After an offseason full of changes and a rough start in Big East play, Hurricanes coach Perry Clark’s ability to lead Miami to a 16-13 record and an NIT berth was looked upon rather favorably.
With a full roster intact this season, however, the same result will not be as acceptable.
The Hurricanes enter the 2001-2002 season with eleven returning players, including four out of five starters. This year’s starting five combined to average 56.6 points per game, and have the potential to inflict even more harm. In addition, Clark has added three players that should help solve Miami’s depth problems.
Clark recognizes the talent and potential of his 15 players, and vows to make changes in the game plan that will further assist the Hurricanes.
“We really want to run and we are going to push the basketball,” Clark said. “I think if we can put four good scorers in the game, we want to get them the basketball in transition.”
The best of those four scorers is sophomore and pre-season Naismith candidate Darius Rice. The 6-10 small forward led Miami in scoring last season with 14.1 points per game, and posted double figure scoring totals in all but nine games.
Rice’s scoring ability landed him on the All-Big East Rookie Team, but with several scorers on the court, Clark wants Rice to work on other aspects of his game as well.
“Darius has mentally matured a great deal since his freshman campaign,” Clark said. “We need him to rebound the basketball, play defensively and do some other things to help us win basketball games, even when his shot is not going.”
Also returning to the Hurricane frontcourt will be power forward James Jones. The 6-8 junior averaged 11.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while showing a surprising outside touch, leading Miami with a 47.1 percentage behind the three-point arc. Jones also led Miami in two exhibition victories, averaging 18.5 points per game.
Much of the frontcourt attention, however, is shifted towards the return of Elton Tyler. The 6-9 center was red-shirted last year for a variety of reasons but has come back at full strength. Tyler averaged 11 points during the preseason and has been an efficient shooter during his career, connecting on 54.4 percent of his shots.
“Integrating Elton Tyler back is extremely important,” Clark said. “He gives us five guys on the court that can score and his knowledge and experience of the game will certainly be more than welcome.”
In the backcourt, Marcus Barnes moves from the bench to the starting lineup, at least for the first part of the season. The 6-2 sophomore saw a good portion of his time at the point last season, but will be moved to the shooting guard to start the 2001-2002 campaign. Clark said that the move should help Barnes gain more consistency.
“With the leadership we have at the point, I think it’s better to keep Marcus off the ball where he can concentrate on shooting and defending the ball better,” Clark said.
That leaves senior John Salmons, Miami’s most versatile player, to run the show. At 6-7, Salmons has the ability to play four different positions, but will be asked primarily to occupy the point. Last year’s All-Big East third team selection is confident that the pressure placed upon him will not become much of a factor come game time.
“There’s pressure, but I’ve been working hard all year and basically, I just put it all on God when I’m out there,” Salmons said. He is the only Big East player to rank among conference leaders in six different categories. “I want to make my mark and just go out there and accomplish things.”
Last year’s starting point guard, junior Michael Simmons, has recovered from a hip injury and will help bolster a bench that includes returnees Rodrigue Djahue and Paulo Coelho.
The bulk of the production off the bench, however, may come from the three new additions to the Hurricane roster – freshman Kahleaf Watson, junior Rafael Berumen, and sophomore Will Frisby. All three players bring ability to help Miami in several different aspects, and according to Clark, already have expectations.
“I think that our three new players satisfy needs instead of just getting outstanding players who demand playing time, and thus mess up the rotation,” Clark said. “What that does is put a burden on some of the players that have been here, and have to certainly step up for us this year.”
The Hurricanes regular season begins with the Virgin Islands Jam on Sunday. The home schedule kicks off with Lafayette on the Nov. 24 and includes teams like Indiana and Charlotte, as well as Big East powerhouses St. John’s and Connecticut.
On the road, the Hurricanes will have to deal with these same Big East opponents, as well as non-conference games at LSU and Texas A&M.
“The Big East conference is the best conference in the nation,” Jones said. “Every team there is capable of winning both the regular season and the tournament title.”
Miami definitely has a tough schedule and some remaining question marks ahead of them. Jones is confident, however, that the core players will step up in the clutch and win some games that eluded them last season.
“This year, we are a young team but we are veterans,” Jones said. “We just have to tough it out during the last five minutes of the game and come up with victories.”