Clark Looking To Veterans

Perry Clark's first go-around as University of Miami men's basketball head coach last year was filled with inconsistent performances from his team that were attributed to many factors.

Among them: 1.) Darius Rice's tendency to parade the perimeter and fire away after arriving from high school as a McDonald's All-American. 2.) Suspect point guard play that the Hurricanes paid for late in games, with the outcome hanging in the balance. 3.) A lack of inside presence that allowed the opposition to outmuscle the Hurricanes and win the battle of the boards.

Clark, coming off a 16-13 record and a first-round exit in the NIT last season, will be leaning heavily on several of his returning players and feels the Hurricanes have added several missing pieces in order to erase those misfortunes and make a quantem leap into the Big East elite, perhaps nationally, in the 2001-2002 season.

"John (Salmons), Elton (Tyler) and Darius (Rice) will all see 30 or more minutes a game this season and they have earned the right to get that amount of quality time," said Clark, during a UM basketball luncheon earlier this week to introduce the upcoming season."

Salmons, widely considered the best player on the team, will be handed loads of responsibility this season running the offense and drawing a tough assignment as well. Clark believes Salmon's ability to play the point guard spot will take some pressure off Michael Simmons and freshman Kahleaf Watson.

Clark thinks of his versatile 6-7 senior as one of the top players in the Big East and wants to give him the reigns to go with the compliment.

"We're going to depend a whole lot on John," Clark said. "He has the ability to help this basketball team in so many ways."

Clark will also look towards Salmons much more at the end of games this season. Whether its to put the ball through the hoop or not.

"John doesn't necessarily have to take every shot for us to be sucessful, but his ball-handling skills and passing ability no question will be strengths on this basketball team.

Salmons ranked second on the team in scoring last season with 13.3 points per game and showed versatility on the court by at times playing four different positions.

"I trust John and believe in his ability," Clark said.

In turn, Salmons welcomes the challenge of having his plate full, which will include running the point for the Hurricanes.

"I love it. I feel like a natural at the point guard," Salmons said. "That doesn't mean I still won't be cutting to the basket, and looking for my shot on the perimeter."

After a summer spent increasing his strength and working daily with several NBA players, Clark has plenty of reasons to believe Rice will be a better all-around player this season.

As a freshman last season, Rice started all 29 games, averaging 14.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Although at times the coaching staff was critical of Rice for not taking the ball to the basket enough and taking too many jump shots.

Seven months later Rice is a different player, says Clark.

"Darius has mentality matured quite a bit since last season," Clark said. "His rebounding and defense are at another level and I feel he will do a lot of things to help us win basketball games even when his shot isn't going in."

Clark said part of the reason Rice had a difficult time making adjustments as a freshman was the burden placed on him at Lanier High School in Mississippi.

"When you come in as a highly recruited freshman out of high school, you've scored a lot points and developed a reputation with your jump shot. Darius just came in with that mindset and I think it was tough for him. He's really worked hard on other aspects of his game this summer and you all are going to see a different player"

Rice acknowleges that at times last year he made some bad on-court decisions and promises to change his mental approach this season.

"I know I took a lot of heat last season for taking too many shots," Rice said. "I came in as a shooter and that was really a battle to try and change. But I've worked hard to become a better all-around player and I'm determined to do whatever they ask of me. I just want to be around the ball."

Tyler, who missed the entire 2000-01 season because of academic problems, returns to the lineup and Clark is glad to have him back. The 6-9 forward, who averaged 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds during the 1999-2000 season and is currently out with a hairline fracture in his right leg, will be an asset to the Hurricanes upon his return in rebounding and passing the ball.

Despite seeing Tyler on the court for just the last several months, Clark is already expressed.

"I haven't had the chance to get to know him as a person, but I can tell you that Elton Tyler has a great work ethic," Clark said.

With Simmons out four weeks after having hip surgery, Watson could see quailty minutes sooner than he expected. The freshman out of Blue Ridge High School in Virginia has garnered attention this summer with his quickness and shooting touch. Clark won't overlook him.

"Kahleaf has that explosiveness. He could really be a spark plug for this team," Clark said.

Along side returning 6-8 forward James Jones, Clark is banking that the additions of junior-college transfers Rafael Berumen and Will Frisby will make the Hurricanes a stronger team in the paint.

"Those guys give us an edge we didn't have last year, especially against the bigger teams like Villanova and St. John's. They will battle inside."

As for the Hurricanes upcoming schedule, Clark points to a December stretch in which Miami plays Indiana, LSU and Charlotte.

"Hopefully we can come out of that alright," Clark said.

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