UM Striving to Win with a `Killer Instinct'

Oct. 22, 2001

If the University of Miami men’s basketball team — and particularly senior guard John Salmons — achieves its objectives this season, this could be the most successful year in the history of the program.

`Our team goal is to go to the Final Four,’ the 6-7 Salmons said Tuesday, the Hurricanes’ annual media day. `I think we’re the only people in the country who think we can actually do it.’

He is probably right.

But the Hurricanes will be an improved team and could make a run for a return to the NCAA Tournament, where Miami reached the Sweet 16 in 2000.

Back in the lineup is power forward Elton Tyler, a 6-9 senior, redshirted last season after he was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. He gives Miami a strong inside presence.

`Elton makes us 10 games better,’ forward James Jones said.

Beyond that, the Hurricanes are expecting more from sophomore standout Darius Rice, who started all 29 games as a freshman and was named one of 30 Naismith Award candidates on Tuesday. Rice, who averaged a team-best 14.1 points, is joined on the list by the likes of Jason Williams of Duke and Tayshawn Prince of Kentucky.

But maybe the reason fans should expect more this season is because of the disappointment of last season. The Hurricanes finished 16-14 and were ousted in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Miami lost many close games because it didn’t close well, evidenced by two overtime losses to St. John’s and a two-point loss to Auburn in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament after leading by double digits in the second half.

`Just having that bittersweet taste of being there on the verge and not being able to come through . . . that just gives us added incentive to take every possession seriously, especially late in the game,” Jones said. “There were so many games that had we made one play late in the game, we could have had four or five more victories.’

Said Rice: `That was the worst — to be up against Boston College twice, to be up against St. John’s twice, to have Auburn by almost 20 at halftime. This year, I think we have the killer instinct and we’re not going to let that happen.’

Salmons will literally take matters into his own hands. UM coach Perry Clark said he will use Salmons as his primary point guard, particularly early in the season as Michael Simmons recovers from left hip surgery. And when the game is on the line, Clark promises Salmons will take center stage.

`I’m telling you right now,” Clark said, “the ball’s going to be in John’s hands.’

The reintroduction of Tyler into the lineup will take longer than had been projected, Clark said.

Tyler suffered a stress fracture in his right leg and is limited to playing an hour per day. He should be ready to go full speed in plenty of time to play in the regular-season opener Nov. 18 against Eastern Michigan.