When the University of Miami men's basketball team started the season 15-1 it seemed inevitable the Canes would reach the 20 win plateau. Now, with only one regular season game left to play Saturday afternoon against Florida State at the BankUnited Center, all coach Frank Haith is hoping for is that his team still gets there.
Miami (18-11, 4-11 ACC) hasn't had the type of second half it was hoping for. But with a win Saturday against the Seminoles and a win Thursday in the first round of the ACC Tournament, UM will reach 20 wins -- likely good enough to earn a second straight NIT berth. And for Haith, who said his team shouldn't have lost at home to Boston College and North Carolina State, that would be good enough.
"I haven't had a chance to reevaluate the whole season. But I felt like if we would have gotten to seven league wins, that would have been awesome for these guys," said Haith, who said before the season he thought his team could finish in the top half of the ACC.
"We lost a whole lot with Jimmy Graham. You realize what those guys meant to your program as you go through the season. Jack McClinton, Jimmy Graham, Brian Asbury, Lance Hurdle, they were here for a long time. They won a lot of games and played in a lot of games. With that said, we're trying to build a program here. You want to have consistency, some winning ways. If we would have gotten to seven wins, that would have been awesome for me and the program to say we've been able to sustain winning, losing great players. Because you're going to take a dip. There's no way you're not going to take a dip when you lose guys that meant so much to your program... With that said, we still have an opportunity to get to where we want to be."
That would be the post-season for the third consecutive season -- and for the fifth time in Haith's six seasons as coach. Going to the postseason three years in a row is a rare feat at UM. It's only happened one other time when UM made it six seasons in a row from 1996 to 2002 -- the first four under Leonard Hamilton and the last two under Perry Clark.
"That's would be a pretty nice little deal for [our seniors]," Haith said. "I think for our program, you look at the history of our program and the tradition of our program, that's a nice little feat."
UM will honor its three seniors -- guard James Dews and forwards Dwayne Collins and Cyrus McGowan -- before Saturday's game. Haith said he doesn't know if Collins, who suffered a stress reaction in his leg, will play. Haith talked a little about both Collins and Dews Friday and what they've meant to the program.
"His freshman year, we wanted him to be a defensive stopper, something he probably hadn't had to do his whole career," Haith said. "But it was what the team needed and he was willing to do. His sophomore year he was a part of the team that went to the NCAA Tournament and was a critical member of that team, came back his junior year and we changed his role a little bit there. He's a guy who went through role changes his whole career. Now, he's been one of the leading scorers and been asked to to be a leader. There's no question James has been a special player for us and a special player for me to coach. You've seen his growth over four years. He's been not only a valuable player, but a valuable person on this team."
Collins, a player Haith pushed to attend NBA camps last year, hasn't had the type of senior season Haith was hoping for. But he said the 6-8, 241-pound forward has had to endure a lot during career.
"He was kind of thrown to the wolves as a freshman," Haith said. "We had a lot of injuries that year and Dwayne was asked to do so much early in his career. We lost Jimmy Graham, Ray Hicks, Anthony King for about nine games and he was the only post player we had and he had to play with a walk-on and a three-man at the other post position. To see him grow from that to where he is today is great."
Despite a few disappointments this season, Haith said he feels good about the direction of the program. He talked a lot about the growth of freshman Durand Scott and how he and redshirt sophomore Malcolm Grant will be a solid foundation heading into next season.
"We only have one senior on our team next year, that's Adrian Thomas," Haith said. "I'd be encouraged by what I see if I'm a fan and what's on tap for this program the next couple years."
> The Sean Taylor Foundation will host a celebrity All-Star Game Saturday at 3 p.m. at St. Thomas University to raise money for local youth programs. For more info, click here.