The first couple of months of the Hurricane men’s basketball team’s 2002-2003 season seemed like a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs.
On some nights, the 7-6 (0-2 Big East) ‘Canes showed that they can play with anyone in the nation. Other nights, coach Perry Clark’s team looked like they still have a long way to go before becoming a major contender.
The Hurricanes, led by captains James Jones and Darius Rice, have been very competitive in the majority of their games thus far. Clark says the future looks bright, especially with the success of the team’s five freshmen (Armondo Surratt, Robert Hite, Gary Hamilton, Eric Wilkins, and Ismael N’Diaye), who have all contributed key minutes while learning the rigors of Big East play very quickly.
“Our five freshmen have all been integrated into the rotation and are consistently improving,” Clark said. “Armondo Surratt has grown already, Gary Hamilton has come out of nowhere to give us some big minutes, and Robert Hite has already had to guard some of the best players in the country.”
Along with the continuing progress of the youngsters, the steady leadership of Jones and Rice has kept the team together and on task. Both are amongst the conference leaders in scoring and help the team in every aspect of the game.
“Leadership is an action and James and Darius have both displayed that,” Clark said. “Darius has really stepped up in the big games and James is the consummate leader on and off the court. They both have tremendous character.”
“I just try to give my teammates confidence by going out and playing hard every night,” Jones said. “If I do that it sets a positive example for everyone else.”
The ‘Canes started their non-conference schedule in late November with convincing wins over New Hampshire, Texas A&M, and Savannah State, raising expectations for the upcoming Big East season. However, the following three games, all losses to Florida Atlantic, Florida State, and Charlotte, revealed weaknesses in the team’s defense and a lack of consistency.
“We were burnt early in a couple of games that we shouldn’t have lost,” Clark said. “We aren’t as consistent defensively as last year and we still need to develop a third scoring threat to go along with James and Darius.”
After the three disappointing setbacks, the ‘Canes responded with quality performances against premier teams, losing by a point (94-93) to Florida in double-overtime, followed by a 64-61 win over North Carolina in OT at the opening of the brand new Convocation Center, and a hard fought 83-80 loss in Connecticut. With a 7-6 record, the ‘Canes need efforts like those to make a run at the NCAA tournament.
“With our current record we can’t afford to take any games lightly,” Clark said. “We can’t look past anyone because we learned earlier in the season that teams can sneak up on you that way.”
Clark feels that this year’s Big East conference should play out very similar to the last couple of years, which means that no one team will be able to run away with the title.
“The Big East is a ‘dog eat dog’ type of conference,” Clark said. “In our first two games with Connecticut and West Virginia we have already been exposed to how strong of a conference we play in.”
Jones is eager to see how the next few weeks of the season play out.
“We are looking forward to the Connecticut and St. John’s games,” Jones said. “They are our rivals and we want to play hard for our fans in the new building and make a run at the Big East title.”
The Canes travel to Seton Hall Saturday before returning home for a rematch with Connecticut on Monday night at 7:00, a game that will be televised on ESPN.
“We need the fans to support us for these upcoming home games,” Jones said. “It gives us a special advantage when the crowd is energetic.”
You can reach Eric Kalis at email@example.com