There is a buzz sweeping through the University of Miami campus and the rest of South Florida, but it is not because the football team handled Virginia Tech.
The uproar is for the men’s basketball team, which has high hopes this year and is expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
“We won’t sneak up on anybody,” Head Coach Frank Haith said. “I think that is a good thing when people place expectations on your program. That means you’re making improvements.”
Haith’s squad will try to build on its breakthrough season last year, when it finished 16-13 overall and sixth in the ACC with a 7-9 conference record. The Hurricanes are picked to finish seventh in the preseason ACC poll.
Despite returning four of five starters, Haith will be looking to get contributions from his four freshmen. Denis Clemente will be asked to step up quickly and start at point guard due to the injury to junior Anthony Harris, who is out 3-6 weeks with a hairline fracture in his right foot.
“Putting a freshman in that position is pretty tough,” Haith said. “I don’t care who we play. He is going to have his moments of not playing well.”
The team has other possibilities at point guard. Backup point guard Lee Butler saw some time in the exhibition game against Nova Southern and recorded three assists in 12 minutes of work. The other option is putting the Hurricanes’ top playmaker at the point: junior shooting guard Guillermo Diaz.
“A lot of the players look up to me,” Diaz said. “They see me as a leader.”
Diaz will be asked to help pick up the slack to replace the double digit scoring of Harris. The option of using Diaz allows senior guard Robert Hite to revert back to shooting guard, which is more natural for him, and to bring in freshman Brian Asbury to play at small forward and bring some height onto the frontcourt.
Asbury is 6’7” with long arms that allow him to get rebounds down low. He is also a threat from the outside, hitting both three-pointers he attempted in the exhibition game against Nova Southern.
“If coach calls on me, I can give them a spark off the bench,” Asbury said.
Haith said the team is very excited about all of the young kids, including Jimmy Graham.
“He’s still trying to figure out how to use his body; he is just so big,” Haith said.
The Hurricanes have tough challenges awaiting them on the schedule this year. The non-conference schedule brings Florida and Louisville to the Convocation Center, and the Hurricanes must travel to Temple and Michigan as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Boston College will join the ACC one year after winning the Big East regular season crown.
The Hurricane players seem to have confidence in their ability to have more people play significant minutes so the team does not tire at the end of the season.
“We are going to the NCAAs, most definitively,” junior center Anthony King said. “That is our goal. Anything less than that and our season was a bust.”
Denis Brown can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.