`Canes Find Comfort in the Carolinas

March 9, 2011


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by Rob Dunning

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The University of Miami men’s basketball team arrived in a place it knows all too well on Tuesday. In fact it can be argued that few, if any, college basketball programs outside of North Carolina have the type of connection the `Canes do wth the home state of the ACC Tournament.

That comfort level was evident at Wednesday’s shootaround, where a loose Hurricanes’ team felt right at home on the Greensboro Coliseum court… almost as if they belonged.

Head coach Frank Haith and three of his players – Garrius Adams, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson – grew up in North Carolina. The Hurricanes play along Interstate 40 three to four times a year with Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and NC State all located on the same hour-and-a-half stretch of highway. Even Miami’s Director of Operations Mike Summey is a North Carolina native and makes travel and just about everything else that much smoother because of his connections.

It is clearly a place the `Canes know and embrace, even if it’s over 800 miles from Coral Gables.

“It is always special for me to be back in North Carolina, especially Greensboro,” Haith said. “Growing up in the state and knowing the tradition of ACC basketball, I am living a dream coaching in this league and in this tournament.”

Haith moved to North Carolina from New York City as a kid and attended Western Alamance High School in nearby Elon. He stayed home and attended Elon University and through the years, made coaching stops at UNC Wilmington and Wake Forest.

Johnson, Miami’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, is from nearby Winston-Salem, which sits about a half hour west of Greensboro on I-40.

“It’s always fun coming back home and playing in front of friends and family,” Johnson said. “I love it.”

Adams, who is from just outside of Raleigh, echoes Johnson’s sentiments.

“I love to see my family in the stands,” Adams said. “It makes me so happy. They watch every game they can on TV, but there is just something different about seeing them in the crowd.”

In addition to all of the personal ties UM’s roster has with North Carolina, it is hard to overlook the fact that the `Canes have had some pretty good success in ACC Tournaments held in here in recent years.

Three tournaments ago in Charlotte, the `Canes won their opening round game over NC State to help secure an NCAA berth that season. Last year, Miami caught everyone’s attention nationally beating Wake Forest and Virginia Tech before taking eventual NCAA champion Duke down to the wire in the tournament’s semifinals.

“Last year was a good year for me there,” said Johnson, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds Miami’s three-game run. “Going up against good friends of mine that played for Wake Forest and feeding off of that….hopefully we can take some of that momentum into this year.”

Any momentum has to start Thursday at noon, when ninth-seeded Miami (18-13, 6-10 ACC) will face eighth-seeded Virginia (16-14, 7-9 ACC) in the tournament’s opening game. The winner will play top-seeded North Carolina Friday at noon in the quarterfinal round. A potential Miami-UNC match up would re-visit a game Miami lost to the Tar Heels in the final minute in late January.

But a re-match with the Tar Heels won’t happen unless the `Canes get past the Cavaliers.

“They shoot the three ball very well,” Haith said of Virginia. “They have four guys out there that can always shoot it. They execute very well but you just have to know where their shooters are.”

As is the case for most teams this week across the country, conference tournament play will go a long way in determining postseason fate, something Haith says Miami needs to be focused on.

“We’ve got to win some more games,” Haith said. “We have to put ourselves in a position to play in the postseason next week. I don’t know where we are at right now, but my goal – which I tell our team – is we have to continue to win.”

Thankfully for Haith and the Hurricanes, the games are being played in Greensboro, North Carolina.