Wow. What a ride.
After losing to the Texas Longhorns by a score of 75-72 Sunday, the men’s basketball team saw their season come to an end. But the 2007-08 Miami Hurricanes have nothing to be ashamed of.
After suffering multiple injuries and turning in a disappointing record of 12-20 a year ago, early projections said these Hurricanes would finish dead last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. How did they react to that? Only by winning their first 12 games in a row.
But even with a record of 14-1, these Hurricanes weren’t taken seriously. The doubters said the team hadn’t played anyone of importance. Those same doubters looked like geniuses when Miami went on to lose six of their next seven games, opening their ACC schedule with a 2-6 conference record. Even worse than the losses themselves were the manner in which they occurred.
Among the defeats was an overtime loss at N.C. State, in which a last-second inbounds pass was stolen, resulting in a game-winning layup for the Wolfpack. Then there was the game at Wake Forest, when Ishmael Smith hit a jumper with 2.6 seconds left to beat the Canes by two. And let’s not forget the game that culminated the Hurricanes’ woes: a 62-55 loss against Florida State in which Miami shot 31 percent from the field.
But these Hurricanes never gave up, and they had a coach who never gave up on them. Head coach Frank Haith encouraged his team when they were down and they responded. Miami went on to win their next four contests, none more important than a one-point upset victory over Duke at the BankUnited Center.
They finished their regular season winning six of their final eight games, went 1-1 in the ACC tournament and closed the season out with an overall record of 22-10. But most importantly, they got an invitation to the NCAA tournament, something Miami’s program hadn’t accomplished since 2002. Suddenly, those doubters didn’t look so smart anymore.
Not content with just getting into the NCAA tournament, Miami beat up on St. Mary’s in the first round, winning by 14 thanks to Jack McClinton’s career-high 38 points. They then went on to lose to an overmatched Texas team, but the Canes didn’t go out without a fight. And really, that same resilience has been the signifying trait for these Hurricanes all season.
Besides competing for much of the season with a chip on their shoulders, the Canes were helped in large part by the dynamic play of McClinton. He had a knack for hitting clutch shots consistently when Miami needed them the most, and became the first Hurricane ever to make the All-ACC First Team. Assuming the Hurricanes’ leading scorer decides to return next year (he shouldn’t even think about leaving), he will continue to be a powerful force for the Hurricanes’ offense and one of the ACC’s premier players.
Another player of importance for Miami next season should be sophomore Dwayne Collins. His star never shone brighter than in their victory against Duke, where he exploded for a career-high 26 points. Though he had trouble maintaining consistency, look for him to be a major piece for Miami again next year.
Coach Haith should be recognized for the outstanding job he has done all season preparing the Canes and helping them to destroy any doubt that existed at the beginning of the year. Their NCAA tournament berth made Miami one of only four ACC teams chosen and the only team picked from the state of Florida. That’s impressive. Now it is Haith’s job to build on this year’s momentum going into next season. Miami’s success shouldn’t be seen as a fluke; it needs to become a habit.
These Hurricanes accomplished what very few thought they were capable of, and they took their fans on an unbelievable ride all the way to the NCAA tournament. By the time November rolls around, let’s hope they’re ready to buckle up and take that ride even further.
Joel Brown may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.