A series of notes/observations heading into Saturday's season opener for the Hurricanes

A series of notes and observations as the Hurricanes prepare to open the season Saturday against Bethune-Cookman:

> GOLDEN AND THE HOT SEAT: As much as Al Golden deserves heat for his 28-22 record (identical to Randy Shannon when he was fired), we need to recognize he hasn’t had the type of depth on the roster during his first four years on the job as he has now.

Monday, on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline, Golden noted this was this fall camp was the first time he had three full units per position in training camp and 80 scholarship players. Last year, Golden said, UM was operating around 69 to 70 scholarships.

Part of that are the NCAA sanctions. A bigger part of that are the staff's misses in recruiting. As I noted in a blog earlier this week, 30 of the 55 players on the depth chart released Sunday night belong to the last two recruiting classes (2014 and 2015).

You can look at it two ways:

One, it’s an indictment on Golden for having 23 of the 62 players who got into school and on the field in his first three signing classes either transfer on their own (DL Jalen Grimble, LB Gionni Paul, DL Corey King, DL Ricardo Williams, WR Robert Lockhart, RB Danny Dillard, DE Dwyane Hoilett, CB Vernon Davis, CB Larry Hope, DT Jacoby Briscoe, DB Antonio Crawford, WR Jontavious Carter, DT Dequan Ivery, DB Nate Dortch, TE Beau Sandland, CB Ray Lewis III) or get kicked out (LB Eddie Johnson, CB Thomas Finnie, OL Taylor Gadbois, LB Jawand Blue, DE Gabriel Terry, QB Kevin Olsen, LB Alex Figueroa).

Or two, the NCAA cloud kind of forced him to offer scholarship to some kids who didn’t belong here in the first place.

I fall somewhere in the middle of those two arguments to be honest.

Butch Davis, who also dealt with NCAA sanctions and plenty of losing, seemed to do a much better job stacking the roster with talent back in his day. Davis, by the way, went 31-15 his first four years on the job (against a weak Big East) but 0-4 against Florida State. His fifth season? He lost to Florida State again, but went 9-4 with a Gator Bowl victory and finished 15th in the AP poll. I would assume Golden, if he really deserves to continue as coach, should be expected to do about the same.

“If you finish on a bad note there's only one way to erase that, it's to go out there and do it,” Golden said Monday on Hurricane Hotline. “We've had a great team mentality all training camp. We just have to continue to do that."

> TOP CONCERN: It’s easy to spot the biggest question mark on the team: offensive line. With only 22 games of combined starting experienced back between three players, quarterback Brad Kaaya has his hands full entering the season. And he’s doing his part.

“When we go to the pass protection meetings, Brad gets up and runs the meeting,” Golden said on Hurricane Hotline Monday. “He points out 56 is the MIKE… it's created a cohesiveness and given him more opportunities to be a commander and not just a leader.”

Right guard Danny Isidora, who owns 13 of those 22 starts I mentioned early, told me last week we should expect to see a lot more rotation on the offensive line this season than we did a year ago when the only time backups got in were for injuries. Isidora, for instance, spent most of camp at right tackle, where Sunny Odogwu is slated to be the starter. Center Nick Linder, who started four games last year, has played a lot of guard and has two backups at center.

“I try to talk the guys, let them know what they got to do,” Isidora said. “Yeah, I started 13 games, but we have two other leaders. Nick Linder and Alex Gall, they're two good leaders too. We all try to coach the guys up. Me, Alex, Nick, we all try to coach the guys up, do the best we can. From a standpoint of experience, I feel like we kind of make up for the losses to graduation."

Miami recruited 11 offensive linemen in the last two years and many are highly touted. True freshmen Tyree St. Louis and Tyler Gauthier have both been very impressive in camp and will see playing time. Kc McDermott, injured last year, might not have won a starting job coming out of camp. But he’s UM’s best offensive linemen and that will probably show itself during the season. In other words, offensive line will be a concern early, but it may not be by seasons end.

> THE FRESH APPROACH: Golden said he expects nine redshirt freshmen and 12 true freshmen to play Saturday.

Here’s who you should be most excited about among that group from a few people who observed camp and shared their thoughts with me: running back Mark Walton, H-Back David Njoku, defensive linemen Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh and Demetrius Jackson, receiver Lawrence Cager, cornerback Sheldrick Redwine and safety Jaquan Johnson.

Of that group, I expect Cager to become a Kaaya favorite, a Tommy Streeter-like weapon in the red zone.  “Just very fluid, in and out of cuts,” Golden said of Cager, a 6-5, 215-pound U.S. Army All-American listed as the backup to fifth-year senior Rashawn Scott. “He can go up and get it. His catch radius, quarterbacks are very comfortable throwing to him. He can absorb the ball five feet in any direction.”

> WHAT ABOUT TIGHT END? Replacing Clive Walford’s passing game production won’t be easy and I’m not sure there is a tight end on the roster – Standish Dobard, Jerome Washington or Jake O’Donnell – who can do that. But Njoku and sophomore Chris Herndon, listed as H-Backs, could be the ones who end picking up the slack while the other three serve as blockers.

Both are Njoku and Herndon are athletic like Walford was and according to Njoku have lined up at various spots on the field throughout camp. “I'm at the Y, H and sometimes outside,” Njoku said.

Sounds like offensive coordinator James Coley wants to use his H backs to exploit matchups. Maybe that’s something he picked up from the Dallas Cowboys during his visit this spring.

“From terms of where I sit, I just want to see production,” Golden said of the tight ends/H Backs. “I don't care who gets it. Those guys have to add up to what Clive's production was. It's a very good group. It's a deep group. You can see Chris Herndon and David Njoku are kind of the same."

> DEFENSIVE SURPRISES: They may not be fan favorites like highly touted high school stars Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas, but sophomore rush end Trent “Toolbox” Harris and sophomore linebacker Darrion Owens do get a lot of love from the coaching staff. And both appear poised to be future leaders of this defense.

"He's the type of guy that does everything you ask him to do,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said of Harris. “He's done nothing but gotten better since he got here.”

Senior Tyriq McCord told me he’s actually learning from Owens, who is listed as the starting strongside linebacker and is playing three positions, something D’Onofrio doesn’t do with anybody in his system.

“Just his toughness,” starting inside linebacker Raphael Kirby said when asked why Owens got the starting nod over McCord. “He sets edges, runs to the ball. He looks to make the play, does his job. He doesn't make MEs. He doesn't cost us yards. He's a great guy, great kid on and off the field. All those things tie into why he's had the success he's had."

> SPECIAL TEAMS: Don’t underestimate the value of walk-on kicker Jon Semerene earning the starting job on kickoffs. UM was putrid on kickoff coverage last season and it hurt them badly with field position. Golden said Semerene had four kickoffs in the team’s last scrimmage and three went deep into the end zone.

Also, having an experienced kicker in Michael Badgley and punter in Justin Vogel will help this team immensely. Badgley’s range has improved considerably. He made a 55-yard field goal into the wind in the final scrimmage according to Golden.

“Badge is nuts. I don't listen to anything he says because he thinks he can make every kick. He's always pointing to the ground, I can make it from here. I can make it from here,” Golden said. “You'd rather have him like that than the other way. He's courageous, he's tough. It's just nice to have a kicking game where we have veterans there."

Perhaps the best thing about UM’s improved depth is that starters on offense and defense won’t be so heavily relied upon to also play special teams. That, of course, led to some breakdowns on kickoff coverage.

> SAFE AT SAFETY: UM’s defense cut down on the number of big plays it allowed last season (76th in terms of plays 20 yards or more in 2013 to 5th in 2014). A big part of that was improved play at the safety position -- or the health of Deon Bush, who has finally learned not to injure himself while tackling.

I only expect better play from the safety position this season now that fifth-year senior Dallas Crawford has figured things out (Golden said he’s better on deep balls and making checks) and Rayshawn Jenkins ins healthy. Remember, UM made those improvements last year with former walk-on Nantambu Fentress making eight starts while Crawford tried to adjust after switching back over to defense from running back.

Now, UM has four legit starting safeties and a future star in Jaquan Johnson. Considering safety is the most important position in D’Onofrio’s defense because of the responsibility that comes with it (checks, etc.), I expect improvement on the defense – which means more turnovers and big plays.

February 02, 2015

Coach L on Angel, Louisville, etc...

Checking in with a very hoarse UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga Monday morning as he prepares team for Tuesday night game vs. No. 10 Louisville. The 23rd-ranked Canes lost back-to-back games to Georgia Tech and FSU, and will probably fall back out of the Top 25 after rejoining the rankings last week. Here's what he had to say on the ACC teleconference:

On the week: "It's been a rough week for our team.''

On the team mood: “Kids are pretty resilient. They bounce back pretty quickly. I think it’s harder on the coaches. But it’s hard on everybody. Nobody likes to lose. Everybody wants to win.’’

On inconsistency: “The whole key is consistency and we’ve been a team that’s very, very capable on some night, but because of our inconsistency, some nights we don’t play well at all.’’

On Angel Rodriguez shooting 33 percent overall and 29 percent in ACC games: “Some of it is shot selection. Some of it is he’s got too much responsibility. He needs his teammates to step up and play a little better themselves so he doesn’t end up having to take and make every big shot. One of our problems is we don’t have an inside presence, like most of the teams in our league have. Tonye Jekiri is a very good defender and rebounder, but he’s not someone we can just throw the ball to and he’s going to score with his back to basket. In fact, we don’t have a back to the basket player. So defenses are able to extend and put more pressure on us on our 3-pt shooting. We haven’t shot the three particularly well, neither Sheldon nor Angel. Defenses are now playing them a little differently than earlier in the season.’’

More on Rodriguez: “He needs help form his teammates. What made him so successful early is Sheldon was also playing great, and so was Manu, making all kinds of shots. What opens it up for Angel is when Manu’s on one wing making threes, and Sheldon’s on the other wing making threes. That opens it up for Angel to do his thing. We’ve gone thought a stretch where we’re not making threes, and it puts pressure on all of them, not just Angel, but Sheldon, Manu and Davon, too.’

On who can step up and make big shots at crunch time: “Some teams you absolutely know which guys are going to get the ball at the end of games. We don’t really have that. Angel is 5-11. It’s not so easy for him. Even if he beats his man, it’s hard to score over the big guys.’’

On facing No. 10 Louisville Tuesday: “They’ve very different. They press. They have four or five different presses. They play zone, man to man. What’s hard on us, we only have this one day to prepare. I’d like to have 2-3 days to go over what we want to do.’’

On whether he uses Snapchat in recruiting:  “My assistant coaches do. I don’t use it myself. My communication is through texting and phone calls.’’

By Michelle Kaufman

 

January 26, 2015

UM back in Top 25

They're baaaaaaaaack. In the Top 25.

By Michelle Kaufman

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

The 31,000 fans at the Carrier Dome apparently weren’t the only ones paying attention as the University of Miami men’s basketball team knocked off Syracuse Saturday afternoon. Voters in the Associated Press and USA Today polls put the Hurricanes back into the Top 25 on Monday. They are ranked No. 23 in both polls.

UM had broken into the Top 25 on Nov. 24, got as high as No. 15, slipped to No. 18 on Dec. 15 and then dropped out after losing to Eastern Kentucky. But ever since the ACC season started, the Canes have been gaining respect. They had big wins at Duke and at Syracuse, home wins over Boston College and North Carolina State and their two losses were in double-overtime to undefeated No. 2 Virginia (19-0) and by five points to then-No. 12 (now No. 8) Notre Dame.

The Canes (14-5, 4-2 ACC) face Georgia Tech at home Wednesday at 9 p.m. Coach Jim Larranaga said re-entering the Top 25 doesn’t change the team’s approach to the game. He does not want his players wrapped up in rankings. But he recognizes that being a Top 25 team has long-range benefits.

“(It’s significant) as far as getting name recognition out there, having others think we’re good,’’ he said. “We’re always going to think we’re good. But it’s earning respect from other people that’s always been important. It helps in recruiting to have high school players and coaches think you have a good program, and the way they judge that is, `Who’d you beat?’’’

 

 

January 09, 2015

Catching up with Coach L...

It’s always fun to attend Coach Jim Larranaga’s press conferences because he is loquacious, has great perspective, loves to teach basketball to anyone who cares to listen, and often goes off on interesting tangents.

Here are some snippets from Friday’s media gathering, as the Canes (10-4), coming off a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Virginia, prepare to face Boston College (7-6) at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

On the starting lineup for Saturday’s game: “We’ll change the lineup.’’ For 13 games, the starters were Angel Rodriguez, Manu Lecomte, Sheldon McClellan, Joe Thomas and Tonye Jekiri. Against Providence, Omar Sherman started instead of Thomas. Coach L mentioned that during the Virginia game, he liked the lineup of Rodriguez, McClellan, Jekiri, DeAndre Burnett and Omar Sherman. Will he go with those 5? Stay tuned.

On Katie Meier, whose UM women’s team stunned No. 4 Notre Dame 78-63 Thursday night, the first time in 62 games the Irish lost to an unranked team: “Katie Meier was the second person I spoke to at UM when I took the job. (Athletic director) Shawn Eichorst was the first. I said I’d like to speak to Katie Meier. She was National Coach of the Year, already led UM to an ACC title. She has a great understanding of what a coach has to do in every category from relationship-building on campus to relationships with high school and AAU coaches, basketball strategy, recruiting, public relations. She is very, very well-thought of. Everybody that is familiar with the women’s side of the game is familiar with Katie Meier and the incredible job she has done here.’’

Asked to switch gears to his team, he broke into a smile and joked:  “Can’t we stay on the women’s team?’’

On overcoming the Virginia loss: “It was very painful after the game Saturday night. It was painful all day Sunday. By the time we practiced on Monday, the pain had changed to anger. I was angry, not at our players, not at my coaches or myself, just angry we lost. I wanted to use that angriness to fuel myself and my team.’’

On the new partnership between UM and Adidas: “It creates some excitement coaches are sharing with the players. (Kids asked how they will benefit) Instead of just white, green, orange, black uniforms, we’re gonna have retro uniforms, gray uniforms. We’re gonna outfit you, more travel outfits…because players, just like all of us, like gear.

“My wife has 500 pairs of shoes, not as many as my players have in sneakers.

On how the Adidas deal affects recruiting: “How do we take that announcement and put that to good use and create an advantage for ourselves in the recruiting process? One thing I’ve shared with our point guard recruits is take a look at the NBA, who’s wearing Adidas, three of the best -- Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall. They’re in Adidas. We’ve had Shane (Larkin), Angel (Rodriguez) and now Sheldon (McClellan), great guards. If Adidas is good enough for them, there’s no reason you can’t come to UM and have that same kind of success.’’

On when the obsession with sports branding began: “It started around 1967. Almost every college basketball team was in canvas Converse. First school I can remember not wearing canvas Converse was UCLA, and they were winning national championships wearing Adidas. Those shoes became very popular and kids started buying them. Shoes of champions. Nike took that idea and said, `Hey’ let’s get some college kids in our Nikes. They created an advisory board of college coaches and paid them and provided their universities with product. Free shoes. The AD was benefiting, coach was hugely benefiting, lining his pockets with cash, players were benefiting with free multiple shoes.

“When I was in college, you bought your canvas Converse. No one gave them to you. You had one pair all season. Now kids wear a pair for a week.''

By Michelle Kaufman

November 14, 2013

Canes basketball announces four new signees; class rated 23rd nationally by Scout.com

With as many players as Jim Larrañaga lost from last year's Sweet 16 squad we all know it's probably going to be a long season filled with growing pains for the Hurricanes basketball team.

But at least the future got brighter Wednesday.

Thursday morning, UM announced the signing of four players -- Ja’Quan Newton, James Palmer, Omar Sherman and Ivan Cruz Uceda -- to National Letters of Intent.

The signing class is ranked No. 23 in the nation by Scout.com.

> A consensus Top 60 player, Newton is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard listed as the No. 55 player in ESPN’s Top 100 list. At Neumann-Goretti High in Philadelphia, Newton averaged 18.0 points per game last season, and has totaled more than 1,300 career points, helping Coach Carl Arrigale lead his team to three consecutive Catholic League championships. The incoming freshman has participated in the NBPA Top 100 Camp and LeBron James Skills Academy, and plays AAU ball for Team Final, the same squad as future Miami teammate Davon Reed. Newton, an offensive slasher with an innate ability to get to the rim, was also recruited by UCLA, Texas A&M and Minnesota.

“Ja'Quan is a multipurpose guard who play both the one and two and be very effective at both. Ja'Quan is an outstanding scorer and will add a lot to our offensive arsenal next season. He hails from Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Philadelphia, which has produced a large number of high major Division I players,”  Larrañaga said in a statement released by the school.

> Palmer, a senior at St. John’s College High, is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard from Washington, D.C. He helped his squad to a 20-win season by averaging 12 points, five rebounds and two assists as a junior. An offensive threat, Palmer can catch-and-shoot 3-pointers or score in transition. Palmer, who plays AAU ball for Team Takeover, was also recruited by Memphis, Wake Forest, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Maryland. Palmer was coached by Sean McAloon at St. John’s College HS.

“James is one of the best three-point shooters we saw all last summer,” Larrañaga added. “He played for one of the best AAU programs in the country, Team Takeover, in Washington, D.C. He also plays at St. John's College High School of the WCAC, which is one of the toughest high school basketball leagues in the country.”

> Sherman, out of Duncanville, Texas, is a four-star prospect, according to ESPN and Scout.com. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward plays high school ball at Duncanville High, where he is coached by Kenny Boren. Scout.com lists Sherman as the No. 20 power forward in the country, and the No. 94 player overall. Sherman, who played his AAU seasons with Deron Williams Elite, chose Miami over Wichita State, North Texas and Weber State.

“Omar is the kind of front court player we were looking for,” Larrañaga said. “He is big and strong with a velvety soft touch. He can score with his back to the basket but can also shoot the three. He plays for Duncanville High School which is one of the best high school programs in Texas.”

> Cruz Uceda is a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward originally from Madrid, Spain, ranked No. 55 overall by ESPN. Cruz Uceda will be available to play a pair of seasons for Miami following his two years at Harcum College in Pennsylvania. At Harcum, he set the school record for rebounds in a season and has a chance to break the school’s career record for caroms. Cruz Uceda was also recruited by Marquette, Ohio State, Penn State and Villanova.

“Ivan is the perfect compliment to Omar. He is an excellent passer, but at 6-10, he too can play inside and outside. He is a strong rebounder, clever, and plays for a strong junior college program at Harcum College. We were searching for an experienced player to join our junior class and we believe we have found exactly that in Ivan,” concluded Larrañaga.

The four newcomers join an already talented 2014-15 class, which includes redshirt-freshman Deandre Burnett, who is out this season with an injury, and transfers Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, who are currently sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules.

October 22, 2013

Official announcement from NCAA: 9 scholarships over 3 years for football, no more post-season bans

The news is officially out from the NCAA on UM -- and it's better than anticipated. LINK TO COMPLETE REPORT

HERE IS THE LIST OF SANCTIONS FROM THE NCAA ON UM

> Public reprimand and censure.

> Three years of probation from October 22, 2013, through October 21, 2016.

> Former assistant football coach B (Clint Hurtt) penalties: A two-year show-cause order from October 22, 2013 through October 21, 2015. The public report contains further details. The committee also adopted penalties imposed by the coach’s current employing university, which are detailed in the public report.

> Former assistant football coach C (Aubrey Hill) penalties: A two-year show-cause order from October 22, 2013, through October 21, 2015. The public report contains further details.

> Former head men’s basketball coach Frank Haith penalties: A suspension for the first five regular-season games of the 2013-14 season. Attendance at one NCAA Regional Rules seminar at the conclusion of the 2013-14 academic year.

> Former assistant men’s basketball coach B (Jorge Fernandez) penalties: A two-year show-cause order from October 22, 2013, through October 21, 2015. The public report contains further details.

Football program penalties

> Reduction of football scholarship by a combined total of nine during the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

> Miami may only provide a prospect on unofficial visits complementary tickets for one home game during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Self-imposed by the university

> Two year bowl ban following the 2011 and 2012 seasons, including the 2012 ACC Championship game.

> Reduction of official paid visits for 2012-13 by 20 percent to a total of 36 visits.

> Reduction of fall evaluations in 2012-13 by six (from 42 to 36).

> Reduction of available contact days during the 2012-13 contact period by 20 percent.

Men’s basketball program penalties

> Reduction in the number of men’s basketball scholarships by one during the each of the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

> Additional penalties: For all sports, any staff member who sends an impermissible text to a prospect will be fined a minimum of $100 per message, and coaches will be suspended from all recruiting activities for seven days.

> Further penalties resulting from impermissible texts and phone calls are detailed in the public report.

February 19, 2013

UM adds highly-touted Texas WR/TE Derrick Griffin to 2013 signing class

Just when you thought the Canes had wrapped up the 2013 Signing Class, Brennan Carroll's bat signal on Twitter went off again Tuesday evening.

Derrick Griffin, a 6-6, 210-pound receiver from B.F. Terry High School in Rosenberg, Texas who also is a budding basketball star, faxed a signed a National Letter of Intent to Coral Gables Tuesday afternoon, UM's sports information staff confirmed.

Griffin, listed as a four-star receiver by 247Sports and the third-best receiver in the country overall by Rivals.com, becomes the third player to sign with UM after National Signing Day. The 2013 signing class is now up to 19 players total.

His signing comes as a bit of a surprise since he hadn't even officially visited UM yet and had long been a commitment to Texas A&M and was also talking to Auburn. InsideTheU.com reported Griffin will take his official visit to UM this weekend.

"I had a [basketball] tournament down there for AAU and I liked the surroundings," Griffin told 247Sports.com. "I just really liked the area and what they are about as a program. They have sent a lot of top players to the NFL.

"The Miami coaches were really excited when I told them I wanted to commit. They were all yelling and telling me they were happy to have me as a part of their family now. That made me smile."

Griffin finished his senior season with 592 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 36 receptions. He has been clocked at a 4.5 in the 40. He also becomes the second wide receiver in UM's 2013 class, joining Broward's top player, Northeast High star Stacy Coley.

Griffin could also end up playing basketball at Miami. Listed as the 26th-best small forward in the country by ESPN, Griffin is reportedly averaging 25 points a game for his high school team.

"This year Miami's basketball team is looking really good," Griffin told InsideTheU.com. "They are No. 2 in the country and they have a real chance to win a National Championship. I want to try and play college basketball too, so that is a big reason why I like them too."

October 31, 2011

Larranaga lands commitment from one of nation's top centers: Champagnat's Tonye Jekiri

Tonye Jekiri, a 6-10, 220-pound senior center at Hialeah Champagnat, committed to the University of Miami on Monday morning, giving new Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga a big man for the future he sorely needs.

Tonye JekiriJekiri moved to South Florida from Nigeria in Sept. 2010 and hasn't been playing basketball very long according to Champagnat coach Danny Serrano.

"But he's got a huge upside," Serrano said. "From the minute that school started I was getting phone calls from Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, George Mason, Alabama, Florida State, Auburn -- name it they were all after him.

"He's a legit 6-10, but a gazelle. I think this is his fourth year of playing organized basketball, but he's come an unbelievable ways and still has an unbelievable upside. That's why these schools have been so desperate to get him. Apparently, though, his visit with Miami over the weekend was so good he verbally committed."

Jekiri averaged 10 points and 14 rebounds last season.

"He's just so quick. He runs like a guard," Serrano said. "He's such an imposing figure under the basket defensively. He's real good on the help side. Offensively, he has nice a 10- to 12-foot midrange shot. He can play with his back to the basket or facing the basket. But his gift is how well he runs the floor."

Jekiri played for Florida's Team Breakdown (AAU) over the summer. That's where Serrano said he made his biggest strides.

Jekiri, rated the 17th-best center in the country by ESPN.com, is the second player Larranaga has gained a commitment from for the 2012 season. UM also received a commitment from Bronx (N.Y.) St. Benedict's Prep shooting guard Melvin Johnson (6-3, 175). Johnson is rated by ESPN.com as the 44th-best shooting guard in the country in 2012.

June 30, 2011

Krumpos ready to prep Canes hoop team for Larranaga's demanding scramble defense

Sammy Hernandez can't remember everything he and his George Mason teammates did before the 2006 season to prepare for Jim Larranaga's scramble defense and a run to the Final Four.

He just remembers it being extremely demanding -- and well worth it in the end.

Jim Larranaga "It was constant training," said Hernandez, now a director for a local YMCA in Miami. "Weightlifting, running at 5 a.m. and a lot of time pedaling on those stationary bikes. It was pretty tiring, the hardest I've ever worked in my life. But it was good. By the time the season came around, a guy like Jai Lewis, who was 6-8, 290, was running up and down the court like nothing. We got in shape and we got it done."

Jim Krupos, hired in May to be the Canes' new strength and conditioning coach for basketball, will be the man in charge of getting Larranaga's newest group ready for his physically demanding defense before the team starts practicing in October. He said today would be the first time he works with the entire team.

Aside from a lot of "intense running" and "circuit conditioning," the 34-year old former strength and conditioning coach at Arizona, Cal State-Fullerton and UNC-Charlotte (where he spent two years working with UM women's coach Katie Meier) said Larranaga wants the focus of his next six-week program to be on building upper body strength and confidence. 

"One thing we're real big on is upper body strength numbers, bench press numbers," Krumpos said. "We're adding a white board to the weight room where all the lifting numbers of each player will be on display. We want improvement, so we're also going to list what guys in the NBA combine did.

"You might think 'Can the bench press have a huge carry over to basketball?' If guys know they can lift 30 to 40 pounds more on the bench after six weeks, they'll be a lot more confident on the court. And when they know they're stronger than your opponent, it gives them a mental edge."

Krumpos said he's already tested most of his roster in flexibility, strength and mobility over the last few weeks (the only player he hasn't seen yet is incoming freshman Bishop Daniels) and has established personalized programs for each. But for the next weeks, the team will work together five days a week, lifting weights four days a week and extra conditioning three days a week after weights.

"This is a little more intense than what I was doing at Arizona," Krumpos said. "Coach [Lute] Olsen had his style for many years. Coach Larranaga has his. What we're trying to establish here is not only a new style of play, but a new way of working, a new mindset and approach. The players so far have been real receptive. A lot of them are eager to get back in it. I see a lot of leadership from a fairly hungry team."

Krumpos said junior center Reggie Johnson, who battled weight issues in the past and tested the NBA waters before returning to UM, has displayed a good attitude thus far.

"You never know with a guy that big what you're going to get until he goes in the weight room," Krumpos said. "Reggie has been training hard. He's one of the guys I put in the category to have a really good year. His body fat is really what we want to cut down. What we care about is how he's moving up and down the court. He's just a thick guy. We've been working a lot on diet, trying to educate him on not eating a bowl of pasta at midnight. I'd like to have him under 300 [pounds], somewhere where he isn't losing strength and power and he's able to get up and down the court. I'd say around 275 to 290.

"Coach Larranaga has had some big boys at George Mason. As long as they're rebounding good, getting up and down the court and getting back on defense, he'll be happy."

One big guy coming off injury is senior Julian Gamble, who had minor surgery on his ankle after the season. Krumpos said Gamble (6-9, 258) will be 100 percent for the start of the season.

"Julian is changing his body very dramatically," Krumpos said. "He's already made some nice changes. He's leaned out and gained some muscle."

Krumpos said the guy he's been most impressed with is forward Erik Swoope (6-6, 230).

"Genetically he's very gifted," Krumpos said. "He's not only as strong as he looks. He's able to handle anything you throw at him. He has more potential in his little finger than I do in my whole body."

Other summer workout standouts: "DeQuan Jones is very fast off the ground, which is what we care about more than a vertical," Krumpos said. "Tre McKinney-Jones has a lot of nice potential as well."

LARRANAGA FINDS A HOME: Coach Jim Larranaga told ESPN 950 AM radio in Washington, D.C. Tuesday he finally was able to find a place to live in South Florida last Friday. 

Now, his goal will be to find some 2012 recruits during the July evaluation period. UM has three seniors on its current roster and two potential early NBA entrants in Johnson and Durand Scott.

"We're a little bit behind the traditional programs in the ACC trying to get commitments from juniors," Larranaga told the radio station. "We're not in that position yet where we can start working on 2013. We're looking to get commitments in September, then go after the junior class and get way out in front with the recruiting situation with the top prospects."

According to Canesport.com, UM could find out soon if 2012 point guard Kareem Canty, rated 15th best at his position according to Rivals, is headed to Miami or Xavier. Canty, who plays at North Bridgton Academy in Maine, was originally recruited by Frank Haith. Larranaga has stayed on him. Canty is friends with UM guard Durand Scott and is originally from the Harlem area in New York.

Larannaga has said he'd like to focus UM's recruiting efforts in the state of Florida. He told ESPN 950 he believes he can stock his team with players that live within two to three hours of campus. 

November 10, 2010

Haith: Daniels a high-flier like Diaz

The University of Miami men’s basketball team signed Bishop Daniels to a National Letter of Intent Wednesday, adding a high-flying combo guard to its roster that coach Frank Haith said reminds him of Guillermo Diaz.

Daniels, a 6-foot-2, 175-pounder from Raleigh, N.C., is ranked as the 112th best recruit by Rivals.com. He averaged 13 points and five assists per game for Word of God Christian Academy (N.C.) last season -- the same school that produced first overall pick John Wall two years ago.

"He's a true combo right now, but eventually will be a point guard," Haith said. "He's coming to a team that's going to pretty much be the same team next year. So we can kind of grow him.

"The way he flies, he's like Guillermo [Diaz]. He's a really athletic player. I don't remember Guillermo in high school in terms of how good a shooter he was. But he was a great shooter when he left here. Bishop has to work to that. But he's that kind of athlete."

Daniels, who played AAU ball for the CP3 All-Stars and was also recruited by schools such as N.C. State and Purdue, is the final recruit in the Canes' 2011 signing class. The Canes, who open the season Friday night at home against Jacksonville, used their other scholarships on 6-11 center Kenny Kadji and 6-5 guard Trey McKinney-Jones, who transferred in from other programs. Both will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.

"We're only going to loss Adrian Thomas from this team," Haith said. "I think we're going to be in pretty good shape this year and next."

January 04, 2010

UM hoops lands third commitment for 2010

Frank Haith and his basketball team came back from their West Coast trip with more than a 23-point win over Pepperdine Sunday night. The Hurricanes landed their third commitment for the 2010 class shortly after their win when 6-5, 220-pound forward Erik Swoope from North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake got a call from assistant Michael Schwartz and realized he'd been offered.

Frank Haith  "It's actually a pretty funny story," Swoope said. "I had been talking to Coach Haith and he told me how he'd like for me to be a part of his family. I thought it was just a nice gesture. But it turns out he was offering me. When I talked to Coach Schwartz, he said, 'So, how do you feel?' I said, 'It would be great if you guys would offer.' He said, 'Coach did. So, do you want to commit?'  I said 'Absolutely."

Unranked by Rivals.com, Swoope is rated the 43rd best power forward in the country according to ESPN.com. Swoope said despite being 6-5, his game is really more tailored to playing in the paint. 

"We haven't gone into full conversations about where they want me to play, but they're talking about developing my skills and having me shoot from about 15 feet and out," Swoope said. "They want to use my post skills as an advantage. My guess it's a combo of a three or a four. I can do both."

Swoope, who has a 3.2 GPA and was also being courted by Harvard, is averaging 18.8 points, 8.5 rebound and 2.5 steals through 12 games. He said he averaged 13 points and nine rebounds a game last season as a junior.

"Coach Schwartz called me at the end of July and he expressed that Miami had some interest," Swoope said. "I played with the Pump N Run Elite team and I thought things were going well until I moved and we lost communication. Three weeks ago, we called Coach Schwartz and told him about a tournament I was playing in and if they wanted to see me. I saw Coach Haith when they came down to my practice the day after New Year's and it just went well from there."

Swoope, who grew up playing soccer and basketball, said he feels like UM will provide great balance for him academically and athletically. Born with a passion for math and science, he said he was considering Harvard for its Business Management and Sports Management programs. But he sees he can do the same at Miami while playing in the ACC. The other schools to offer Swoope: Washington State, Utah, San Diego State, UNLV and Portland.

October 19, 2009

Haith nabs 6-9, 230-pound center for 2010 class

Raphael Akpejiori, a 6-9, 230-pound power forward from Bel Aire (Kan.) Sunrise Christian Academy, became the second commitment in the University of Miami's 2010 signing class Monday.

A Nigeria native, Akpejiori sat out his junior year after suffering a dislocated ankle at Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina. He's rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and chose UM among 30 schools including finalists Columbia and South Florida.

"I know everybody says this -- but Ralph is a great kid," Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted said. "He's a qualified Ivy Leaguer. He wants to study engineering. He has a 96 percent average in calculas. He's top notch academically and morally.

"On the court, he's 6-8, 6-9, defender, rebounder, real active inside, real good athlete inside, tough and strong and he's kind of flown under the radar becaue he's had some injuries. He's been at our school for a year. This year, he'll be able to play."

Akpejiori came to the United States as as sophomore when he played in the international game at Michael Jordan's Spring Classic. He dislocated his foot few months later and did not get back on the court until this past summer when he played for Nike sponsored Baltimore Elite.

Lindsted said UM fans will be able to get an up-close look at Akpejiori in the Kreul Classic Dec. 21-22 in Coral Springs. He took his official visit to UM the same weekend the football team beat Oklahoma.

"Academics are important to him. He liked the fact it was a private school," Lindsted said. "I think the football team did their job. He really enjoyed that game. He likes the idea of playing in the ACC. That was the league he wanted to play in. He likes Coach Haith and Coach Morton and that whole staff. He's going to be a good building block for what they want to do there."

August 03, 2009

Son of CBA's all-time leading scorer picks UM

The University of Miami picked up its first basketball commitment for its 2010 class late Monday night when guard Rion Brown, a standout at Georgia's Hinesville Liberty County High, called coach Frank Haith to tell him to save him a scholarship.

Brown, a 6-5, 190-pound shooting guard, is the son of CBA all-time leading scorer Tico Brown. He's ranked 44th in the Rivals.com Top 150 and ranked the 22nd-best swingman in the country according to Scout.com.

Brown said the allure of playing in the ACC and for a coach who helped Jack McClinton reach the NBA was what pulled him toward Miami and away from Georgia, Virginia and Alabama.

"The ACC is what drew me there,'' Brown said. "It's one of the best conferences in the game. Playing for a guy like coach Haith, who has helped three guards reach the league, is always great. I watched Miami closely last year and could see Jack getting better. That's what did it for me.''

Brown made a name for himself this summer playing with for the Worldwide Renegades -- the same team that produced Hurricanes sophomore guard Dequan Jones.

Brown said UM assistant Jake Morton first offered him a scholarship in May and that after meeting Haith in July he moved UM into his final four. Brown averaged 15 points and five rebounds a game during his junior year. He expects to sign with Miami in March and will visit UM's campus on the weekend of Oct. 3rd.

"I can't wait to see the campus,'' Brown said. "I was down there for the Breakdown Festival and really liked South Florida. It's a beautiful place.''

May 19, 2009

Kentucky reportedly wins John Wall recruiting battle

On my way to Durham for the ACC Baseball Tournament and got word earlier this morning Canes basketball fans don't want to hear. John Wall, the nation's No. 1 recruit, has reportedly picked Kentucky over The U.

It's a tough loss for coach Frank Haith, who was closer than ever to adding the big name recruit he needed to take this program to the next level. With Wall, Miami would have become an instant national story and much more visible to other top notch recruits.

Sooner or later, Haith is going to land the big one. He came close last year too with Devin Ebanks.

The big one could finally come next year in the form of Pine Crest guard Brandon Knight. One thing is for sure, if you are a Canes fan you ought to be encouraged Haith at least has UM in the conversation for the nation's best players. That's a huge step forward for what was an otherwise mediocre program just a few years ago.

May 14, 2009

Can the Canes get back to Omaha?

Mid May has traditionally been the time of year on the South Florida sports calendar when the UM baseball team suddenly begins to draw interest from folks that didn't really care about them except during those early season FSU or Florida series.

Kyle Bellamy and Yasmani Grandal celebrated an ACC title last year. Now, they're just hoping UM can get hot and make it back to Omaha. Right about now is when coach Jim Morris and his team begin popping up on nightly sports telecasts, and the fairweather fans who no longer have the Heat or Panthers to watch in the playoffs -- or are tired of the up-and-down struggles of the Marlins -- begin wondering how their team is doing in the old "ping league." Even UM football diehards who are glued to Canesport's football recruiting wire will lift their heads up from their computers for five minutes to ask: How many weeks until Omaha?

It's what Morris and his team has gotten us South Floridians accustomed to. They've spoiled us really. What we expect is for the most reliable team in the sports market -- the one that always has that hefty national ranking, the slew of big home run bats, and that combo of left-handers who bring the heat -- to be ready to deliver excitement for about three weeks, to have us on edge and suddenly yearning for that sound (PING!)

Sorry to break it to you casual observers, but the forecast for the pinging Canes doesn't look good. Unless the Canes turn it around big time and in a hurry, the milkshake guy at The Light has served his last Omaha Express. And fans who were hoping to watch Scott Lawson do his stanky leg dance are going to have to hope TV cameras catch it.

Earlier this week, I caught up with the Canes before they left Wednesday in must-win mode for their final regular season ACC series at Wake Forest. Miami, ranked 24th by Baseball America, has gone 8-10 over the past month. The Canes have had plenty of icky losses. North Florida beat them. Bethune-Cookman took two of three from them last weekend at The Light no less.

Players know the only way they'll get to play at home again is if they get hot and stun everyone at next week's ACC Tournament in Durham. So can they do it? And more importantly, can they get back to Omaha? Ask closer Kyle Bellamy that question and he might spit venom at you.

“Of course we can get hot,” said Bellamy who with a 3-1 record, 1.15 ERA and 14 saves has been the only consistent arm on the staff Miami has had all season. “We were No. 2 in the nation for awhile. We’re definitely capable. We just have to get that mentality back we had when we swept the Gators in Gainesville and we took 2 of 3 from FSU. I think we just need to get that chip back on our shoulder – the one we had when were trying to prove to everyone we were a pretty good team."

The problem for Miami is that it's going to take more than an attitude adjustment. It's going to take a major overhaul. Only three hitters -- Scott Lawson (.348), Chris Hermann (.314) and Jason Hagerty (.313) -- are batting better than .300. While ace Chris Hernandez has gotten his act together (he's now 6-3 with a 4.24 ERA after a horrendous start), No. 2 starter David Gutierrez is still looking for his first win since March 7th.

Morris had loftier expectations when the season began despite the fact he lost three first round picks and a boatload of talented players from a team that went 53-11 and entered the College World Series last year expecting to win a fifth national title. But despite the recent setbacks Morris hasn't lost hope. Heck, if Fresno State did it last year why can't the Canes?

“We’ve proven we can beat some of the best teams in college baseball and we’ve proven if we don’t go out and play well we’re not going to win,” Morris said. “We’ve put our backs against the wall no question about that. But I know we can respond. I think we’ve swung the bats really good against some good teams, and any team in the Top 25 has a chance to get hot this time of year. Fresno State was 82nd last year and they won it. We have a lot of young players who can grow up quickly over the next few weeks."

As it stands, even if Miami were to win next week's ACC Tournament, the likelyhood remains they could be on the road in the regionals because the NCAA isn't likely to grant more than two in-state teams the right to host. Both the Gators and Seminoles are ranked higher than UM at the moment and both have had much better regular seasons to this point. As it stands, Baseball America projects Miami will be making the trip to Gainesville.

That doesn't bode well for UM. When the Canes have reached Omaha in the past, they've usually done it playing at home. Of their 23 trips to the CWS, only four were achieved by winning a regional on the road (2006, 1996, 1989, 1984, 1974). Morris said this team in his eyes compares a lot to his 2002 team, which won a regional in Gainesville, but then loss a heart breaker to South Carolina in the Super Regional a week later.

“It’s very important for us to host regionals,” Bellamy said. “There was a lot of inspiration we got our own fans last year in those tight games. Sometimes traveling and being in the airplanes and the hotels can wear on you. Hosting Regionals would definitely be a huge lift. Hopefully, it’s not too late and we can turn it on.”

JUST A FEW QUICK NOTES...
> After spending the past month on Marlins detail, I will be going on the road with the baseball team to Durham next week. So, if you want to talk baseball while I'm there, shoot me some questions on the blog or email. I'll probably be live blogging the games.

Eduardo Clements > This week with the Marlins on the road and Clark Spencer on the beat, I got a chance to make my rounds to a few local high schools to catch up on the recruiting front. For those of you interested, I posted three videos -- including an interview with Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements.

While I'm still very skeptical UM will be able to get any of the Tornadoes' top recruits, you should know the Canes at least have a new constant presence on campus. Tim Harris Jr., the son of former coach Ice Harris and a star in track at UM, has begun his high school coaching career this spring at Booker T. He's coaching the quarterbacks. That alone should help Miami stay in contention for Clements, receiver Quinton Dunbar, and defensive end Lyden Trail, who recently picked up an offer from USC.

> As for Miami Springs highly-touted receiver Willis Wright, Miami has definitely offered Wright and is intered in him. But they aren't nearly as interested as Florida State, which has already had five coaches come down to meet with the 6-3, 200-pound receiver in the past year. Miami Springs coach Alex Pacheco told me Monday Wesley McGriff visited the school last year, but no one from UM has been out there yet this spring. Wright got his formal offer from UM in the mail. Physically, Wright is one of the most impressive receivers I've ever seen in Miami-Dade. I'd throw him in the same category as Aldarius Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Andre Johnson.

> For those of you still on edge over Frank Haith's chase of John Wall, Miami is definitely in the race for the nation's top available recruit. The people I spoke to this week on Wall's behalf told me UM is in his top three and under serious consideration. Wall, by the way, is apparently considering stretching his decision making process past the May 20th deadline.

> In case you missed it, our live weekly Q&As on MiamiHerald.com have been shut down until the start of football season. I'm now doing Marlins Q&As on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. If you want to shoot me questions, feel free to email them to me or place them on the blog. I'm thinking of starting up a Monday Mailbag session if I get some good questions from you.

April 28, 2009

Wall gives UM high marks after visit

The Miami Hurricanes took their best shot at the nation's No. 1 available basketball recruit this weekend. So, did staying on South Beach and hanging out with Jack McClinton this weekend convince future NBA Lottery star point guard John Wall that UM could be the place he spends one year before collecting a multi-million million dollar paycheck at the next level?

John Wall Let's just say the Hurricanes might now really be in the mix. After reading several interviews Wall gave various media outlets in the time since his visit, it appears at the very least Miami made an impression.

“Now they are up there," Wall told Scout.com's Evan Daniels. "I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t really considering them that hard, but I hadn’t taken a visit there and I didn’t know how it was going to be and how the coaches were. After I took the visit it really opened my eyes up."

“I feel like I like the school better than I did before,” he said. “I had Miami on my list but I never really considered them. I didn’t know how it was. I knew it was going to be nice in Florida, but didn’t know how it was school wise and that all the players from different sports get along great.”

“From talking to coach [Frank] Haith, I really got a chance to sit down and talk to him one-on-one for a few hours and we watched some film and I just felt like it was a great place.”

Great place? Sure, we've heard that before. But could UM really be the final destination? That remains to be seen. This week, Wall told several reporters he would cut his list of finalists -- Miami, Kentucky, Florida, Duke, Baylor, N.C. State, Memphis -- down considerably before making a final decision.

"I'm going to sit down this week and really talk it out," Wall told TheDevilsDen.com "I think I will have it down to two or three schools by the end of the week. After that I can concentrate just on those schools and make a decision I'm comfortable with."

What will he be considering?

"There's just a lot to think about, really," Wall told TheDevilsDen.com. "Do I want to leave home for a year? I mean you can't control where you get drafted, so this would be my last year at home. Which coaches do I fit well with? Which teams? How do I like the campus? That kind of thing. There's just a lot to think about."

You got to give coach Frank Haith some credit. At the very least, he not only got the nation's No. 1 available player to visit UM, but make them sound great, too. And believe me, other recruits listen.

April 22, 2009

Why John Wall should pick Miami before going pro

In a little more than a year, John Wall will walk to a podium in New York City, shake NBA commissioner David Stern's hands and walk out a happy 20-year old millionaire. But until then, the 6-4, 175-pound point guard has a year he has to spend in college.

John Wall Next week, Wall -- this year's recruiting version of Derrick Rose -- is supposed to decide where he'll spend that year. Every big name in college basketball has taken their shot. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski got another Wednesday when Wall and his mother drove over to Durham from their home down the road in Raleigh. Sidney Lowe and N.C. State would love it if Wall decided to spend an extra year at home with his mom, while helping Lowe keep his job at least for one more year. Most, though, expect new Kentucky coach John Calipari to win the Wall sweepstakes. After all, look what he did for Rose, this year's NBA Rookie of the Year.

But before John Wall decided who will get those rented services, he'll be making a trip this weekend to visit a school that doesn't usually host NBA Lottery Picks. That would be your University of Miami and coach Frank Haith, who -- despite being told repeatedly by experts he has no chance at landing Wall -- has continued to chase after the future NBA star with a supreme man crush.

Like the rest of the one-hit wonders who have made their way from fab freshman to the NBA Lottery, Wall will probably end up going to Kentucky or Duke and making a run at a national title on a team loaded with talent. After all, that's what all the big stars have been doing (look up Carmello Anthony, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant). But if Wall really wanted to be different, really wanted to enjoy his one-year of college, he'd pick Miami. Where else is he going to get everything South Florida has to offer?

Do you think in Lexington or Durham he would be able to pick the brain of Dwyane Wade, or spend his off nights down at a nearby NBA arena like Jack McClinton did? Out in the Bluegrass or in the safe haven of Cameron, would he be able to celebrate a 50-point night the way he could in the hometown of Playboy Magazine's No. 1 party school in the country? No way. OK, so Duke and Kentucky may offer more tradition, a chance to follow in the footsteps of other greats and win a national title and really boring Saturday nights. But at UM, Wall could spend his 12 months in NBA purgatory being a king, being the first future NBA superstar to lead the Hurricanes places they've never been before, and to enjoy South Beach while he does it. Honestly, what is better than that?

> For what it's worth, not everyone believes Wall is headed to Kentucky or Duke. Tonight, I caught up with Dave Telep, Scout.com's National Recruiting Editor, who told me he no longer can put a finger on where he thinks Wall will end up.

"My gut feeling went out the door a long time ago," Telep said. "[Miami] definitely is not the favorite. But he hasn't visited yet. If you have what Miami has in terms of opportunity and environment and a guy like Haith, who is from North Carolina, grew up in the same environment Wall did, you have a lot to sell. It's a great idea to take a shot at the guy. Sometimes you have an advantage being the team no one expects."

> Even without Wall, Haith deserves kudos for inking one of the nation's Top 20 classes this season. ESPN ranks UM 16th in its rankings. Scout currently has UM 15th, but the Canes could move up or down depending on what happens according to Telep with a few top-tier recruits in the next week.

Wednesday, Antoine Allen -- the 6-2, 183-pound combo guard who played for the same Baltimore-based AAU program Jack McClinton did -- became the fourth high school senior to join UM's class when he received the necessary paperwork he needed to get into UM. Allen joins a class that features Scout.com five-star recruit Durand Scott, who played in the Jordan All-Star Game in New York this past weekend, and fellow Rivals.com Top 150 recruits Garrius Adams, a 6-5 guard from North Carolina, and 6-8 forward Donnovan Kirk. They'll be among the five new players on Haith's team next year, which will also add highly-touted point guard Malcolm Grant, who sat out the season after transferring in from Villanova.

Telep told me while it will be hard for UM to replace McClinton's offense, he sees this class as a nice foundation for the future, one that should help the Canes get back into the NCAA Tournament quicker than most expect.

"Nobody is taking Jack McClinton's place offensively," Telep said. "But Durand Scott is going to be one of the best defensive players in the ACC. He's better than advertised offensively. But he carved out his niche and forces his way onto the court because he's a very prideful player on defense. Over four years, he's going to be one of the best defensive players in the country. Much like the role Marcus Ginyard plays for North Carolina, Frank Haith has his Marcus Ginyard in Durand Scott."

"It's a balanced class. They've replaced some guys on the wing and add a Malcolm Grant, it's a good group of guys. They're all different. Garrius Adams has size and could be a good offensive player down the road. Antoine Allen is the junkyard dog in this class. Donnovan Kirk does a good job as a rebounder and a nice job scoring around the basket. It's a nice foundation for the future."

But it's a foundation that needs a cherry on top, a star to tie it all together. Even if that star is a one-year rental named John Wall, the Canes should do everything in their power to sell him on South Beach.

April 02, 2009

A chat with Kirby Hocutt & more

Two weeks ago when the University of Miami was on the road in the NIT at Providence, I got a chance to catchup with athletic director Kirby Hocutt and pick his mind on a few hot button issues. I figured the highlights of our discussion might be the best way for me to start sharing a boatload of notes I've collected in the past week since the end of the spring football.

Kirby Hocutt > UM football coach Randy Shannon has two years left on his current contract. Entering his third season after going a combined 12-13, Hocutt said he has yet to broach the subject of a contract extension with Shannon and didn't share a timetable either when negotiations might begin. But he didn't sound like an athletic director whose begun looking yet for Plan B either. 

"We haven't talked yet," Hocutt said. "But that's no indication of our support for Randy. He's done an excellent job. There's an excitement around the program as well as optimism for next year. Miami football is on the right track. Randy has a plan and we're going to continue to support him and he's going to be the leader of the program for a long time. I'm confident of that."

> One thing that Shannon did that pleased Hocutt was the way he handled the recruitment of running back Bryce Brown, who went from longtime UM commitment to signing with Tennessee two weeks ago after Shannon decided not to renew his scholarship offer.

"He made the right decision in my opinion and I respect him for handling it the way he did. We're going to be fine moving forward," Hocutt said. "[Recruiting] has changed. Is it concerning? Yes it is. You would hope you can work directly with the parents and the young people involved. You hope the third party influence is not as involved as it is today, especially in the sport of basketball. This honestly was the first time I saw a third party involved in a football situation to the degree it was. And it's something I think we need to start talking about at the conference level and maybe moreso on a national level."

> One of the things Hocutt said he has become more involved in since taking over has been the future scheduling of opponents. He wants to get UM involved in big-time games including playing Notre Dame again and getting Florida on the schedule. Right now, Kansas State is looking to get off UM's schedule for 2011 and 2012. Hocutt said he and Shannon have agreed that as long as UM finds a comparable opponent for the series they would let the Wildcats out of their agreement. According to Hocutt, ESPN is trying to find a replacement to create a marquee TV matchup. Hocutt would not mention any names, but said it would be another Big 12 opponent. I've heard rumblings the possible home and home series could come against either Texas, Texas Tech or Missouri.

"We're going to make sure the opponent makes sense for Miami and what we're trying to accomplish," Hocutt said. "We'll see what opportunities present themselves and move down the road."

Speaking of down the road and opportunities, Hocutt seemed more confident there could be a future meeting with Miami and Notre Dame than with the Canes and Gators, who are currently scheduled to meet for the last time in football at Dolphins Stadium in 2013.

"If there is any way whatsoever to get [a series with Notre Dame] done, we'll get it done," Hocutt said. "I don't want to lead people on or sound too optimistic, but there has been an initial phone call and another conversation through a mutual relationship [TV]. There's definitely interest on both sides. If it's something we can get done in the future it sounds like we're both committed to it."

> When it comes to Frank Haith, consider Hocutt a huge fan of UM's 43-year old coach and a coach Hocutt would probably willing to fight for financially should Haith receive an offer to leave the program. Haith, who last week told reporters and his team he has no interest in leaving UM, has once again had his name resurface this week in filling a possible job opening. FOXSports.com reported Wednesday Georgia has Haith next on its list of candidates after Oklahoma's John Capel. Ten months ago, Hocutt and Dee extended Haith's contract at UM through 2014. Hocutt, who said he speaks to Haith on a weekly basis even during the offseason, said nobody has formally asked UM to speak with Haith.

"Frank and I spend a lot of time talking and its all focused around the future of Miami basketball, what we can continue to do to elevate this program," Hocutt said. "We have a great relationship. He knows we don't want anybody in this country to be our head basketball coach except Frank Haith. You hope you are in position as an athletic director and athletic department thatr people are coming after your coaches, your staff members. That's what you want. That means you got the right person in place and you are doing good things. I think it's a complement to UM that Frank's name is mentioned out there so much."

MORE NOTES, QUOTES & THOUGHTS...

This week I spent two days covering the McDonald's All-American festivities and got a chance to not only speak to a few big-time players, but pick the brains of high school basketball recruiting gurus on a variety of topics.

> UM's quest to land John Wall, the nation's No. 1 available point guard, should probably be considered what has been for a long time -- shaky at best. With John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky this week, many gurus believe it won't necessarily stop Wall from following him. As I was told by SI's Andy Staples last night, Kentucky is probably the most ideal situation because they are desparate for a point guard. Wall has told several publications he plans to take an official visit to UM on April 24. But like Dwayne Collins told me last night when I bumped into him in the BankUnited Center parking lot at around midnight, "if I was him or anybody else living up in that cold, I'd want to take a trip to Miami, too. But that don't mean he's coming here."

> Speaking of Dwayne Collins, although there have been reports that the 6-8, 240-pound forward is considering leaving UM after this season to enter the NBA Draft, I'd consider the likelyhood of Collins leaving about the same as Wall coming to Miami. "Really, I'm just waiting on Coach Haith to tell me what he thinks," Collins said. "If he thinks I should go, I'll go. If he doesn't, I'll be back." NBADraftexpress.com ranks Collins 37th among the nation's Top Juniors. That's not close to being a first round pick.

> Jack McClinton's NBA Draft stock, meanwhile, remains up in the air -- especially after a knee injury slowed him toward the end of the year. McClinton will get a chance to make an impression on NBA Scouts again, however, when he participates in the Three-Point shootout of the State Farm College All-Star festivities Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the site of the Final Four in Detroit.

> Florida-bound and local guard Kenny Boynton Jr. had a pretty good night (10 points) in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game at the BankUnited Center. I asked Boynton Tuesday if there ever really was a bone in his body that considered playing at Miami, in front of his friends and family.

"There definitely was," Boynton said. "They did recruit me. Coach Jorge Fernandez recruited me real well. Coach Haith recruited me also. But I didn’t think he put more into it like Duke and Florida. I think coach Haith didn’t show me he really wanted me. He came to see me a few times. But he never called a lot. I think it would have been a good situation [coming to Miami]. It’s close to home, Miami is on the rise. I think I could have helped. But it’s a good situation where I'm going too. I like Florida a lot."

> Coming off their second series loss in 23 series in the ACC, UM's baseball team will open a three-game homestand against Florida State this weekend at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The biggest news, though, is UM has decided to move No. 2 starter David Gutierrez into the Friday night starter role in place of the struggling Chris Hernandez Gutierrez is 2-2 with a 1.51 ERA. Hernandez is 2-2 with a 5.88 ERA.

By the way, the Canes will honor the 1999 National Championship team before Saturday night's game at 7 p.m. Get there early if you want to catch it.

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. 

February 23, 2009

Haith lands commitments for 2011, 2012

The Miami Hurricanes might not be done with their 2009 singing class yet, but that doesn't mean they're waiting to get started on 2010, 2011 or even 2012.

Frank Haith landed two 6-10 players Monday for the future. Monday afternoon, Frank Haith's team picked up two verbal commitments from players not only highly regarded, but who came to the U.S. recently from outside the country. They are: 6-10, 200-pound, Rwandan-born wingman Yvan Ngirabuakunzi (a 2011 commitment) and 6-10, 220-pound center Ismalia Dauda from Nigeria (a 2012 commitment).

Both phoned UM coaches to tell them they wanted to be a part of the Hurricanes future recently -- even if that future is several years away. Dauda, a freshman at Miami Choice Academy, is considered by some publications to be the best 15-year old freshman in the state of Florida. He hasn't even played for his high school team yet. According to his coach, former FIU and Miami High assistant Bernard Wright, UM coaches didn't need to see Dauda play to see what they liked. They only had to watch one practice.

"Coach [Jake] Morton came down here to see some of our upperclassmen. He saw Ismalia practice once and it didn't take Miami very long to offer," said Wright, who said Dauda also received an early offer from Arkansas. "[College] coaches aren't waiting anymore to jump on kids. They see the size, potential, they want to be in position to get a talent like him early. He went to the North Carolina game recently and came back and told me, Miami is where he wants to be."

Dauda played for the Nigerian Junior National team last year and plans to play for Global Elite, a Nike-sponsored summer travel team based out of Atlanta in the offseason. Wright said Dauda has an older brother who played professional basketball and lives in Fayetville, Arkansas. But he doesn't expect that to play a role in the recruiting. 

"He visited Arkansas unofficially in December," Wright said. "He came back saying it was way too cold for him. He wants to play and live in the warm weather. I'm pretty sure Miami is where he wants to be for the long haul."

Ngirabaukuzi, who arrived in the U.S. this past summer, has gotten a chance to play to high school basketball in the states at Piney Woods School in Mississippi. The former member of the Under-18 national team is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds this season and is a very good three-point shooter according to his coach Lemuel Jones. 

February 10, 2009

Another Jack McClinton?

The news coming out of UM never seems to take a break does it?

The Miami Hurricanes have a new guard who will be part of their 2009 signing class. And coach Frank Haith and his staff are hoping hard he turns out to be a lot like the one leaving after this season -- Jack McClinton.

Antoine Allen Say hello to Antoine Allen, a 6-2, 186-pound combo guard from Mississippi Elite Christian Academy. Allen isn't another ESPN Top 100 recruit like the other two guards part of Haith's next class. But he's another good under the radar player from Baltimore, who just happened to play for the same AAU program McClinton did.

I caught up with Cecil Kirk coach Anthony Lewis, who coached both players, a few hours ago. His take in a sentence -- Allen is better defensively than McClinton was at 19 and just as good a shooter as he was, too. Allen told me he is averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists at his prep school, which takes on other prep schools and junior colleges. He can play either point guard or shooting guard (like Jack) and can light it up from three-point range.

The good news is he apparently has the same work ethic as McClinton, which is probably the most important trait. "The one thing I asked coach was is if they had a 24-hour gym open for me," Allen said. "I'm a guy who loves to be in the gym at all hours, working hard. That's me."

> Allen is expected to sign in April and will start at Miami in the fall. He'll be one of four new guards on the team along with Malcolm Grant, who should be UM's starting point guard next season, Durand Scott and Garrius Adams. James Dews is the only guard expected back next season.