ATLANTA -- Frank Haith put together a winning formula last season for the Hurricanes -- and it doesn't appear he's going to change it much. Last year, he helped the Hurricanes develop an emotional edge before games with the nobody believes in us, we have to prove people wrong battle cry. Miami started 12-0 and went from being picked to finish last in the ACC to finishing fifth in the conference, a 23-11 season and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
All season long, Haith kept telling his team to believe they could finish in the top half of the conference. And they did. Sunday, UM was picked to finish fourth at the end of the 2008-09 season. While expectations have obviously been raised and the Canes have morphed from the hunters to the hunted, Haith's message remains the same: Play with an edge and finish in the top half of the conference.
It won't be easy. The ACC is tougher. Last year, 65 percent of the conference's starters returned. This year, 73 percent of them are back -- including all five at likely No. 1-ranked North Carolina and a very young and talented Wake Forest team which is on the rise. Four, meanwhile, are back at UM, but also at Duke and Virginia Tech. There are plenty of other dangerous looking teams, too.
Florida State was picked to finish 10th Sunday by the media after finishing 19-15 last season and losing three backcourt stars. But the Noles look a lot like UM did two years ago when injuries ravaged their team, nobody picked them to do anything and they came out and stunned a lot of people the following season. FSU has one of the conference's top guards in Toney Douglas, a big frontcourt and a 6-9 swingman in Chris Singleton who was the player of the year in Georgia. The point is, any team in the ACC can be dangerous on any given night and nearly every team in the conference has a player that can win a game on his own.
As much hype as the Canes will receive over the next few weeks, you can worry about it getting to their heads. But the reality is, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Hungry and humble are the words Haith and his players kept uttering Sunday. And it looks like they mean it.
All right. I knew I said I wouldn't have anything else for you from the ACC Media Days. But I lied. Here are some more notes I just don't want to get stale.
> Frank Haith not only will have the most experienced team he's ever coached at UM this season with four seniors (Jimmy Graham, Brian Asbury, McClinton and Lance Hurdle) and a roster featuring a combined 226 starts, but probably his most talented and deepest team ever, too. Aside from the seniors, he has junior big man Dwayne Collins (40 career starts), junior guard James Dews (33 starts), junior forward and Arkansas transfer Cyrus McGowan, redshirt freshman center Julius Gamble, redshirt junior forward Adrian Thomas, sophomore point guard Eddie Rios and freshman swingman DeQuan Jones who are likely ready and able to play this season. That's a group of 11, not including freshman power forward Reggie Johnson (6-9, 290) who like Gamble will likely need a season to adjust physically to the college game.
Haith said Sunday he'd like to rotate nine and promised "Jack McClinton is not coming off the floor." Who the other eight are remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure its a safe better Graham, Hurdle, McGowan, Collins, Dews, Asbury and Gamble will all play. While Haith said Jones (6-6, 190) is going to play, he said his star recruit swingman still has a long way to go to get better on defense. Haith, whose defense improved to second-best in the ACC last year in field goal defense, isn't going to put someone on the floor if they can't play defense.
> Meanwhile, Haith keeps telling us yet again how improved Adrian Thomas is -- especially shooting. In a scrimmage Saturday night, Haith said Thomas made 7 of 10 three-point attempts and said he envisions Thomas in a role where he can play in the post and step out and shoot the three. Haith said Thomas' two-years on the sidelines contributed to his better shooting. "When all you can do is shoot," he said. "You are going to get a lot better at it."
> Haith said ultimately the two biggest keys to his team's success going forward are the point and the post. "If Lance continues to grow and we can continue to get consistency from Dwayne Collins production wise, the sky is the limit for this team," Haith said.
> Haith said Sunday Dwayne Collins has had the best preseason he's ever had at UM and is in the best physical shape he's ever been, too. He said he's been stressing consistency to Collins all summer and he's responded. He said if Collins can become a go-to double-figure scorer in the post "it would help our team immensely."
> Hurdle missed last week's practice with an ankle injury and is expected to miss another week this week and likely UM's exhibition opener. Haith said Hurdle's injury wasn't a bad high ankle sprain "just a small sprain." "The thing I love about Lance is he can guard people," Haith said. "If we can just avoid the foul trouble, then he'll really be able to help us. He'll have taken another step up."
> As for Jimmy Graham, expect him to be in the starting lineup at the start of the season for the Canes but for Haith to closely monitor the situation. Haith said he loves the energy Graham brings off the bench and could eventually move him back into a sixth-man role. "He's scoring more and finishing more around the basket, which is what we really like," Haith said. "He's always been a great defender and I think that's what we want him to understand who is."
> Look for Haith to try tinkering with his lineup plenty early on including going big at times with McClinton at the point alongside Jones, Asbury, Collins and Graham.
> The Canes play one of the country's most challenging schedules this year with a trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam, a December trip to Kentucky, a home date with NIT champion Ohio State and the usual tough ACC matchups including a trip to likely No. 1 North Carolina on Jan. 17 (I'm told it will be the first ESPN College Gameday night game of the year). There will be plenty of big TV appearances. Haith said Sunday there could be plenty more in 2009-2010. He said there have been some early talks with Tennessee for a home-and-home series and "a few other Top 25 teams." He said he would also like to renew a series with St. John's. UM likes to recruit the New York City area.
> If you find yourself wondering this season why Lance Hurdle, Julian Gamble, and Dwayne Collins look a little different this season, there is an explanation. Haith told his players this off season he wants them to look more presentable and each has responded on their own accord by getting rid of their cornrows/braids. Both Hurdle and Collins grew out their hair this summer and trimmed it to a more modern-looking fade cut. They aren't the only guys sporting new looks. Sophomore point guard Eddie Rios, who went with the Mr. Clean look last season, has grown his hair back and is likely to sport a beard this season.
> The ACC is making a strong push for the NCAA to pass legislation that would limit the amount of time college basketball players have to decide if they are going to enter the NBA Draft or return to school. Currently, college players have been allowed to enter their name into the draft, participate in NBA sponsored workouts for almost two months and still have time to come back to school.
The ACC believes the rule should limit that time to between 7 and 10 days after national signing day in April. There are several reasons -- one because the NBA spends the entire college basketball season scouting and two because the extra period of time puts college programs in a recruiting pickle. If a player doesn't decide for sure he's leaving until the last minute in June, coaches are usually left without a player to fill that scholarship.
"10 days?," Boston College guard Tyrese Rice said when posed with the idea Sunday. "That's a tough process. You want to sit down and think about it and talk to as many people as you can, get as much feedback as you can. I just don't feel like 10 days is enough to take care of that kind of business."
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was part of the ad-hoc committee put together by the ACC, along with associate commissioner Karl Hicks to discuss the proposed plan. Hicks said Sunday the earliest it could go into effect is not until the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season.
> As many of you probably know by now, the NCAA has moved the 3-point line back in men's basketball from 19-feet, 9-inches to 20-feet, 9-inches in attempt to open up more space down low. As Canes fans, there is no need to worry about Jack McClinton. He's hit some in the past from 25-feet out. The guys you should probably worry, according to Boston College's Tyrese Rice, are the big men, who step out and try to hit threes.
"I don't think it changes anything for guards," Rice said. "If you can hit it from 19-9, you can hit it from 20-9. I think it will affect the bigs that shoot the trailer three, things like that. Because that one step is like five steps back for them."
> Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn't been able to get the Blue Devils past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2005. But don't think for a second its wearing him down. Sunday, he talked at length about how reinvigorated he's become since leading the United States to the gold medal in Beijing this summer. "I'm not basketballed out," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not tired at all. I'm more excited to teach."
Duke returns ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Singler and should be better in the post with the addition of 6-10 freshman forward Miles Plumlee and the development of 7-1, 260-pound center Brian Zoubek. Last year, Duke was often dominated in the paint and had to win its games by shooting well from the outside. Gerald Henderson said Sunday Duke won't be that team anymore.
As for Kyzyzewski, he talked about the rise of the Canes and gave all the credit to Haith. "He's an outstanding coach. But he's also a good guy and a team player," Krzyzewski said. "I think Frank is a guy kids would really like to play for. He's putting his stamp [on the program]. He's a really good hire for Miami. The school itself is a really good school. But he has one of the better teams in the country right now. He understands he was developing a program and not just building a team for a season."
> OK, enough basketball for now. You'll get your football fix tomorrow with my Wake Forest progress report.