UM Basketball Team Primed for Bounce-Back Season

Oct. 16, 2001

CORAL GABLES — James Jones still feels the pain of watching Auburn celebrate its come-from-behind first-round NIT victory last season, ending the University of Miami men’s basketball team’s season earlier than he had hoped.

James and his teammates have a new focus and determination heading into this season, especially since three starters return and forward Elton Tyler rejoins the squad.

After ending a streak of four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances – including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2000 – with the NIT berth last season, the Hurricanes also are eager to make it back to the big dance.

“That’s the worst feeling to have, to not make the tournament and get knocked out in the first round of the NIT in a game where you’re up by 15,” Jones said. “It hurts a lot to go from a Sweet 16 team to barely making the NIT. This year our resolve is to not be considered losers or be considered a fluke for having success in our league.”

Jones, Darius Rice and John Salmons return as starters, and Tyler is back after being suspended for last season.

Coach Perry Clark said he is turning to Salmons as the team leader. Salmons, who led the team in rebounding with a 6.0 average and was second in scoring at 13.3 points a game, will start at point guard, but also can play three other positions if needed.

Salmons takes over for Michael Simmons at point guard. Simmons is out for four weeks after injuring his left hip, but will be a key reserve.

“I’m going to put a lot on [Salmons’] shoulders,” Clark said. “He’s the most versatile player in the Big East. We’re going to try to use his versatility the whole season. He may be asked to play as many as four positions on the floor, but we need him to run our show, to keep us organized. His ability to score and rebound the basketball is going to be very critical.”

Tyler’s presence also should help the Hurricanes, though he has not been able to practice full strength. He has a stress fracture in his right leg and was in a walking boot for about a month.

Clark is allowing Tyler to practice for about one hour a day, and will increase it as practice goes on.

“I need him in late November and December, not in mid October,” Clark said. “We’re trying to bring him along slowly.”

Rice, who led the team in scoring with 14.1 points a game last season, spent the summer at several camps working on his game, including Michael Jordan’s and Team USA. It was the first time Rice had met Jordan, and he said Jordan gave him pointers.

Having more of an inside presence from Rice this season also should help the Hurricanes. He was able to learn from the other players at the camps.

“I picked up on other players, little things in different situations,” Rice said. “I worked on my overall game, thousands of shots a day, thousands of ball-handling drills. We just want to get to the tournament.”

Some are predicting the Hurricanes to be a sleeper in the Big East because they have so much talent returning. Clark said he is going to rely on Salmons, Tyler, Jones and Rice to play at least 30 minutes a game.

Marcus Barnes is expected to start at shooting guard. After an inconsistent freshman season in which he tried to play some point guard, Barnes will strictly play the two position, Clark said.

Other key additions include junior college transfer Rafael Berumen, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound post player from Los Angeles Junior College and junior college transfer Will Frisby, a 6-8, 220-pound forward from Fresno City College as well as freshman guard Kahleaf Watson.

In all, the Hurricanes are optimistic for another NCAA Tournament return.

“Talent wise we have no excuse not to have a great year,” Salmons said. “We have enough talent to go to the Final Four.”

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