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26 posts from March 2009

March 28, 2009

Spring game thoughts

FORT LAUDERDALE -- It's hard to really measure this spring game since I came away feeling like we only saw about 25 percent of UM's playbook, and about half of the expected starters were kept out with injuries. That being said, Eye On The U will still provide you with what we learned from Saturday's spring game, who impressed, who didn't and what was said after it was over.

GAME BALL: Running back Damien Berry. He didn't do go up against the first team defense, but Berry Damien Berry was still by far the most impressive individual performer of Saturday's game. His 54-yard touchdown run and backflip into the end zone was the most impressive play of the day. For a guy who made the move from safety to running back last season and spent all of last year on the scout team (where he earned Scout Team MVP), Berry impressed me with his breakaway speed on several runs, including his toughness to not only take on safeties head on, but barrel over them. With a healthy Javarris James, Graig Cooper, Lee Chambers and Mike James, Berry is probably fifth on the depth chart at running back. But injuries happen -- like they did this spring. And it's good know when given the chance Berry is going to run hard.

IMPRESSED ME AWARD: OK, so Taylor Cook isn't going to exactly win a Heisman anytime soon. But Saturday, he looked like the clear-cut backup to Jacory Harris. Granted, it was against the second team defense. But at one point, the 6-7, 232-pound redshirt freshman completed nine passes in a row, showing us he can get into a rhythm and handle the short-to-mid range passing game if needed. He completed 11 of his 14 attempts for 103 yards and led UM on a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive before giving way to Cannon Smith at the 11, who capped the drive with a 1-yard TD pass to John Calhoun. Coach Randy Shannon said afterward none of the backups separated themselves and that he'd have to watch the film. But the film won't lie. Cook has improved and is definitely the front runner to be Jacory's backup. 

SHANNON SAID: "Very happy [with how the spring went]. We went through the spring adding in a new offense, new defense, and you watched the players come out today and they executed a lot of great things. You see a guy like Damien Berry run the ball pretty well. Mike James did a lot of good things. Taylor Cook, the guy came in and worked well with the twos but also came in late in the game and got another touchdown with the ones. You're starting to see the team gel a lot and do the things we want to get done... We're a whole lot better. We've got more players. We feel we've done a great job in recruiting – our numbers are up. My first year and second year we played a lot of freshmen. Now these freshmen are sophomores, and you can see the difference from last year to now. And guys coming in like Mike James, Brandon Washington, Olivier Vernon – those guys coming in are going to make a difference in next year's season because of what they've learned."

EYE OPENING STAT: Jacory Harris and the first team offense didn't score. It was by far their worst day of the spring. But the first team defense had a lot to do with it. Harris was only 9 of 16 for 141 yards and an INT. Graig Cooper, who took all the first team carries, had just four yards on seven carries. The secondary did a nice job winning several one-on-one battles despite giving up a few long pass plays. There were four pass breakups in all, including ones by Chavez Grant, Brandon Harris and Sam Shields. Randy Phillips had an interception on a deflected pass batted away by Harris.

Spring Game highlights, stats

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Greetings from Lockhart Stadium where the Canes are set to kickoff the spring game at 10:30 a.m. If you don't have CSS or don't have a radio (WQAM will broadcasting it), I'll be here to provide you with highlights throughout.

In case you hadn't heard or haven't paid attention this spring there are a few guys out for today's game: RB Javarris James (wrist), RB Lee Chambers (shoulder), OL Joel Figueroa (shoulder), LB Colin McCarthy (shoulder), TE Dedrick Epps (knee), DT Allen Bailey (undisclosed), DE Adewale Ojomo (wrist), DE Eric Moncur (groin), WR Travis Benjamin (knee), CB Brandon McGee (hand) and K Matt Bosher (shoulder). 

> Looks like you can add linebacker Ramon Buchanon to the injured list. He's out, too.

> The format for the game today (the scoring system): Offense (TD - 6 pts, FG - 3 pts, PAT - 1 pt, Cross 50-yard line 1 pt, 1st down 1 pt) and Defense (TD -  6 pts, Fumble recovery 2 pts, INT 2 pts, 3-and-out 1 pt).

> First team offense: QB Jacory Harris, RB Graig Cooper, FB Patrick Hill, WR LaRon Byrd, WR Kendal Thompkins, TE Richard Gordon, LT Jason Fox, LG Orlando Franklin, C A.J. Trump, RG Harland Gunn, RT Matt Pipho. 

> First team defense: DE Olivier Vernon, DE Marcus Robinson, DT Josh Holmes, DT Joe Joseph, LB Jordan Futch, LB Daryl Sharpton, LB Sean Spence, CB Brandon Harris, CB Demarcus Van Dyke, S Randy Phillips, S Vaughn Telemaque.

FIRST HALF HIGHLIGHTS

> Backup running back Damien Berry scored the only touchdown of the first half when he broke free on a 54-yard run versus the second team defense. Berry did a backflip as he crossed the goalline. Berry has nine carries for 88 yards thus far. He also had a pair of impressive runs on third and fourth downs. He picked up a first down on third and six when he barreled over safety Joe Wylie on 3rd and 6. Then, on fourth and 1, he broke free for a 17 yard run to the 50-yard line.

> Kicker Jake Wieclaw converted a 41-yard field goal, but missed a 22-yarder right before the half. 

SECOND HALF HIGHLIGHTS

> Backup quarterback Taylor Cook leads the offense on a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive. He hands the ball over to Cannon Smith with the offense on the 11-yard line and Smith finds John Calhoun for a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth and goal.

> Freshman Mike James scores the scrimmages final touchdown on a 3-yard run late in the game.

TEAM STATISTICS

> First downs: 17 (6 rushing, 11 pssing, 2 penalties). Rushing: (33 attempts, 158 gained, 27 lost, 131 total). Passing: (38 attempts, 26 completions, 275 yards, 1 INT). Offensive plays: 71. Net yards: 406 (5.7 avg). Return yards: 25. Fumbles-lost: 1-0. Interceptions: 1-25.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

> RUSHING: Berry 14-114, 1 TD, 54 long; M. James 6-14, 1 TD, 7 long; P. Hill 4-4, 3 long; Cooper 7-4, 6 long; A. Johnson 1-0; J. Harris 1-(-5).

> PASSING: J. Harris 9-16, 141 yards, 1 INT, Long 33; Cook 11-14, 103, 34 long; C. Smith 6-8-, 31, 1 TD, 8 long.

> RECEIVING: Collier 5-65, long 26; A. Johnson 4-23, long 8; Calhoun 3-13, 1 TD, long 5; Thompkins 2-45, long 34; Byrd 2-43, long 29; M. James 2-13, long 15; Adderley 2-11, long 7; Berry 2-11, long 7; Hankerson 1-33; Byrne 1-7; D. Johnson 1-7; Gordon 1-4.

> FIELD GOALS: Wieclaw 1-2 (made 41, miss 22)

> INTERCEPTIONS: R. Phillips 1-25

> FUMBLES/LOST: Cooper 1-0

> DEFENSIVE STATISTICS: Grant 3-2-5, 1 PBU; Nicholas 0-4-4; K. Robinson 1-3-4; Futch 1-2-3, 1 TFL, 1 PBU; Spence 2-1-3, 1 TFL; Vernon 2-2-4, 1 sack (-5); B. Harris 3-1-4, 1 TFL, 1 PBU; R. Hill 1-4-5; Regis 1-0-1; Wylie 4-1-5; Smith 0-5-5; Wesley 1-2-3; Telemaque 1-0-1; Van Dyke 4-1-5; Campbell 1-1-2; Shields 1-1-2, 1 PBU; Forston 1-3-4, 1 TFL; A. Brown 1-1-2; Lewis 1-0-1; Holton 2-0-2, 1 TFL; Phillips 1 INT; ; Sharpton 3-1-4; M. Robinson 0-1-1.

March 27, 2009

Spring Game festivities underway

CORAL GABLES -- There's more to the Spring Game at the University of Miami than just a scrimmage. This year, It's become more like a party/reunion for former Hurricanes. Friday afternoon, the festivities kicked off unofficially as dozens of former Canes took from different generations stood and watched the final practice of the spring from the sidelines at Greentree Practice Field.

It was almost like the Who's Who of Canes nation. Former coach Jimmy Johnson, assistants Don Soldinger and Art Kehoe were there. Andre Johnson, Jon Beason, Darrin Smith and a boatland of other former current and NFL players were there too. There's a private dinner Friday night where most of these guys will sit down and chow down together. Most are expected back Saturday at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium for the spring game, which begins at 10:30 a.m. and is preceded by an autograph session with current players at 9 a.m.

If you want to continue to rub elbows with a long list of former Canes greats, you can head on over to Miami Prime Grill, a sportsbar located at 16395 Biscayne Blvd in North Miami Beach once the scrimmage is over. Kehoe, who has had a part in all five national championships won by the Hurricanes, will be honored by his peers and presented with the Canes 4 Life Lifetime Dedication Award, which is being sponsored by CaneSport.com. I'm planning to be there too.

> Not a ton to report from Friday's practice except more big plays by the offense. The first one belonged to running back Damien Berry, who scooted past the first team defense for a 54-yard run before being pushed out of bounds (strength coach Andreu Swasey tried selling it as a touchdown). Leonard Hankerson hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass from Jacory Harris, beating Brandon Harris on a deep post route. Graig Cooper scored on a 60-yard run, proving to us once and for all he's not going to get chased down every time. Receiver Thearon Collier had a nice run on a reverse handoff that netted about 30 yards once he was done running through the defense.

> There were several 2009 signees in attendance including quarterback A.J. Highsmith and Sanford Seminole standouts Ray Ray Armstrong and Dyron Dye, who made their first apperances at UM since signing with the Canes in February. Tight end Stephen Plein, who has been to nearly every spring practice, was also in attendance. 

> I'll have more for you later including an interview with redshirt freshman receiver Kendal Thompkins. 

End of the year wrap-up with Frank Haith

His team has been to the postseason four of the five years he's been here, second only in the ACC to North Carolina, Duke and Maryland which have been there all five. He's made the University of Miami a major player for some of the nation's top recruits -- from Devin Ebanks a year ago to the country's No. 1 recruit this season John Wall (who will be making an on-campus visit sometime after the McDonald's All-American Game). And he's elevated Miami's basketball program from the depths former coach Perry Clark left it at by making the Hurricanes a relevant player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Frank Haith has coached UM to four postseason appearances in the past five years. Only Duke, North Carolina and Maryland have been to the postseason more often in the ACC. So why does it feel like Frank Haith is getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment instead of the love Norman Dale felt at the end of Hoosiers? Why are some crazy fans calling Haith a failure and calling for his head after he couldn't take Jack McClinton and a senior-laden team back to the NCAA Tournament? Because there are very few people in South Florida who appreciate and understand how tough it is to win in college basketball. Because at The U (forget that, every sport in Miami) everything is measured by championships and greatness.

Haith understands that. He's learned that in his five years on the job. But just because the 43-year old coach knows there's still work to be done to get the Canes where he wants them to be and to turn more fans onto college basketball in South Florida, he's not about to jump ship. Even though some internet message posters and people on this blog say UM needs a bigger name coach, Haith sees signs of progress, hope, believers in him and his program. Although he admits it hurt him to see only 2,000 people in attendance on Senior Day when Jack McClinton was honored earlier this month (that was before the game started and when the ceremony took place), Haith said he was touched last week when he received a standing ovation from fans when he walked out of AmericanAirlines Arena during the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  

Friday morning when I caught up with Haith for about an hour interview over the phone, he sounded just as passionate about his aspirations for this program as the day when I first met him a little more than three years ago. But he also sounded like someone whose learned a lot and is willing to try new things to make basketball work at UM. He talked about why no one should believe he'd leave no matter if the job pays more or has better tradition or support from its fan base. He made a passioned plea about how fans shouldn't see his team's 19-13 season and loss to Florida last week in the second round of the NIT as a step back. And he talked about the future, how he expects a Top 20 recruiting class (one that could strengthen even more) to take his program to the next level, and how the 2009-10 season should not be seen as a rebuilding year. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation...

MN: At the beginning of this season you guys were ranked in the Top 25, picked to finish fourth in the ACC and you fell short of that. But I get the sense you don't see it as huge of a disappointment as others. How would you sum up the season?
Jack McClinton had 31 points against Wake Forest in UM's most impressive win of the season. FH: "I think it was disappointing what happened to us, but it was not a disappointing season. Other people may look at it differently. But I think this team had a lot of bright moments, beating a Top 10 team like Wake Forest by 27 points at home. Jack [McClinton] makes All-ACC First Team for the second year in a row. Here's the thing, you can't just look at what we're doing here year-by-year. When you look at a five year period, we've won more games than anybody in the history of the program, more postseason games than anybody in the history of the program. There are a lot of positives you can draw. I think we've made basketball pretty relevant. It's not because we're winning, but because attendance is getting better. Our student section has gotten a lot better. We're getting involved with big time recruits. Every year, there are a lot of teams that would love to do what we've done. that. I think other than UNC, Duke, Maryland we've been to the postseason more than anybody. I'm really proud of that. That's a nice thing this program can hang their hat on as far progress."

MN: But is that going to be enough for you to want to stay here? There have been rumors out there linking you to other jobs like Alabama, Georgia, Arizona. Here's a two-part question: Have you been contacted by anybody? And ultimately, what would it take for you to leave Miami?
FH: "For the record, I have not been contacted by anybody. Not this year. I have been in the past and I've told you about that. But right now, it's only rumors and speculation. Here's the thing, I don't work everyday looking for my next job. I'm really seriously looking to stay here for the long haul. I love living here. But I do want to win."

MN: So does it bother you when fans say things like 'He should be fired'? Do you take it to heart?
FH:  "I know our fan base is kind of disgruntled about this season. It is a little mind boggling. We've improved. I know what the program was like when I got here. Like I said, we've made UM basketball relevant. But in terms of jobs, I don't look at certain jobs and say I want that one day. I just really want to win. And I want to win big here. Obviously, every coach will say that. But I really want to win big. I want to do to help that program win big. I don't know. Are there things we can get better at? Yes. Do we still have areas we need to improve on? Yes. Our fan base is getting better. Our student turnout has improved tremendously. The energy in the building has gotten better. We just need it more consistently. To win big, we need a home court advantage."

Frank Haith said the only thing that could drive him away from Miami is a feeling of a lack of appreciation and support from the administration. MN: Do you feel like you can have that here? Do you feel like the support you have or could have will be enough to make you feel comfortable, to make you feel like you can win big here?
FH: "As long as I can feel like... [pause] Here's the thing, [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt] and the president [Donna Shalala] have been great. As a coach, you are always skeptical when the guy that hired you is no longer here. But Kirby and I have a really good relationship. It's made me even more comfortable being here. And I have the best president in the world, who is so, so supportive. You don't know how many times I've gotten pick me up texts or emails from her. It honestly makes it difficult to look elsewhere. I'm very loyal and appreciative of people giving me opportunities. That's just who I am and I want to be here as long as Miami people want me to be here. And I hope that's for a long of time."

MN: So is there something that could drive you away?
FH: "If I don't feel there's appreciation and support. Not just from the fans, but from the athletic department. But that's not what I feel. I feel like people want to see us succeed. It definitely made me feel good last week when I was leaving the Cleveland State-Syracuse game and fans got up and gave me a standing ovation. Like I said before, I'm real proud of the support we've come to earn from the students, too."

MN: Let's get back to basketball. Not to put the blame on anybody,  but were there guys you were counting on this past season that just didn't come through for you that ultimately led to the 19-13 finish and the second round loss in the NIT?
FH: "I don't point to guys, I point to situations. Who would have known Lance Hurdle was going to be hurt at the beginning of the year and miss, four or five games. Who would have known the situation with Eddie Rios would play out the way it did? It definitely hurt us not having that third ball-handler, having to put Jack at the point. Who would have known Dwayne [Collins] would turn his ankle down toward a crucial part of our schedule? Who would have known Jack would have an injury at the worst time of the year. You talk personnel, but we were one win away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament. We lost four games on final possessions. I don't know if we can point to one guy or one situation. The one thing I can point to as a whole was free throw shooting. That won us a lot of close games last year. And we really didn't shoot free throws well all year. That made a difference."

MN: Let's look ahead to next year. In the five years you've been here, you've had that go-to guy for big shots. Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite and then Jack McClinton. Are you guys going to have that guy next year? Can you survive without one?
FH: "I think if you go back to when Rob was a senior and Guillermo decided to go pro, you asked me the same question then. Nobody then knew about Jack McClinton. Yet, he turned out to be that guy. I think the same thing could happen with this team. And if it doesn't, tha's still OK, too. This team may not have a 20 point scorer when those guys leave. But I think we're going to have a number of guys that can score for us. I think our offense will be spread around. We're going to be young, but athletic and we're still going to have a few seniors, too. I think James Dews, Dwayne Collins, Malcolm Grant, Dequan Jones, Durand Scott, all those guys could score. Maybe that will be good for this team, more guys that can score. I would think Dwayne could be that go-to scorer in the post."

Dwayne Collins reached double figures in scoring only once during the final 11 games of the season. MN: Speaking about Dwayne, there were moments this year -- I think back to that dunk over UConn's Hasheem Thabeet -- when he lookied so promising, so dominant. And then, there were moments when he could not score, couldn't do much at all. Do you worry at all he's just not ever going to be that consistent guy?
FH: "I think with Dwayne it's his motor. He's a really good player, who can defend. But he's got to get that consistent motor. When he does, he can be one of the best big men in the country. When he realizes that potential. We're going to hammer it home this summer. He's going to be one of the best big men not only in the ACC, but the country. He has to be a tremendous spark all the time. You're right. At the beginning of the year, he played with tremendous energy and had moments where he was not as good. But I think he played really hard. He just didn't have a lot of breaks. I think that's what he boils down to. He has to realize great players can't turn it on and off."

MN: Without Jack and the offense you guys ran for him and with a lot these new additions, one has to believe you guys are going to look a lot different on both sides of the ball this coming season. Can we expect a different attack?
FH: No question. I think athletically, we'll be our most athletic team ever next year. With Dequan being able to play more of his style next year, I expect him to be a totally different player. I think the one thing we will be able to do, which we really haven't is extend the floor more. We didn't have a lot of depth. I'm not saying we're going to be a full court press team. But we'll spread the team more with our length and have our hands in guys' faces more because we're bigger and more athletic.

Malcolm Grant, who sat out a season after transferring in from Villanova, is expected to be a force in the backcourt next season for UM. MN: What is Malcolm Grant going to be able to give you guys that maybe you didn't have this season?
FH: "He's going to give us a true point guard that can score. The type of player he is, he'll do things help guys become really good. He's going to make guys around him better. He'll get them shots. I think Malcolm can do that. He's also really skilled. He can shoot the basketball. He's not your typical New York guard. He's also got a great feel for the game. Him and Durand [Scott] both are guys who can drive the ball. That's one thing we weren't very good at. We're not going to be as good a three-point shooting team. But we'll be able to run. When Jack played the one this year, we could not run. We were a little bit better when Lance [Hurdle] had the ball. But there's no question he was not the same Lance he was two years ago. I think next year's team will have more athletes, Dequan, Garrius [Adams], Durand and even with Dews coming back. Plus, a couple other guys we'll add on our team. I think this will be a team that can run. Don't get me wrong, we'll still have a bruising effect. Julian [Gamble], Cyrus [McGowan], Dwayne, there will be big bodies. Plus, a guy like Adrian Thomas, who had a nice run, will add his abilities. I think we got a lot of guys who will contribute."

MN: It sounds like you feel pretty confident about next year's team. Most people probably think you won't be very good without Jack, that this might be a rebuilding year. But it sounds like you feel differently...
FH: "I think we're still going to be good. Yes, it's going to be an extremely young team with only two, three seniors. But I don't ever want our team not to focus on postseason. Our goal is to make postseason. Obviously we'll be young and most people probably won't expect us to be competitive. But maybe that will be great for us. We won't be on anybody's radar and that will be good for us. What I want is for this team to be tough. I don't know if we were as tough this year as we were last year. I think we'll be a tougher team. That's the thing that hurt us this year. We could not do all the things we needed to do all the time because we had knicks and pains we didn't want to turn into something else. We need to be bruisers and have a tough man mentality. If we do, I think we'll definitely be back in the hunt."

MN: Beyond Malcolm Grant, it seems like right now you don't have another primary ballhandler lined up for next year with Eddie Rios gone. Is this something you'll address through recruiting? FH: "[Recruiting is] one way. But to be honest with you I think we have a few other guys who could handle the rock. Durand is a guy who can play all over the floor. At 6-6, he's a lot like [ACC Rookie of The Year] Sylvan Landesberg. I'm not saying he's him. But Durand can play the 1, 2, or 3. We also have another young man I can't talk about [Antoine Allen] who will be coming and we could sign another perimeter player [possibly John Wall]. We definitely don't want to go into next year without enough ballhandling. You got to have enough ballhandlers to be successful. That being said, we did win 19 games with only two ball handlers."

A game with Rick Pitino and Louisville, this year's top seed in the NCAA Tournament, could be the marquee out of conference game for UM next season. MN: Last question: Anything you can tell us about next year's schedule?
FH: "Here's what I know for sure. We're playing in Charleston in a preseason tournament ESPN is putting together. I hear South Carolina and Penn State are going to be there, too. We're going to play FAU again and we're going to have a Big Ten Challenge game at home because we'll play an ACC game at home in December. The Big Ten game might be against Indiana. We're still looking for a home and home series. Our schedule just won't be as heavy as it was last year. We'll still have some very good matchups. Right now, because Rick [Pitino] and I are good friends, there is talk of us maybe playing at Louisville. But that's kind of still in the air."

March 26, 2009

Spring Buzz-O-Meter: No. 22 tops list

CORAL GABLES -- One of the best things about this spring has been the amount of access coach Randy Shannon has given us -- the media. Each day I've been out there, I've had a chance to catch up with a group I like to refer to as the U's Veteran Watch Committee, a group of about four or five older gentlemen who have probably seen just about every Canes' football practice for the last gazillion years.

I don't want to shed any light on their identities because it might endanger their safety. But take my word for it, there might not be better sources when it comes to the development and comparison of Canes players beyond the coaching staff than these guys. After all, they've been there just about every day for every practice. How special are they? Coach Randy Shannon usually walks off the field with them, sharing laughs and whatever thoughts might cross their minds.

I have to admit, I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with UVWC this spring. Not only are they die-hard green and orange bleeders who wear their colors proudly to every practice, but they're realistic too. They don't jump on the bandwagon with one-hit wonders. To impress the UVWC you not only have to show it every day in practice, but you got to do it when there are zebras on the field.

With that in mind and with the spring game on tap this Saturday at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium, I went to the UVWC earlier this week to gauge their thoughts on The Top 5 newcomers/new position guys who have really stood out this spring and created real buzz and hope about their future. We shared notes (NOTE: When you talk with the UVWC, you don't refer to players by name. You refer to their jersey numbers) and these are the players the UVWC feels most excited about. This should certainly help you if you will be attending the team's final scrimmage on Saturday.

1. (No. 22) Mike James, running back: He's not only become the media's favorite, but left tackle Jason Fox's as well. Mr. Fox provided the most glowing quotes about James to date this spring after Wednesday's practice.

Mike James' smile wasn't the only thing creating a buzz at this year's spring practices. "I honestly think he’s a really special guy," Fox said. "He’s probably my favorite incoming freshman so far. What I like most about him is he’s a hard worker and he studies a lot. We were going through some stuff the other day and he was coaching the other guys out there in blitzes and protections. He’s a smart guy. Every time I see him before practice I see him in his playbook. Before practice today he was just looking through his playbook. He’s just a dedicated guy. When you can get a few guys like that, that’s what it takes to win.

"He’s a hard runner too. I’m not going to compare him to Baby J and Coop. But he’ll make a tough run, bang out 10 yards or something and he’ll be the first one back in the huddle. He’s just an explosive guy, runs tough, runs with his pads low. It’s hard to believe he’s just a freshman. He’s a very coachable guy. Whenever you talk to him all he wants to do is get better. Whether its an older player or coach, he’s always there wanting to be coached and wanting to get better."

The UVWC agrees. Although they aren't ready to dub the 215-pound, 5-11-inch inch freshman (he's shorter than 5-11) the next great one, they say few Hurricanes backs have possessed his abilities to run between the tackles and power over guys the way he does. To be honest, James doesn't remind me of any Canes before him at all. He actually reminds me of a Gator who wore the same number (22) and did some amazing things with the Dallas Cowboys.

2. (No. 7) Vaughn Telemaque, safety: Truth be told, there probably isn't going to be a newcomer who makes a bigger impact than VT, who among the players in this group will likely be the only one who starts against Florida State on Sept. 7. Telemaque has natural ballhawk abilities which have drawn comparisons from coach Randy Shannon to former Canes great Ed Reed. The UVWC expects him to make an immediate impact because not only does VT not shy away from making big hits on running backs, but he's very good at getting a hand in to bat balls away from receivers at the last second. According to the UVWC, he's kind of a hybrid of Sean Taylor and Ed Reed.

3. (No. 86) Tommy Streeter, receiver: The UVWC loves Streeter's size (6-5, 200). But what they love even more are those long legs and speed (4.4), which he uses to jet past shorter corners and safeties with ease. What Streeter adds to an already loaded receiving corps is the ability to go deep and have a player who catch the ball at its highest point so often he makes it look easy. Like I told the UVWC, expect Streeter to become the great deep threat Lance Leggett never did.

4. (No. 83) Kendall Thompkins, receiver: Another receiver who was redshirted last year, but one who has certainly caught the eye of the UVWC. Thompkins, I've been told by his former offensive coaches at Miami Northwestern, was the clear-cut best route runner on his team (one that included Aldarius Johnson and Streeter). Earlier this week, cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke said the 5-11, 170-pound redshirt freshman is kind of like a Roscoe Parrish. The UVWC and I disagree. Think more of a Sinorice Moss.

5. (No. 35) Olivier Vernon, defensive end: There's probably a good chance Vernon doesn't play much this coming season because of the amount of depth at the position. But they like what they see in the 6-2, 250-pound true freshman in terms of work ethic and pass rushing ability. If Vernon stays healthy, I think he could end up becoming what Eric Moncur was supposed to be.

March 25, 2009

Stoutland: O-Line depth has ways to go

Beyond backup quarterback, it hasn't been hard to see this spring what one of the major concerns is going to be on offense heading into next season. Tied for second on the very questionable list: Second team left tackle, second team left guard, second team center, second team right guard and second team right tackle.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland prepares his players for practice. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said Wednesday his mission this spring was to try and find guys for those spots and establish a rough draft of a working eight to nine man rotation he could put on the field Saturdays (like he's done in each of his previous two seasons at Miami). Consider the job partially done at best. What Stoutland has really been able to do after 13 spring practices is figure out junior Matt Pipho can really be his starting right tackle (he's shown enough consistency), and that his three talented newcomers -- Ben Jones, Brandon Washington and Jermaine Johnson -- are better off in different spots than he initially thought. The rest really remains unknown.

"Our first group is a lot further along than our second group," Stoutland said. "Our first group is really clicking right now. Second group is just a lot of young people."

Jones, who began the season backing up Matt Pipho at right tackle, has been moved to the left side. Johnson, who began on the left side, has been moved to backup right tackle (where he told Stoutland he feels more comfortable). And Washington, who began at right guard and has since been moved to left guard, can likely play anywhere if needed.

The good news is all three appear talented enough -- along with right guard Harland Gunn (who has taken advantage Joel Figueroa has been out with an injury this spring) -- where they could be serious contirbutors down the road. But it's obvious they have plenty of work to do this spring and summer if they hope to turn the corner and really earn a spot in the roation. “There’s still a lot of teaching going on,” Stoutland said of his second team. “But they’re going to be good players down the road.”

Jones, who played mostly right tackle in high school, has to "learn and kick from a new standpoint," Stoutland said. "But I’m happy with him. He’s a real good athlete. He didn’t play at all last year. He was injured twice. It was hard to develop him. But he’s really come a long way this spring. If he continues to improve like that, then we’ve added more depth."

As for Washington, Stoutland says, "When he gets in that weight room full time, you’ll see him change a little bit." Stoutland said there is still a lot to like about Washington, especially his smarts and maturity after playing a year in prep school. "You talk about a bright kid, he’s very, very intelligent. We can do a lot of things with him and you only have to coach him once. He’s not going to [make a mistake] next time. He could actually, like Orlando [Franklin] did, end up helping us this year. He can play tackle, center. He’s extremely bright. Right now we got him playing left guard. Before he’s done here, who knows where he’ll play."

Joel Figueroa missed the spring with an arm injury > While Gunn has played the entire spring with the first team at right guard, don't expect him to remain there when Joel Figueroa returns this fall. "I can’t wait to get back to coaching Fig again. I believe he’s going to be a force," Stoutland said. "I think the best thing to happen to Harland was Fig not playing. Now we’ve established some depth. But Fig is really going to have to drop in a bucket [for him not to start]. I have a lot of confidence in that guy. I think all of our players do. Still, our guards have always rotated. So, Harland Gunn is going to play."

> Wednesday's practice had too many amazing offensive plays to mention. In fact, the offense really has dominated a lot this spring. Left tackle Jason Fox summed it up the best Wednesday -- and certainly laid the foundation for some trash talking heading into Saturday's Spring Game at Lockhart Stadium.

"I think the defense has won maybe one practice so far this spring," Fox said. "I don’t know if you watched practice but I think we scored every other play. We’ll see what happens Saturday. But we plan on... I'm just going to stop right there."

March 24, 2009

DVD looking to rebound; Baby J hurt again

CORAL GABLES -- Part of what makes spring football exciting for college football players across the country is that it is an opportunity to put what could have been a bad regular season behind you. It's a chance to show coaches you are going into the fall -- when it matters -- with something positive to build off of.

DeMarcus Van Dyke Consider Hurricanes cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke on that list. After a freshman season in which he started eight games, Van Dyke took a step back as a sophomore. He started only twice and often found himself lost in former defensive coordinator Bill Young's coverage schemes. When he had chances to make plays, he didn't make them. He dropped at least two interceptions and got beat for the winning touchdown catch in a loss to North Carolina. At one point during the season, he was relegated to playing only in dime coverage situations.

"The one thing I think did well my freshman year was that I played with confidence," said Van Dyke, who has yet to record an interception "People thought my freshman year I was going to go out there and play scared. But I did what my coaches wanted me to do. My second year, it really didn't go that way, but I'm not worried about it, that's last year. I'm moving forward."

Consider Van Dyke ready to rebound. 

He says likes the new coverage schemes in new coordinator John Lovett's defense because "we're doing a lot more technique stuff and playing from top down instead of bottom up." 

Whatever new things the defense is doing, consider Van Dyke in dire need of doing them well. UM needs him to. The cornerback position is wide open -- and thin. Aside from Van Dyke, the only veteran corners are senior Chavez Grant (whose played nickel his entire UM career) and sophomore Brandon Harris. There are other veterans. But seniors Sam Shields (converted wide receiver) and Ryan Hill (safety last season) played other positions before this spring. The other guy in the rotation is freshman Brandon McGee (who is still practicing by the way despite reports of his broken finger). 

The good news for Van Dyke (who missed the first week of spring with a knee strain injury he suffered during a track meet in January) is he's facing one heck of a receiving corps day in and day out. 

"They can become the top receiving crew to ever come through Miami," Van Dyke said. "They have so many different styles. Laron Byrd can go deep and be physical. Aldarius [Johnson] too. Leonard Hankerson, he's big and fast. Tommy Streeter is tough. Kendal Thompkins, I call him the Roscoe Parrish of the group. Going up against them definitely makes you better. They're probably the best receiving group in the nation."

Van Dyke didn't make any interceptions at Tuesday's practice (the first since the team's second scrimmage of the spring on March 12). But he did bat a few passes away during the light workouts at Greentree Practice Field (which took place in shorts and helmets). Here are some more notes/observations...

Javarrisjames > THE NEWS OF THE DAY: Running back Javarris James will not be participating in the Spring Game this Saturday. James was working off to the side with trainers and appeared to be focusing on his left shoulder. The injury might have happened in the team's last scrimmage. UM Sports Information office didn't tell us what the injury was. It's definitely bad news for Baby J considering injuries have ruined his previous two seasons. A bum shoulder would be a new place for him. A neck injury slowed him as a sophomore. A high ankle sprain and sore groin slowed him even more last year. 

> TOP PLAYS: Freshman running back Mike James continues to impress. He made a great catch on a pass over the middle deflected by safety Jojo Nicholas. James kept his eye on the ball and caught it in stride before racing into the end zone during 11 on 11 work; cornerback Ryan Hill made a nice interception reaching out with his back facing the quarterback to steal a pass away from receiver Davon Johnson; Johnson made up for it a few plays later when he broke free for about a 30-yard touchdown catch when both Chavez Grant and Sam Shields followed Laron Byrd over the middle, leaving Johnson wide open.

> Yes, I'm back on the beat. For those of you wondering where I was I had a double whammy when I got back from Providence Thursday. My best friend got married (I'm not making it up) and I moved into my new home. The Herald was nice enough to give me five days off in a row. I had to take advantage of every minute to get through both of those hurdles. I'll have my interview with athletic director Kirby Hocutt tomorrow. 

March 18, 2009

NIT blog: UM 78, Providence 66 (F)

PROVIDENCE -- We're definitely in the NIT. An ugly first half of basketball here from the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Ugly, but still kind of pretty for UM considering how this team looked last week against Virginia Tech.

Miami has a 33-28 lead at the break despite 12 first half turnovers. While the Canes have been sloppy handling the basketball, they've done a great job rebounding. 11 offensive rebounds have led to 12 second chance points. UM also has done a good job scoring in the paint. Jack McClinton still doesn't look like the old Jack McClinton, but he's at least got a bit of his three-point stroke back. He's got 9 points on 3 of 8 shooting to go with four boards.

The Canes should be up more, but Providence exposed their weakness -- the full court press -- right before the half. UM turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions to and the Friars went on a 6-0 run to cut into the Canes' 33-22 lead. If Miami can protect the basketball better and continue to rebound well, they've got a great shot of moving on.

By the way, I spoke with UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt -- who nearly didn't make it to tonight's game -- right before tipoff. I'll have my interview with him tomorrow. If UM wins, they'll play at Florida (assuming the Gators win) on Friday night. 

Eye On The U Bracket Pool

PROVIDENCE -- Still haven't filled out a bracket? Interested in becoming the expert bracket person here at Eye On The U? The clock is ticking. You've got 18 hours before the tournament gets started.

Join our bracket pool over at Yahoo. It's free. No grand prize -- just bragging rights and the opportunity to write a guest blog after next weekend's spring game. I filled out my bracket. Take a few seconds to fill out yours. Our group name is Eye On The U Bracket Pool. Password: faithinhaith

I'm buying into the hype. I think the Big East ends up sending all three of its No. 1 seeds to the dance. UM coach Frank Haith picked Louisville when we asked him for a favorite in this year's tournament. I like Pittsburgh and Dejuan Blair.

I'm supposed to meet up with UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt before tonight's tip-off. If I can get him to fill out a bracket, I'll enter it into our pool. 

> Couple quick notes to pass along before the Canes take on their old Big East Rivals here in the first round of the NIT. Haith said the Friars will present problems for his team because UM has yet to see the type of defense Providence plays.

"They play very similar with to a matchup zone, which we haven't faced all year," Haith said. "They do a three quarter press, a 1-2-2, 1-2-1-1 press to slow you down, slow your flow. It will be to their advantage because we don't play against that all year.

> Providence's best player is 6-5 guard Weyinmi Efejuku. Haith talked about him and several other of the Friar's top players: "He's a really good player, comes from Rice High School, the same high school as [UM recruit] Durand Scott. He's a good player and he's developed over his time there," Haith said. "He's really improved his jump shooting. When he went to sign with Providence, he wasn't really a good shooter. That has emerged over his time at Providence. [Guard Jeff] Xavier can shoot the ball. [Geoff] McDermott reminds me a lot of [McCauley from N.C. State] in our league, he can pass and is a very good post player. [Sharaud] Curry, the point guard, he was hurt last year and we didn't see him. He's their best 3-point shooter. All those guys are seniors and good players and have played together for a long period of time."

> I'll check in with you at halftime and once its over.

March 16, 2009

Haith: Alabama interest "just a rumor"

(We now interrupt the Bryce Brown announcement watch party for a basketball update from the University of Miami. We hope this does not ruin your afternoon).

UM men's basketball coach Frank Haith met with reporters Monday for the first time since his team was blown out in the first round of the ACC Tournament, denied an invite to the NCAA Tournament and rumors of his possible interest in leaving the program for Alabama surfaced late last week. Before getting to any questions from the media, Haith put an end to the questions about the latter first.

Frank Haith denied the rumors he's interested in the Alabama opening. "Obviously I've heard the rumors about me looking at other jobs, or people being interested in me and that's just what they are -- rumors," Haith said. "I'm not going to give that any time, each time my name is mentioned with a job. I want to get that out there first so we can move on to something important which is us being in the post-season four out of five years."

Interested or not interested, false rumor or simply the first sign UM's head coach is testing the waters, Haith will still have another game to coach Wednesday night in the NIT. And he made it perfectly clear he's not happy the fourth-seeded Hurricanes (18-12) will have to do so on the road while the BankUnited Center gets rented out to host other events. 

According to Haith, UM made a last ditch effort to find another venue in South Florida to host Wednesday's game against fifth-seeded Providence (19-13). But just like earning a trip to the Big Dance two years in a row, UM couldn't find a way to get it done. Oddly enough, Kentucky, whom UM beat earlier this season, was in the same dilemma with Rupp Arena being rented out. But the Wildcats will still be hosting UNLV because another venue, Memorial Coliseum (where the men played until 1976), is available. 

Haith said he thought his team, which finished tied for seventh in the ACC standings with a 7-9 record, would have likely been a 2 or a 3 seed with an opportunity to host two games in the tournament had BankUnited Center been available." 

"I don't know what to say. It's disappointing," Haith said when asked how he felt about having to play on the road. "We don't have a venue. It is what it is. I think our seeding was hurt because we don't have a venue to play in. It is what it is."

Among other topics discussed...

MCCLINTON'S KNEE: Haith said the team made sure to get Jack McClinton's sprained left knee checked out before he returned to practice last week. According to Haith, it's a grade one sprain with "stretched ligaments." Haith said it's up to McClinton to shake himself out of the nagging injury. The 6-1 point guard returned to full practices shortly before the ACC Tournament kicked off in Atlanta last week. He struggled with only nine points in the loss to Virginia Tech.

"It's a fine line there. I don't think he can play well unless he practices, in terms of getting a feel for it," Haith said. "He did practice the day before the ACC Tournament game. He did well. But I think he needs that practice to go out and play. We practiced yesterday and he went. I think Jack needs practice to play well."

Dwayne Collins has averaged just six points in his final nine games this season. DISAPPEARING DWAYNE: There have been a lot of disappointments this season on this team, but none has been bigger than Dwayne Collins, who never lived up to his role as the team's No. 2 scorer behind McClinton. Haith sounded like a coach who has tried everything with Collins and simply has no idea what else to do with him.

Collins broke double figures in scoring only once after scoring 18 points at N.C. State on Jan. 27. He had 10 points at Georgia Tech in the second to last game of the regular season, the only time he scored more than 9 in UM's final 10 games.

"Dwayne has made some improvement in his game," Haith said. "He's a better player. It's just been the consistency thing. I don't know how to... we've tried everything to make him more consistent. 

"He was 3 for 11 at the Georgia Tech game. He had a lot of touches. He was active. He played hard. He just didn't make shots. I just want him to play hard. That's the key thing, just play hard. He'll get his touches if he plays hard and is running the floor. He'll get his touches. There's moments when feeding the post and the posting up isn't working. We've emphasized getting the ball to Dwayne. But when you add in the fact he's shooting the ball sub 60 percent from the free throw line, sometimes those attempts don't show up. He's getting touches, he just has to produce.

It wasn't just Collins' lack of scoring that hurt, but his overall aggressiveness. He has a total of eight blocks this season, 24 less than his sophomore season and five fewer than freshman Julian Gamble, who played 550 less minutes than Collins.

"It goes back to his assertiveness, aggressiveness," Haith said. "There's no reason Dwayne Collins should only have eight blocks. We just want Dwayne to be more active. He's capable. It's just, I don't know. We need more of that. Yesterday at practice, he was swatting everything. I can't figure it out. But hopefully he can here at the end of the year.

> If the Canes are able to beat the Friars Wednesday, Haith said UM would likely end up playing either at 11 a.m. Saturday or Monday night at 7 in primetime TV game against top-seeded Florida, which should cruise past Jacksonville Wednesday.

> In case you missed it, the UM football team will be off for spring break until next Monday, March 23rd. The spring game is at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium on March 28th. 

March 15, 2009

Canes open NIT at Providence Wednesday

Jack McClinton and the Miami Hurricanes are not going to the Big Dance, but they're season isn't over yet.

UM (18-12) earned a bid to the National Invitational Tournament late Sunday night as expected and will play at Providence (19-13) Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

If the fourth-seeded Hurricanes beat their former Big East Rivals they could earn a bonus -- a date with the Florida Gators (23-10) in Gainesville in Round 2. Top-seeded UF is set to host Jacksonville (18-13) in its NIT opener.

Sunday's invitation to the NIT is the third for the program under coach Frank Haith. UM began its season ranked as high as No. 16 in the country, but lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament to Virginia Tech Thursday and finished in ninth place in the regular season.

UM beat the Friars the last time the teams met, which was in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic in San Juan on Nov. 18, 2007. UM is 3-8 all-time in the NIT and will be making its first appearance in the tournament since it reached the quarterfinals before losing at Michigan in 2006.

UM can not host any games in the NIT this season because the BankUnited Center has been rented out for the next two weeks.

March 13, 2009

Report: Haith interested in Alabama job

ATLANTA -- CBSSports.com is reporting that University of Miami coach Frank Haith is apparently interested in filling the opening at Alabama.

According to an industry source that spoke with the website, Haith is willing to leave UM if the Crimson Tide come with a respectable offer. Haith received a raise and a new contract after leading the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament's second round last season.

Frank Haith The Hurricanes were eliminated in the first round of the ACC Tournament Thursday and will miss the NCAA Tournament after being picked to finish fourth in the preseason and ranked as high as 16th in the national polls. UM is expected to receive an invitation to the NIT Tournament Sunday night.

Despite a disappointing season, Haith is still considered one of the best young coaches in the business and an excellent recruiter. His name has come up as candidate at other schools -- including Georgia -- throughout the season. I haven't had a chance to have a personal conversation with Haith since these latest rumors have come up, but he's said on multiple occasions he's very happy at Miami and coaching in the ACC. 

Still, next season UM will be starting over without Jack McClinton. One has to wonder if this might not be the best opportunity for Haith to move onto a place that pays better and supports basketball better than UM does. After all, the Canes play to half-filled arenas on most nights and this coming week won't even be able to host games on their own floor in the NIT because the BankUnited Center has been rented out. Haith has one of country's Top 25 recruiting classes coming in. If he left, it would be a huge blow to the Canes who would likely lose recruits if he bolted.

I'm waiting to get on my flight back home to Miami. I'll try to reach Haith when I get back home.

Scrimmage highlights from Thursday

ATLANTA - There were fumbles and mishaps and a few bright spots in between during Thursday night's scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium for the University of Miami. For the most part, the Hurricanes' second scrimmage of the spring was not nearly as fluid as the first according to Herald Sports Writer Susan Miller Degnan.

I caught up with SMD, our veteran Canes beat reporter, while she was on her ride home from the stadium to get all the details on how it all went down. Here's what she shared...

> WHO WON: The defense. The offense was all out of sorts other than the running game. The quarterbacks were pressured. One of the differences between this week and last week was the offense's rhythm. There were some nice defensive hits and plays in the secondary, but there were turnovers Thursday -- something we didn't see much of on Saturday. Guys were recovering fumbles and causing them. The defense was very aggressive. In doing so, they upset the rhythm of the offense.

Javarrisjames > WHO SCORED: Only three touchdowns in a little over 20 series. Running back Javarris James scored on a 7-yard run, receiver Leonard Hankerson scored a 25-yard pass from Jacory Harris (on a short series that began at the defense's 25) and freshman running back Mike James scored on an impressive 33-yard run near the end of the scrimmage. James looked good again. Kicker Jake Wieclaw also rebounded from his tough day on Saturday when he had field goals blocked. He made two short ones and also converted an extra point. Coach Randy Shannon was very encouraged by Wieclaw's day.

> WHO HAD A TOUGH DAY: Backup center Tyler Horne had a rough day snapping the ball to Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith and they need to get the center-quarterback exchange fixed. They just looked clumsy. Taylor Cook got stepped on once and fumbled at least twice. Cook looked worse than Cannon Smith at that. If Jacory Harris were to ever go down, you would need one player to come and know they can at least handoff and handle the snap. Cook has a better arm, but its more than just passing.

> OFFENSIVE MVP: Running back Graig Cooper. The running backs had a great day overall. But Cooper had over 100 yards rushing on about a dozen carries including a huge 38-yard run. He was impressive and just looked really fast. He would go into traffic and bounce out.

> TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYS: Among the best was a 43-yard pass from Taylor Cook to Leonard Hankerson down the right side of the field. While Shannon said Hankerson has been inconsistent, he had two nice long catches and it was good to see. Mike James had some really nice runs overall and is real strong, between the tackles. Javarris James had a 15-yard and 20-yard run back-to-back and he ran the ball at least six times on his scoring drive. Damien Berry had a few nice runs including a 17-yarder. 

Steven Wesley > DEFENSIVE MVP: Defensive end Steven Wesley. He had two fumble recoveries and a sack to lead a strong day for the defensive line. Linebacker Daryl Sharpton was good too. He had the most tackles (about 10) and deflected a pass that led to an interception.

> TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYS: Adewale Ojomo had three sacks and continued to do a good job rushing the quarterback. Linebacker Sean Spence had the interception on the pass deflected by Sharpton, Arthur Brown had another big hit in the backfield. Cornerback Brandon Harris tipped a ball away from Aldarius Johnson. And Sam Shields had a nice defensive play on Kendal Thompkins.

> BIGGEST SURPRISE: Walk on linebacker Sean Goldstein played on the second team and had a few tackles. There were several players out of the scrimmage because of class. That allowed Goldstein to shine.

March 12, 2009

Canes won't be home for NIT

ATLANTA -- The Miami Hurricanes are heading home from the ACC Tournament. But they won't be there long.

When the NIT begins next week and the Hurricanes (18-12) receive their invite, they'll be going on the road. According to UM Director of Basketball Operations Daren Cohen, the Canes will not be able to play home games because the BankUnited Center has been rented out for a series of latin concerts.

Talk about a bummer. You go 18-12 and likely will be one of the top seeds of the tournament, but you'll have to win three games on the road to get to New York for the semifinals. 

Courtside blog: Va. Tech 65, UM 47 (F)

ATLANTA -- Checking in from the Georgia Dome before tipoff. For those of you at work and nowhere near a radio or TV, I'll be here to provide updates and highlights from today's game. You can also follow the game on the ACC's website.

Jack McClinton earned his third honor this week on Thursday being named the 2009 recipient of the ACC's Skip Prosser Award. Just a couple quick notes before the game gets going...

> UM's Adrian Thomas and Jack McClinton were honored Thursday with special awards from the ACC. 

Thomas will presented the Bob Bradley Spirit & Courage Award at halftime of today's game. The award, named in honor of lthe ate Clemson sports information director who passed away in 2000 following a long bought with bone cancer, is given annually to a male or female basketball player, coach or team administrator who has overcome significant injury, illness or adversity in life to become a valuable contributor to their program. Thomas obviously personifies that for the Canes, battling back from season-ending injuries twice in his career. This year he's become a good three-point threat for Frank Haith.

McClinton, who was honored with All-ACC First Team honors and All-ACC Academic honors earlier this week, was named the recipient of the 2009 Skip Prosser Award emblematic of the top scholar-athlete in men's basketball. Prosser coached at Wake Forest for six seasons before passing away in 2007. 

FIRST HALF HIGHLIGHTS...

> Another terribly slow start for the Canes who once again can't seem to get going early. Virginia Tech jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on back-to-back three-pointers. Brian Asbury finally got UM on the board after an 0-for-5 start with a jumper at the 17:07 mark. Jack McClinton finally looks like he's over his sprained left knee. But he's started 0-for-2 with a missed three-pointer. 

> This looks like the same Canes team who was in Atlanta last week to play Georgia Tech. UM started 1 of 9 from the field. Virginia Tech is having no trouble whatsoever picking apart Miami's zone defense, starting 6 of 9 from the field. Right now the Hokies came out with the right game plan and UM didn't.

> It's now 22-8 with 6:51 left to play in the first half and nothing is going right at all for the Canes. UM is 4 of 20 from the field and has a high number of turnovers. Even the open three-pointers are not falling. 

> Miami has gone on a 7-2 run since falling behind by 14. Adrian Thomas hit UM's first three-pointer with 6:46 left. McClinton finally got on the board with a runner with 3:29 left. Its been an ugly ball game. 

> Just when you think the Canes are doomed, they rely on their old best friend -- the three-point shot -- to get right back in it. Adrian Thomas has three now, inlcuding two during UM's 9-0 run to close out the half. McClinton had the other. 

ON THE ROAD IN THE NIT: I had an interesting conversation with UM radio announcer Joe Zagacki over the break. Turns out if UM goes to the NIT, they'll have to play all of their games on the road. The BankUnited Center has been rented out according to Zagacki leaving the Canes without a home venue.  

SECOND HALF HIGHLIGHTS...

> The Hokies have stretched their lead back out to eight points thanks to some strong play from A.D. Vassallo. VT has made a concerted effort to drive the ball more to the basket and its leading to trips from the free throw line. Jimmy Graham has come through with a few keys player early for Miami despite continuing to struggle from the line himself. He had a steal and dunk and grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put back.

> Graham has now missed nine consecutive free throws dating back to the Boston College game when he was 2 for 4. That's not the only problem UM is having in the second half. The Canes are just lucky Virginia Tech hasn't been able to pull away. 

> Game, set, match. Since Lance Hurdle hit a three-pointer with 10:56 left to trim the Hokies lead to 43-37, it's been all Virginia Tech -- and fast. Following a J.T. Thompson jumper, the Hokies turned two Adrian Thomas into quick points before Dorenzo Hudson capped the 8-0 run with a putback. It's 51-37 and it feels like there are only 9 minutes left to live for the Hurricanes' NCAA tournament bubble.

March 11, 2009

McClinton practicing at full speed again

ATLANTA -- The Miami Hurricanes didn't have a healthy Jack McClinton for their final three games of the regular season and it showed. McClinton, the ACC's third leading scorer this season at 19.7 points per game, shot an astonishing 9 of 37 from the field including a sub-par 6 of 18 from three point range.

UM needs a vintage Jack McClinton to win games at this week's NCAA Tournament, not the one slowed by a knee sprain in his last three games. The old Jack McClinton may finally be ready to lace them up Thursday at noon when the Canes (18-11) take on the Hokies (17-13) in a game vitally important to UM's NCAA Tournament chances. I didn't get a chance to talk to the team when they went through their walk through early Thursday morning at the Georgia Dome (my flight got in just after they were finishing up), but word from other reporters is McClinton looked awfully sharp. 

UM coach Frank Haith said Tuesday McClinton has been practicing at full speed since Monday. "[Monday] was the first day where he was full-go," Haith said. "We’re trying to get his knee right and I think he hasn’t been playing as well because of it. Yesterday he really let it go and hopefully he can build on that in practice today and have a great game Thursday."

The Canes have won their last three ACC Tournament openers and will face a Hokies team that has lost six of its last seven. But just because it looks like McClinton is finally healthy and Virginia Tech is sliding should we take it to mean UM is a shoe-in to be playing No. 1 North Carolina on Friday. The Hokies' last three losses came to three of the top four teams in the conference. UM, which has won 3 of its last 4, picked up two of its wins against teams behind them in the standings. Oh by the way, the Hokies have won two in a row against UM, too, including an 88-83 win in OT in January.

"We did a really good job last time in terms of execution offensively," Haith said. "But we did not defend as well and we have to defend a lot better. With that said, I thought [A.D.] Vasallo and [Malcolm] Delaney were outstanding in that ballgame. They both shot the ball extremely well and we have to do a good job on both of those guys and the big three – [Jeff] Allen, Delaney and Vasallo. They all had great performances against us."

> HAITH: 2009 NOT A DISAPPOINTMENT Despite being picked to finish fourth in the preseason and starting the season ranked 16th in the polls, Haith reiterated Tuesday that even if UM does not get an invite to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, he still would not consider this season a disappointment.

UM coach Frank Haith "I think this team has done well," Haith said ."I still go back to five years ago when I took the job and now you look at where it’s at now – we’re in the talk every year. Obviously I want us to win and get to the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s our goal every year, but in terms of a disappointment, I think some of our fans may feel something like that. I don’t feel like that. We have great seniors that will graduate and have won some big games. We’ve put ourselves in position to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Some years we may get there and some years we may not. Four games have come down to the last possession. This team could be totally different if the ball bounces our way. It’s not like we have lost games by 20 or 30 points every night. We’ve been in every game and I think that shows there is progress in this program."

Just one sports writer's opinion, but the two games I'll point to should Miami miss the tournament are the road losses at Maryland, and the let down at Georgia Tech last week. Both of those games, UM didn't show the type of desire and fight it needed to. Despite being more talented, they were inexcusably flat emotionally. It's hard to point the finger at Haith for that. With a team full of seniors and veterans, it's on the players to show up and play better than that.

> NO LAWSON?: Not that I'm looking ahead, but if UM gets past the Hokies Thursday, the Canes could see a North Carolina team without ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson. The Tar Heels point guard injured his toe in the win against Duke is a bit questionable for this week's tournament. Lawson was huge in UNC's win over UM on Feb. 15. Of course, Lawson does have an extra day to rest that toe before Friday. UNC did not practice on the Georgia Dome floor Wednesday.

> CANES TO SCRIMMAGE THURSDAY: I won't be there because I'll be up here covering the ACC Tournament, but Randy Shannon's football team will be scrimmaging for the second time this spring on Thursday night at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. It's supposed to get started at 6:30 p.m. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be there along with Barry Jackson. They'll send me some notes for the blog when it ends. The football team will be off after Thursday until March 23rd.

If you go, be sure to enjoy watching running back Mike James (No. 22), Miami's talented receivers (you'll be really impressed by Kendall Thomkins) and safety Vaughn Telemaque (No. 7). If your looking for improvement, keep your eyes on the backup quarterback battle between Tyler Cook and Cannon Smith, how some of the new offensive lineman (Matt Pipho, Ben Jones, Harland Gunn) are handling a talented deep defensive line core, and if UM's young linebackers are winning any of the one-on-one battles with a talented stable of running backs.

> RIVALS TOP 100 RELEASED: I finally got around this afternoon to taking a gander at Rivals first Top 100 player rankings for football in the 2010 class. Rivals will end up juggling this list 1,000 times before National Signing Day. But I was a bit surprised at some of the names I saw on the list and didn't. Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler, Miami-Dade's No. 1 recruit, wasn't on there. Miami Palmetto defensive end Delvin Jones (in the 20s in The Miami Herald preseason rankings) is in there. Not trying to rip Rivals, who does a good job following the right kids for the most part. But I'll take our Larry Blustein over any of those guys. There's only so much you can gain from watching a combine. Larry and I knew Sean Spence would be a star at UM. Rivals never had Spence in its Top 100. 

> ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I normally don't share too much about myself here, I wanted to pass along the happy news that Tuesday night my wife and I closed on our first house. I'm definitely thrilled to finally have a real place to call my own. As happy as I am about that, I can't be more upset or heartbroken about the news we learned today about several colleagues who lost their jobs. The Miami Herald cut more than 200 jobs Wednesday in an effort to keep surviving in the struggling newspaper business. Thankfully, I still have a job. But I'm praying for the families of the people here no longer don't. It's a sad day at The Miami Herald.

March 10, 2009

Telemaque itching to be next playmaker in secondary

Jacory Harris' pass was off target and tight end Daniel Adderley was not in position to yank the ball down. Neither was safety Vaughn Telemaque, but that didn't matter.

Vaughn Telemaque had three interceptions in a sectional championship game his senior year at Long Beach Poly Still stumbling a bit from the bump he received from Adderley, Telemaque put his right hand out in an attempt to make a play on it. With the ball zipping away from him and toward the back of the end zone, the 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman  got just enough leather to bat it back towards his upper body. It turned out to be the only interception and blemish of Harris' near-perfect day Saturday during the first scrimmage of the spring. In the longrun, it was  a meaningless interception in a meaningless practice game. But it might have been just the first play, the first sign Telemaque is just as good as advertised.

You might not remember this, but after the Emerald Bowl Randy Shannon gave Telemaque possibly the highest praise he's given any player since taking over the team in 2007. Not only did Shannon say the loss of the 6-1, 195-pounder last fall hurt his team badly, he compared Telemaque to one of the best Hurricanes' safety ever -- Ed Reed. It wasn't what you expected to hear from Shannon who rarely makes comparisons of that magnitude, much less about a freshman who played in three games before a shoulder injury sidelined him for good. Saturday, though, we saw the first real reason why Shannon can't seem to hide his true feelings of excitment for the kid from Long Beach Poly.

"It's a pretty big compliment," said Telemaque, who said he hadn't heard that Shannon had compared to Reed. "It's nice to hear that. But I just want to keep on working, going as hard as I can. I want to play to the best of my abilities."

Despite seeing the majority of snaps with the first team already this spring, Telemaque still has a long way to go in his development. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff and veteran cornerback Chavez Grant both say Telemaque has big play potential, but needs to be a little more committed to his playbook. "He's not quite what Jojo Nicholas is right now. Jo is more of a bookworm than Vaughn," McGriff said. "But Vaughn is one of those guys whose smart without the film study. We're just always on him to come watch more film."

Said Grant: "If he gets his mind right, he'll be special. Sometimes we tell Vaughn 'Your lazy.' He's kind of got this little attitude about him. We got nothing against him, it's just to make him better. He's going to be great. He’s a ballhawk, he can come up and hit. Once he learns the defense, has it down, he can be special."

Miami's secondary was anything but special last season. The Canes tied a school low for interceptions with four. As a senior at Poly, Telemaque had nine interceptions of his own, including three in the state championship game. McGriff said Telemaque brings the kind of attitude he wants his corners and safeties to have -- a big play mindset.

"I think this year with the guys being older, getting Vaughn back in the mix and just having the opportunity to train them an additional spring and fall, we should be in position to get more turnovers," said McGriff, whose secondary produced only two of those picks -- one by freshman Brandon Harris and the other from the NFL-bound Bruce Johnson.

"Turnovers are like a disease. Once you get one, it's contagious. I think in order for us to get an abundant number of turnovers and interceptions we got to start early in the season so guys become risk takers. They need to take that step out on the edge and stop playing cautious and go get those tunrovers. I would say our guys were being too cautious last year. I think our guys tried to be too sure. There a lot of times I told them, stop trying to be exact, stop trying to be perfect and go play football. I think last year they just were trying to learn the scheme and be sure. In this game, just like life, you can't be too sure about anything. You just have to go out and play it, win those one-on-one battles."

ESPN senior writer Bruce Feldman believes Telemaque will make those big plays and soon. He named Telemaque as one of the Top 10 newcomers in college football this spring. Telemaque said being a gambler on the field is something that just has always come natural to him.

"I like to make big plays, that's the kind of safety I am," he said. "I need to get some interceptions and big turnovers. If I don't, I feel like I'm not helping the team. I know we only had four [interceptions] last year. But we’re going to change that real soon. We've got a lot of athletes ready to play and make big plays along with me."

The fact Telemaque is even at UM is a bit stunning considering where he's from. California and USC usually scoop up all the big talents at Poly, a perrenial power that has produced talents such as baseball stars Tony Gwynn and Chase Utley to football stars like Willie McGinest and Desean Jackson. Telemaque said while USC wanted him badly, it was always a life long dream to play for the Canes, a team he grew up admiring from a far and noticed for the first time when UM won the national title at the Rose Bowl back in 2001.

Little by little, he says, he began falling in love with Miami's style and swagger more and more. That could explain part of the reason why he showed up to his recruiting announcement on local cable television sporting a Sonny Crockett-like white blazer and sunglasses.

Vaughn Telemaque "Overall, I’m just enjoying the life in Miami," said Telemaque, who said he still keeps a part of Cali with him when he skates around UM's campus on his longboard. "I like the swagger out here because it's a lot like out there, just a little different. The ocean water is warmer. The beach here doesn't have basketball courts like out on Venice Beach. But I still love it out here."

Fans would love it if Telemaque can bring the big play back to Miami's secondary. At least through one spring scrimmage, he already has. "Fans can expect big plays and excitement," Telemaque said. "I want to bring that back to The U. I want to bring it back in a fashionable way, in a team way. I just want to make people proud that we’re The U by going to play hard, make plays and win everytime I'm out there."

March 09, 2009

Jack is back on All-ACC First Team

A sprained left knee slowed Jack McClinton down toward the end of the regular season, but it didn't stop him from capping his senior season by earning more special honors.

Jack McClinton had a three-game stretch of 30-point games against Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina that likely helped him earn All-ACC First Team honors for the second year in a row on Monday. Monday afternoon, the 6-1 senior from Baltimore joined Tim James as the only the men's basketball players in Hurricanes history to earn all-conference first team honors twice. The 76 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association voted McClinton to the All-ACC First Team with 188 votes, only three more than Wake Forest guard Jeff Teague for the fifth and final spot on the top team.

McClinton was joined on the first team by first-time four-time selection Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, who was a surprising unanimous selection. Florida State guard Toney Douglas, UNC's Ty Lawson and Duke's Gerald Henderson were the other first team selections. No other Hurricane was selected to any of the other teams.

McClinton struggled down the stretch of this season, shooting a combined 9 of 37 over his final three games. But he obviously did more than enough during the rest of the regular season to impress voters including a spectacular stretch during the middle of the season in which he produced back-to-back-to-back 30-point games against the leagues' top three teams -- Wake Forest (32), Duke (34) and North Carolina (35).

He finished leading the league in three-point field goal percentage (.464), three-point field goals per game (3.1) and free throw percentage (.885) for the second year in a row, while ranking third in scoring with 19.7 points per game – including a 21.8 point average in ACC games (second-best in the league).

So, now, it's only right I ask you, where should Jack McClinton rank all-time in UM basketball history? Tim James won the Big East Player of the Year in 1999. Rick Barry was an All-American and first round NBA pick. Dick Hickox and Don Curnutt were All-American Second Team selections in the 60s and 70s. John Salmons earned All-Big East Second Team honors and now has a budding NBA career. Give me your thoughts on Mr. McClutch and what he's meant to the program.

March 08, 2009

Canes face Virginia Tech in ACC opener

Frank Haith's basketball team now knows who it will open the ACC Tournament against on Thursday in Atlanta -- the Virginia Tech Hokies. 

Jack McClinton and Malcolm Delaney had a classic battle at the BUC earlier this season. They'll face each other again Thursday.Virginia Tech (17-13, 7-9 ACC) lost at Florida State Sunday afternoon 63-53 and fell to the eighth seed based on a three-team tiebreaker system used by the ACC. Maryland (18-12, 7-9) has a better cumulative record between themselves the Canes and Hokies (having gone a combined 2-1 against the teams) and will go in as the seventh seed. The Terps will play N.C. State at 7 p.m. Thursday.

UM (18-12, 7-9) earned the ninth seed Saturday when it beat N.C. State 72-64 to close out the regular season. 

UM still has slim hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The good news for the Canes is they are now even with the Terrapins and Hokies when it comes to conference record. Stacked head-to-head by their resumes, UM boasts a stronger RPI and strength of schedule ranking. Right now there are six teams from the ACC considered locks to reach the tournament. Most experts believe UM needs to win at least two games to earn an invite. But ESPN analyst Andy Katz thinks it might only take winning the opener for UM to stay in contention for at-large invite. If UM wins Thursday, they'll meet a well rested Duke or North Carolina team in the second round. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels met Sunday night to decide the regular season conference title.

Thursday's tip-off against the Hokies is scheduled for noon at the Georgia Dome. The Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech at home in overtime 88-83 back on Jan. 25 and were beaten by the Hokies in the second round of last year's ACC tournament. Guard Malcolm Delaney beat the Canes with a rainbow three-point shot last time and figures to once again have a classic battle with fellow Baltimore native Jack McClinton.

BASEBALL SWEEPS N.C. STATE: Just wanted to send out more props to Jim Morris' baseball team for pulling off a three-game sweep this weekend of the Wolfpack. Sunday, UM came back from a 7-0 deficit early to beat N.C. State 9-7. The Canes are now 10-2 on the season with slight hiccups against two bad teams.

The story so far this season for the baseball team has been junior right-hander David Gutierrez. He tossed a 4-0 shutout Saturday and has helped fill a huge void as the team's No. 2 starter with Eric Erickson out this season... freshman center fielder Nathan Melendres has also been a huge steal. He's had a hit in all 12 games this season and had three more on Sunday. He came in hitting .341. 

March 07, 2009

Scrimmage highlights

CORAL GABLES -- Just watched the pregame ceremony to honor the four seniors on Frank Haith's basketball team. Too bad I was only one of about 2,000 on hand to catch it.

Enough about hoops for now. I'll be on hand to watch today's regular season finale against N.C. State. But I'm sure what most of U care about was how this morning's scrimmage went. I got to watch the first 12 drives before I had to leave for today's game. Here are some of the highlights (We aren't allowed to provide play by play)...

Jacory Harris started Saturday's scrimmage 17 of 17 before throwing an interception to Vaughn Telemaque > Quarterback Jacory Harris looked outstanding. He completed each of his first 17 pass attempts and led the first team offense to two scores on seven drives. The first scoring drive was highlighted by a 35-yard completion to Aldarius Johnson on the first play of the day. The drive ended five plays later when Graig Cooper scored on a 1-yard run. Harris was 4 of 4 on the drive with completions to Cooper, tight end Richard Gordon and fullback Pat Hill.

> The offense scored it's second touchdown on a drive orchestrated by Taylor Cook. But the drive was really led by running back Lee Chambers who made a series of great plays against members of the second and third team units. Chambers started the drive with runs of eight and 20 yards before catching a nice swing pass on 3rd and 13 and stiff arming his way to a first and goal at the 2. Three plays later, Chambers fought his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run.

> UM's third score came on a trick play two possessions later by the first team. Jacory Harris tossed a nice swing pass out to Graig Cooper who then pulled up and found a wide open Laron Byrd downfield for a 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown. It was a perfectly designed play. UM had been running similar screens and swing passes all day and the defense bit it hard.

Randy Phillips had the hit of the day Saturday, laying out redshirt freshman receiver Tommy Streeter across the middle. > The defense had a few highlights of its own. The two biggest hits of the day belonged to linebacker Arthur Brown and safety Randy Phillips. Right before Chambers scored his touchdown, Brown broke free at the goalline and crushed him back at the five yard line. Officials called the play back because of an offsides penalty (which wasn't believed to be called on Brown). 

> Randy Phillips' big hit came against Tommy Streeter on a crossing pattern at the defense's 26-yard line on third down. Phillips laid Streeter out, who took several moments to get up after the hit. That drive ended with DeMarcus Van Dyke blocking a 41-yard field goal attempt by Jake Wieclaw. Wieclaw I'm told had another field goal -- one from 37 yards -- blocked by Adewale Ojomo.

> The defense produced two interceptions. Freshman Brandon McGee hauled in a terrible looking floater from quarterback Cannon Smith, then made a great return, racing down the sideline and diving into the end zone on  a 35-yard return. Safety Vaughn Telemaque then ended Jacory's completion streak with a beautiful one-handed interception in the end zone. On the play, it looked like tight end Daniel Adderley ran the wrong route. It was still a nice play by Telemaque, who returned it out to the 25.

> There were a few players who picked up sacks. Adewale Ojomo and Steven Wesley, though, looked like they had the best day getting to the quarterbacks. Sean Spence had a number of tackles and did a really good job wrapping up. 

> There were a number of recruits and high school coaches on hand watching the scrimmage. Most were local kids. I saw the five stars from Booker T. Washington on hand, Miami Northwestern's Todd Chandler (a UM commitment), a few kids from Monsignor Pace and Broward's No. 1 recruit, Lamarcus Joyner.