Last season, the Hurricane men’s basketball team, who finished No. 21 in the final AP poll, made their fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last five years. Despite a disheartening first round exit and the loss of three starters, this year’s squad has every intention of continuing the recent line of success.
The ‘Canes will surely miss the services of NBA first round pick and 6-7 versatile swingman John Salmons. In addition, Miami lost 6-9 center Elton Tyler to graduation.
“John meant so much to this basketball team and me personally,” said head coach Perry Clark. “He could do it all on the court.”
Just when you thought it was going to be hard to replace two starters, another starter is gone, but for different reasons. Last season’s starting shooting guard Marcus Barnes, who averaged 12.3 points per game last season, was kicked off the team in late August for violating team rules. Head coach Perry Clark did not specify what Barnes did, but it is known to the public that Barnes was arrested in early August for suspicion of domestic violence.
Not only do the ‘Canes have to replace solid leadership in Salmons, but now have to start the 2002-2003 season with a revamped backcourt and a new center.
The leadership torch will certainly be passed off to 6-8 senior forward James Jones, a third-team All-Big East selection last year, and 6-10 junior forward Darius Rice, a second-team pick. Jones and Rice may be capable of taking over the vocal leadership left absent with the graduation of Salmons, however, it will be quite the task to make up for Salmons 13.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 6.5 assists per game. Salmons, who was the 26th pick in the first round of the NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs and later traded to his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, brought so much to the Hurricanes. The team will look in all places to make up for Salmons diversity on te court.
“Salmons meant so much to our team,” Jones said. “He was a tremendous player and a true leader on and off the court.”
Clark will count on the 1-2 punch of Rice and Jones, which could possibly be one of the best frontcourt duos in the country. Wooden Award Candidate Rice, who averaged 14.9 points per game last year, has unlimited potential. Rice, the former high school McDonald’s All-American, has led Miami in scoring the last two seasons. He had three 30-point games last season and ten with over 20. Rice, who has had thoughts of going to the NBA, has added muscle and improved his ball handling, but still is rather slim at 215 pounds. Last year, Rice tended to stay outside the perimeter and burn opponents with his three point shot. This season, Clark is looking for him to mix in an inside game with his already potent outside attack.
“For our team to be successful, we can’t let any opponent take Darius out of the game,” Clark said. “We need his production every night. He has to be more versatile in his ability to influence the game. He has the ability to change the game mixing his outside game in with a post game.”
“He [Rice] brings everything to the team – height, speed, defense, scoring ability,” Jones added. “He is like a jigsaw puzzle, as we can move him anywhere. Most teams don’t have forwards that can guard versatile forwards like Rice and myself.”
Jones, the team’s vocal leader, made himself known last season, as a legitimate inside-outside scorer, as well as a terror on the boards. He led the team with 6.4 rebounds per game and tied a UM record with 79 blocked shots last season.
“He is a front line player, so it is hard for him to dominate like a guard can,” Clark said. “But we will get him more shots and one on one opportunities. He was our emotional conscious last year so he is very cable of taking over as the team leader.”
For the rest of the squad, seven players return, but not one of them made a huge impact on last year’s 24-8 team.
For now, 6-1 senior guard Michael Simmons will be the starter at point. However, Simmons has had an inconsistent career at UM, and it seems as if Clarke is leaning towards starting 5-11 freshman Armondo Surratt. Surratt, from Oakland, Ca., was an all-state selection who averaged 18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and five steals a contest.
The candidates for the other guard spot include 6-2 senior Paulo Coelho and 6-2 freshman Robert Hite. Both are unproven.
“It is a transition process for us at the guard spot,” Clark said. “I have not locked in on a starting lineup yet. The freshmen need to step up and be factors.”
Hite, from Cincinnati’s Winton Woods High, averaged 19.1 points, five boards, and two assists en route to a 27-1 record and a state runner-up finish.
The center position is another area of concern for the Hurricanes. 6-7 junior Rodrigue Djahue (1.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and 6-9 junior Rafael Berumen (2.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg) will battle for the starting role left vacant by Tyler. Late signee, 6-9 Gary Hamilton from Los Angeles will also be in the mix, as will 6-8 junior Will Frisby, after he recovers from a foot injury in six weeks. Berumen started Miami’s two exhibition games.
“He brings a lot of experience,” Clark said of Berumen. “He has worked hard in the off season and has improved his overall game.”
With Rice and Jones leading the way, the Hurricanes have two extremely talented forwards who can light up the opponent on any give night. However, beyond them, there is very little experience. Last year’s team was a veteran unit that did not go deep in to the bench, seeming to win games with the little things. The 2002-2003 squad will rely on inexperienced players to get them to their fifth Big Dance in six seasons.
“We have to be realistic in the fact that we are a young team that needs to grow,” Clark concluded.
You can reach Brian Poliakoff at email@example.com.