his debut in '09 but is technically part of Miami's '08 class. The Hurricanes still have three scholarships available in '09). Kirk, whose parents both work in the auto industry, told me he's excited to be the first of what he hopes is a Top 25 national recruiting class at Miami. A B-student, Kirk said he still needs to get his SAT or ACT score to qualify at Miami. But he said it shouldn't be a problem. Here's what else we talked about...
Q: Being a guy from Michigan, I have to imagine you grew up a Wolverine or Spartans fan. That being said, the Canes were able to lure you from both of them and get you to commit to coming to South Florida. What did coach Haith do to convince you to come here?
A: I grew up in Pontiac and was a Michigan fan. But I wouldn't actually say it was that hard of a decision. I had narrowed it down to four schools, but really it was Michigan State and Miami. Coach Haith definitely built a strong relationship with me. I definitely see the relationship going forward in a great way. I met him at the beginning of my junior season. Miami was the second the school to offer me. But they definitely made me feel more comfortable than anyone else. Plus, I have family down there.
Q: Your high school coach mentioned last week that you had made an unofficial visit to Miami. What were your impressions and how did it play a role in your decision to pick the Canes?
A: My trip was definitely good. I went at the start of winter, I think when they opened the season against a D-II school. The highlight was sitting down and talking with the coaches and getting to know the players. The one thing I could see right away is that they're not selfish. They try to work together to win basketball games. What impressed me the most was when I watched them play and I watched coach Haith and how much they respect him and how he gives them respect. It was great to see that. I saw it again when I watched them on TV a couple times. I really feel like I can fit in.
Q: How important was it to you that UM had as good a season as it did. I mean, a year ago the Canes were 12-20 and in last in the ACC. How much did their turnaround to 23-11 and the second round of the NCAA Tournament help you in picking them?
A: That was very important. I was able to see that they really are good and on their way up, they're building something. I needed to see there really was a winning attitude. Its hard to go to a school where you are not winning games. I see players coming in and know players who really want to be a part of something special. I see a team coming in now that is ready to take Miami to the next level. And I want to be a part of that. I'm definitely going to work hard to make Miami one of the best schools in the nation.
Q: How do you see yourself fitting in? Your coach compared you last week to [former Gator and Atlanta Hawks rookie] Al Horford. He's a little bigger than you, bulkier. Do you see yourself being like Horford at all?
A: I think my game is a lot like his. But I'm still trying to get as big as he is. Coach Haith told me he'd like for me to get to like 230 pounds by the time I get to Miami. They want me to get stronger. I could also be 6-9, 6-10 by then. I'm really just trying to pick my game up, but the ball on the ground more, working on my handles. I think I can be strong and quick. My game is really inside, not out. I mean, I can hit the shot from the outside. But I love getting to the basket, dominating down low.
** Along my pitstops at American, Miramar and Carol City Monday, I got a chance to speak with '09 football recruit and Rivals.com 4-star defensive end Olivier Vernon. While I'll have my complete report over on the high school blog later this afternoon, I figured I'd let you know Vernon now considers himself "a soft verbal" to Miami.
He says while the Hurricanes are still the team he wants to play for, he said other college coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban have intrigued him with the notion of playing a flex linebacker/defensive end position like Vernon's idol, Jason Taylor. This season, Vernon will start at middle linebacker for American. He said UM is only recruiting him as a defensive end.
I know the baseball Canes have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage in this blog. But I'll try to make it up to you at least in this edition with a Double Play Q&A with second baseman Jemile Weeks and Chris Hernandez, the best hitter and pitcher on the nation's No. 1-ranked baseball team.
Hernandez will get the start again Friday night when St. Mary's College visits for a three-game series. Coach Jim Morris told reporters Wednesday, he's going to leave Hernandez in the Friday night starter role even though sophomore Eric Erickson is now back at full strength. It's not a knock on Erickson -- just some high praise for Hernandez. And its a good problem for the Canes to have.
Q: Before the season started you told me you wouldn't be nervous at all even though you were a freshman and so far you've lived up to it. You are 7-0 with a 2.77 ERA, 71 Ks, 14 BBs and now you are the Friday night starter. Are you surprised at all you've had the type of freshman season you've had?
A: It happened. It came along. I really didn't look at things any differently. It's the same game. Same as pitching on Sundays and Fridays. I just go out there and do my job. And so far my job has been good enough to get the job done on Fridays. And all I'm looking to do is not change anything, stay who I am. I don't want to focus on that stuff because I don't want to get big headed. But I have sat back a couple of times and said 'Wow, I'm having a pretty good year.' I definitely didn't think I'd be No. 1 because we got [Eric] Erickson. But I'm definitely happy with how its turned out. It's gone a lot better than I thought it would have.
Q: Has it been tough getting adjusted to playing at the college level -- especially your studies and your health?
A: It's been an adjustment. I got to stay on top of my stuff, conditioning, working out and my elbow strength to make sure I don't get injured. It's been a little tough adjusting to it. But I'm adjusting to it fine. It feels good. The key with the academics has just been making lists for myself, making sure I turn everything in on time for my classes and get to my class on time.
Q: Tell me what you've enjoyed the most about this season. Obviously last Friday night had to be up there -- 8 innings, 11 strikeouts, 1-0 shutout win over Virginia. But what else have you enjoyed about playing on this team?
A: Friday was definitely a highlight. But so was FSU. I've never played in front of a crowd like that -- that atmosphere where they're all against you was awesome. I didn't want to let it affect me and it didn't. The whole thing has been a real experience. The traveling, the playing and going to school here. I've liked it, I've really liked it. I was nervous my first start. But after I threw that first pitch, from then on, it was just like I was back in high school with better hitters facing me. In the dugout, some of the fun things we do is put the catcher's gear on to get the rally going and things like that. That's always fun.
Q: Tell me about how maybe your experiences playing at Monsignor Pace helped you make this transition easier? I mean, you've played on the nation's No. 1-ranked team before, pitched in plenty of big games and won a state championship as a junior. How did playing at Pace help you?
A: We always played against the best competition. [Coach Tom] Duffin did a great job with that, always playing against the best competition and I think that's what prepped me for this level of ball and definitely the conditioning program got me ready for this. His coaching ability and staying on top of us. I had great experiences and winning state was probably one of the most exciting things I've done.
Q: Where did you play as a kid and when did you actually start pitching?
A: I started off at West [Pembroke] Pines. I started in coach pitch. I played first base and outfield. And then when I got to the level of pitching, about a year later, I started pitching. People saw I could throw the ball for strikes and get outs. From then on it went to pitching. Then, I played with the South Florida Stars and started traveling. We went to Cooperstown [Baseball Hall of Fame]. It was an experience I'll never forget.
Q: Is there a pitcher you compare yourself to?
A: A lot of people compare me to Greg Maddux because I throw all my pitches for strikes. But I really don't look into comparing because I want to be my own person. I do try and follow some of what Johan Santana does. And I want to be there one day, like him, playing on TV.
Q: Can you talk about your pitches and maybe how you are using them differently now in college? Any difference from what you did at Pace?
A: I'm throwing the same thing I did in high school -- fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. But my changeup has really moved up to be my third pitch. It used to be my last pitch. Now, I'm using it as my third pitch behind the cutter and its actually working well for me. It's getting strikeouts for me now. And I'm even landing it for my first strike. It's a big plus, big pitch in this game. In high school I never really used it. Now, I've been working on it and its working big for me and I really like it. I never really tried to overpower guys in high school. In my junior and senior year, I threw in the 80s. Now, I'm able to touch the 90s and work in the upper 80s and the changeup really works because it keeps them off balance and keeps them guessing. As far as my cutter is concerned, I've improved it with a different grip. [UM pitching coach] JD [Arteaga] helped with it. It really made it sharp at the end and helped me out a lot.
Q: Can you feel the swell of confidence this team has now when you step out on that field? Do you feel like the ace?
A: I think we're going to be confident with everybody on the mound. But it feels good to go out there as the ace. Because the ace you know they have more confidence in you. I always try to work to keep my team my team in the game. I don't really care about the strikeouts I just want to win the game.
Q&A WITH JEMILE WEEKS
Q: Talk about what it meant for you guys to go into Florida State and take two games from those guys? Was it the biggest series win of the season?
A: It was real big. We knew going in we were facing the No. 2 team in the nation and they played us like the No. 2 in the nation. We just went in there understanding what we had in front of us and we played our hearts out and came out with two wins. And it was a big confidence booster for our team. The ending? It was just uncalled for type of actions. But when it comes down right to it, its UM and Florida State and intensity is going to take over.
Q: You guys have been on a roll all season, do you get that feeling of invincibility?
A: We feel glimpses of it. We just never feel like we're out of the game. I think we still have to have that mentality where we believe we're playing for the championship every night. Everybody is out to beat us and we got to prove everyday that we're the best. It's one of those feelings where we know we can win, but we got to prove it.
Q: Can you talk about the way your season has been going considering how much time you missed last year and how much maybe that injury affected you? I mean, you are hitting lights out at .389 with 9 homers and 44 RBI in 40 games. Last year, in 50 games, you were at .298 with five homers and 27 RBI.
A: It's just a big improvement for me all around. It's just being healthy, being able to come to the field and know I can play the way I can play. It's definitely been pleasing to me. But to me, I'd like to finish strong instead of just starting strong and fizzling out.
Q: How often do you get to talk to your brother Rickie [the starting second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers]? What do you guys talk about? Do you tease him at all because your having such a great year and he's only hitting (.190) right now?
A: We try to schedule talks once, twice a week. We have a conflict every now and then and we miss a talk. But we always try to talk at least once a week. We just have the normal conversation between brothers. Every now and then, we'll get into the baseball aspect of things. He just congratulates me. But we're not going to dwell on it because he's just like me, we're not going to just sit on one game or two great games. Its how you finish. If I hit a home run or go three for four, he'll tell me good job. But we aren't going to throw a party for a few games.
Q: Coach talked to us last week about the grind on academics? He said the new schedule leaves you little time for your studies and homework? Is it tough?
A: He's right. It takes a toll on the academics. If you think about it, if you got five games a week and you get one day off from everything, school is just a portion of that day -- between traveling and practice. I mean you got to really manage your time to accomplish the things you want to accomplish.
Q: Does having the schedule like this help you though as a player to get you into a flow?
A: Definitely. I think it helps you get consistent. Once you feel good one day, you get that same confidence and feeling the next day.
Q: Last question -- so, Jack McClinton tells me you and him are in the same modern dance class. Are you going to be the next South Florida athlete on Dancing with the Stars?
A: I don't know if I could give Jason Taylor a run for his money. He's pretty good [laughter]. Our class, it's just modern dance type stuff. We haven't gotten into the tango or any of that other stuff. But its a lot of fun.
** LISTEN IN: Larry Blustein and I recorded a half hour podcast earlier this week. I got his thoughts on the spring games, who he thinks will shine among the '08 recruits who will be arriving soon and much more. Check out the audio out at The Countdown. By the way, be sure to check out Larry's radio show The Dolphins Gridiron Report on Thursday nights from 8 to 9 p.m. at 560 WQAM. He has college coaches and recruits on the show all the time.