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Kickoff time in Miami
Posted: Wednesday October 14, 1998 07:23 PM
Sports Illustrated's B.J. Schecter checks in with the first in a series of glances around the college basketball scene.
October 9, 1998: Miami, Fla.
TEAM: Miami Hurricanes
VENUE: Miami Arena (15,388)
`97-98 record: 18-10 (lost in first round of NCAAs to UCLA, 65-62)
PREDICTED `98-99 STARTERS: G Michael Simmons, G Johnny Hemsley, F Tim James, F Elton Tyler, C Mario Bland.
OBSERVATIONS: Two pieces of advice for anyone wishing to talk about college basketball before practice has actually started: never ask a coach how good his team is going to be, especially someone as surly as Hurricanes coach Leonard Hamilton ; and don't bother talking basketball in the state of Florida before football season ends.
I figured I could easily squeeze some basketball interviews in between my work at the Miami-Florida State football game. What with Miami's football team in a down cycle and the Hurricanes hoopsters coming off their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 38 years, surely there would be some anticipation for hoops.
Think again. Although Miami clearly had no chance to beat the Seminoles, football was all anyone on campus wanted to talk about. Basketball? The Hurricanes don't even have an on-campus arena. Even Hamilton was buying into the hype. When I called up basketball SID Sam Henderson to set up interviews for the day before the football game he informed me the players wouldn't be a problem. But Hamilton? Oh, Leonard will be out of town on Friday, Henderson informed me, but he'll be at the game on Saturday if I wanted to interview him there.
How strange. If I want to talk basketball with the Miami basketball coach I have to do it at a football game.
The lack of interest notwithstanding, Miami figures to be even better than last year's tournament team. Tim James , Miami's 6'7" multidimensional senior forward epitomizes the Hurricanes' buzzwords for success: hard-working, overachieving and determined. Growing up in Miami, James was a highly recruited high school player who heard the choruses of "Why in the world would you want to go there?" when he signed with the Hurricanes in 1994. Three years later, James became Miami's first All-Big East player, and if he has another year like the last, the Hurricanes could have their first NBA first-round draft pick since Rick Barry in 1965.
While James is Miami's quiet star, its vocal and inspirational leader is 6'6", 265-pound junior center Mario Bland. Yes, Bland really is a center, and to say Bland knows how to use his body is an understatement. "If I don't put a lot of body on my guy, I don't get the rebound. Period," he says. Give Mario points for heart and fundamentals.
Miami's biggest question heading into the `97-98 season -- other than "When does football season end?" -- is at point guard where it loses four-year starter Kevin Norris. Michael Simmons and Paulo Coelho figure to be ample replacements but they're not likely to help improve the Hurricanes' sputtering offense immediately.
Things are starting to look up for the Miami basketball program. An arena is under construction in Coral Gables and the influx of talent is improving. Excitement is bound to pick up for Hamilton's crew -- just don't try and talk about the team during football season.
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