Basketball, Commentary, Sports

After Duke takedown, Canes hoops deserve support at home, not divisive fans

Photo by AJ Rickets // Online Sports Editor

Photo by AJ Rickets // Online Sports Editor

It was a game that resembled the Canes of two years ago. A rousing second half run, alley oops thrown down at will, and tremendous three point shooting. Fitting that Miami scored 90 points – the last time that happened?

The 90-63 win against Duke, in 2013.

But this time instead of Shane Larkin knocking down triples and Kenny Kadji throwing down slams, it was Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan running the show, and a career performance from Manu Lecomte, who scored in double figures for the first time since early December.

What can you say about this team? A reporter in the post game press conference, with an expression of impressed resignation, flatly asked Angel Rodriguez:

“How in the world did y’all lose to Eastern Kentucky?”

Undeniably, it was an inconsistent December for Miami. It started with a victory over No. 24 Illinois in front of a raucous record crowd at the BankUnited Center (BUC) – after that, three losses in five games, including the Eastern Kentucky debacle.

It has been a search since then to find the same chemistry that helped propel this group to one of the best starts in school history – one that saw Miami go 9-0 and reach No. 15 in the polls.

Junior guard Angel Rodriguez practices before the game. Photo by AJ Ricketts // Online Sports Editor

Junior guard Angel Rodriguez practices before the game. Photo by AJ Ricketts // Online Sports Editor

Angel Rodriguez was fearless again Tuesday night, slicing, dicing, and shooting for 24 points. 

Consider what he’s done against top 10 teams this season: 24 points at No. 7 UF, 25 vs. No. 3 UVA, and now 24 at No. 4 Duke.

“It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in Cameron from an opposing player,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game, a searching tone in his voice, wondering how in a span of three days Duke went from undefeated and No. 2 in the country to dropping back-to-back games and their first defeat at home in three years.

And Manu Lecomte, who had scored 19 points in the last five games combined, just decided to drop a career high 23 in the mecca of college hoops. The routine became common – three points on the board, Lecomte running down the court, three to the dome. One might’ve thought he or a Cane was about to slap the floor with the intensity and joy with which they were playing.

Another tough test waits Miami on the road this weekend at No. 12 Notre Dame, before the Canes return home next week to take on North Carolina State. Win or lose against the Irish, the BUC will most likely see solid attendance, but that brings into mind a recent controversy in the student section that has for no reason turned into a disappointing situation.

Most people have heard the story at this point – ‘Fire Al Golden’ and ‘Bring Back Butch’ signs were confiscated – sparking an outcry among the sudden victims. “Freedom of expression! The hypocrisy of Shalala! Shame on Miami!” they cry. The burden, my goodness! You got your sign taken away! Except there’s a few things truly disappointing here.

In honesty, the signs probably shouldn’t have been taken. Signs have been brought to games all the time. There’ve been plenty of fantastic ones over the past few years, ranging from an “I’m allowed in Publix!” sign held straight to Jameis Winston, to the classic “Safety School” poster every football and basketball game against the Noles brings. Taking a sign away because the administration isn’t in favor of it – sure, I guess, not cool.

But it’s begging the question: Why? Why is there the need to hoist a “Fire Al Golden!” sign at a basketball game? 

These players deserve more. Yes, you pay a student athletic fee. But these players deserve more. The stories of courage, grit and perseverance on this team are staggering when you look deeper.

Angel Rodriguez left his family at the age of 15 to pursue his dream of playing college basketball. 15! He left his home, his family, everything he’d known. What were you doing at 15?

You can bet Ja’Quan Newton is playing every game in memory of his mother, who passed away last year.

Manu Lecomte took a chance on Miami, coming all the way from Belgium.

Tonye Jerkiri only arrived in America less than five years ago. He’d never even played basketball before.

Sheldon McClellan spent more time working on his jumper this summer than you spent watching Netflix. And Hulu. And ESPN. Combined.

Think it stops there? Not quite.

Davon Reed stayed as optimistic as ever through an injury this season and came back an entire month earlier than expected.

James Palmer was the No. 1 recruit out of D.C. – you know how many schools close to home wanted him? He chose Miami.

Deandre Burnett was talked about all over the country as one of the top incoming freshmen last year; eager as ever to begin his college career, he broke his wrist a mere week before the opening game. Now, he’s playing a vital role in UM’s gameplan.

Omar Sherman decided to get to work right away – being a freshman is no excuse to slack! – he promptly dropped 20 pounds, and for good measure, added 50 to his bench.

You need more?

Joe Thomas is finishing a full-circle journey that has him back in his hometown after four years at Niagara, and he’s getting to play down the road from his high school, Michael Krop, with his high school teammate, Angel.

Don’t forget about the walk-ons too. Mike Fernandez is frequently the first player on the court during shootaround and busts it every day in practice for any potential opportunity; he’s 1-1 from the field in that one chance he’s gotten.

Chris Stowell puts in work every day at practice, but it doesn’t stop there – he’s a Foote Fellow – you know, that group of the smartest kids at UM whose course load is rigorous year round.

And the transfers – Ivan Cruz Uceda, who is going to get his first playing time at Notre Dame this weekend, didn’t speak any English before coming to the States from Spain.

And Kamari Murphy, sitting out this year due to the transfer policy – the ever-frustrating NCAA rule – still gives his teammates his best every day in practice, while receiving little to no recognition at all for it this entire season.

So when these guys take a moment to look at the crowd during a break in action, they really shouldn’t have to deal with seeing “Bring Back Butch!” signs. It’s not the right place for it. Shower all your football frustration on Twitter, send emails, go hold a rally. Sure, you have a right to the sign, but why on earth can we not support the guys who’ve displayed what’s listed above?

The irony in all of this is that the person who brought this to the public’s attention is the Student Government vice president. That student interacted with public figures about the matter on Twitter and agreed to be interviewed by media. Seems odd to me that someone with the responsibility of moving the school forward has instead sparked controversy after coverage by the Miami New Times, The Miami Herald and ESPN. If Student Government (SG) has a branch meant to promote athletics – Category 5 – then why would SG’s leadership pull stunts like this?

Posters and angry tweets are not making anyone go anywhere. The decision has been made; everyone knows the fans are angry, and that’s that. The Board of Trustees and athletic department has stood firm behind Al. End of story.

But that’s beside the point. With the way Canes Hoops has been playing, one can hope the BUC will hopefully be too focused on the exciting brand of basketball to worry about making signs about another sport.

The Canes just went to Duke and threw down lobs like they were on a playground with nobody around. It’s time for them to enjoy a home court advantage, rather than looking to their peers and seeing signs about nothing that they can control.

See you next Thursday at the BUC.

January 14, 2015

Reporters

AJ Ricketts


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