While everyone seems to have low expectations for the men’s basketball team’s inaugural season in the ACC, the players and coaching staff are keeping their ears closed and focus narrow.
After losing one of the best players in school history, Darius Rice, to graduation and two key contributors, Armondo Surratt and Karron Clarke, to other schools, new Head Coach Frank Haith will have to use the pieces he was given after accepting the job in April.
Haith is not complaining about inheriting the athleticism and scoring ability of junior guard Robert Hite and sophomore guard Guillermo Diaz, two players who picked up the scoring burden when Rice was battling injuries last year. Hite and Diaz will be counted on to lead the charge on offense and defense.
Haith said Hite and Diaz are clearly the go-to guys on this year’s team, but they both have several elements of their games that need improvement.
“They’re both very talented, both very athletic,” Haith said. “Sometimes those are two scary words because they’re talented and athletic, but we want them to be good basketball players. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to each kid about being complete and being consistent. I think this team needs that out of them. They have to be good on both ends of the floor.”
Hite said he has a clear understanding of what Haith wants out of the Hurricanes this season.
“Defensively, we just want to get after it,” Hite said. “We want to make teams panic and rush. We want to contest every shot and keep them out of the paint. Offensively, we just want to get up and down the court and run. Last year we scored almost every time we ran in transition.”
While Hite and Diaz are tremendously talented players, they will not be able to win games in the ACC by themselves. Haith said senior forward Will Frisby and junior forward Gary Hamilton will be counted on to provide points in the paint.
“We’ve got to have collective scoring in the paint too from a number of guys,” Haith said. “I think Will Frisby, though he only hit one bucket [in the exhibition win over Barry], is a guy that can give us some offense in the paint. But if the other guys can get us six to eight points a night that will help us.”
Frisby said he is not at all intimidated by the post presences in the ACC, like Shelden Williams of Duke and Sean May of North Carolina.
“I don’t think those guys are any better than me or Gary,” Frisby said. “I think they may seem a little better because of the programs that they are in. They’re guys that are focused on; they’re go-to guys. I think they have no more talent than Gary or I have.”
Sophomore Anthony Harris will take over at point guard for the Hurricanes, and in the victory over Barry he scored 11 points, had four assists and committed only one turnover.
“Hopefully he can build on his performance the other night and not become settled with what he did,” Haith said. “But he did show that he has potential to be a really good player. My biggest thing with him is not looking for trouble. If he’ll play good defense and not turn the ball over and make open shots he’ll find his niche on this team.”
With key contributions from these five players and role players like forward Anthony King and guard Eric Wilkins, Haith expects the Hurricanes to be competitive throughout what is being called a rebuilding year.
“We’ve got to continue to get better,” Haith said. “Our schedule is pretty tough early. We play Xavier third game out and we’ve got Florida pretty early, so we’ve just got to continue to advance our level of intensity, which I think is getting better.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.