UM's Clark Enthusiastic About 2002-03 Outlook

March 19, 2002

In the days following UM’s first-round loss to Missouri in the NCAA tournament, Hurricanes coach Perry Clark has been peppered with questions about his team’s future.

Will UM be good enough to return to the NCAA tournament in 2003?

Will there be new players?

How will the team improve?

”Gosh, let me at least reflect a little about this year’s ride and what happened here before I have to move on to next season,” Clark begged. “This was a team that I was extremely proud of. No one gave us the credit this year I thought we deserved. The loss to Missouri is a one-day disappointment, not a reflection of the entire season. How can anyone think a 24-8 season is not a good one?

“When you count all 32 games, I think the results are tremendous.”

Clark points to the highlights:

* A school-record 24 victories.

* A school-best 23 regular-season wins, the most since joining the Big East Conference in 1991.

* A school-record-tying 14 consecutive victories to begin the season. UM reached 20-3 and a No. 12 national ranking on Feb. 4 and appeared in the rankings in a dozen consecutive weeks.

* Set the Big East regular-season record for team free-throw percentage (81.8).

* Reached the semifinals of the Big East tournament and was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Beat six teams that reached the NCAA tournament.

UM’s early success perhaps created unrealistic expectations. Critics demanded a better ending.

”If people can’t be happy with 24 wins, they can’t be happy with 28. I will digest this loss . . . and then plan ahead,” Clark said. “I feel saddest for the three seniors, but I know how hurt everyone was in that locker room. Players were crying because they cared. They cared an awful lot.”

Clark said the goal next season will be to return to the NCAA tournament with an improved team that will feature a few new faces along with three capable starters who averaged in double-figures — Darius Rice, James Jones and Marcus Barnes.

Rice, a 6-10 sophomore forward who led the team in scoring (14.9), also averaged 6.0 rebounds and likely will selected to the All-Big East preseason team.

”Darius will be a force,” Clark said. “We plan to help him improve his dribbling, post game and his ability to create shots off his dribble. He will be quite a player next season.”

Barnes’ scoring increased late in the season and peaked when he scored a career-high 27 points in a Big East quarterfinal against Georgetown. He had 20 points a night later in a semifinal loss to Pittsburgh. Barnes, a 6-2 sophomore, averaged 12.3 points.

By making three three-pointers against Missouri, Barnes tied the school record of 79 in one season set by Steven Edwards (1992-93). Rice finished with 76.

”We just have to get Marcus to improve his shot selection a little bit, and he will be even more dangerous,” Clark said.

The 6-8 Jones is a consistent scorer and rebounder, not to mention an honor roll student. ”I wish I had a dozen like James,” Clark said of the junior forward, who averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 points.

UM loses three seniors — starters John Salmons and Elton Tyler, and reserve forward Jerry Schlie. UM will need a point guard to replace Salmons and a center to step in for Tyler. Schlie’s role as a motivator at the end of the bench will be missed.

UM returns guard Michael Simmons, the sixth man this season, who will compete for the starting role against several reserves from this year’s squad, and highly regarded freshman guards Robert Hite and Eric Wilkins. The 6-2 Hite played at Winston Woods High in Cincinnati. The 6-3 Wilkins played at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, a national prep power for the past decade.

”I don’t know who it will be, but the position is open for hard work,” Clark said. “We need a person who can establish himself as a leader at the point.”

UM’s biggest question may arise at center. This season Rafael Berumen and Rodrigue Djahue played as reserves, but neither established himself as the center of the future. Clark is not done recruiting and might look to pluck a center from the junior college ranks.

”We need a big guy in the middle,” Clark said. “That will be a priority. We need a player who can step in there and take control the way Elton did when he was asked.

“Heck, if I can get all that done, and everyone develops as they should, we will be a very exciting team next season. But I would have liked to have had more time with this team before our plans pointed toward next season. This was a very good year, and I will remember it that way.”