Clark Defensive on Schedule

His basketball team had just finished off their cross-town neighbor (please, don't say rival) to the south when Perry Clark started picking himself up from the chair to leave the room, before asking ‘Anything else ?, Anymore questions?'

But as a sneaker-wearing old man on ESPN would gladly say, ‘Not so fast, my friend'.

A few seconds of silence elapsed before Clark was drilled with the unavoidable one.

‘Coach, what do you guys gain from a game like tonight?'

More silence.

"A victory and the chance to get to 7-0," said Clark, looking me straight in the eyes. "We agreed to this game because there was a mutual feeling between both schools that it would be good for the community. People are going to look at this tonight and say ‘They're the University of Miami, they are supposed to beat FIU. But if we would have lost we would have had egg on our faces."

Clark's night was far from over the result of more questioning about something that he seems to have no regard for. All of a sudden, just like James Jones and Elton Tyler had done so effectively to help dispatch of the Golden Panthers, Clark was putting forth his best defense.

All it took was the word ‘scheduling' and Clark was doing his best Ali impersonation- on the ropes.

Clark certainly says all the right things whenever he is asked about the prospects of playing in a tournament involving all the state schools and perhaps adding those same schools (a.k.a.. Florida, Florida State and FIU) to the Hurricanes schedule on a yearly basis. But for whatever the reason, Clark is extremely non-committal about the subject.

And nothing was different this time after the Hurricanes 77-59 conquering of the Golden Panthers, the first meeting between both schools since the 1992-93 season in a series seriously in need of some viagra no matter how lively the Miami Arena sounded for one night.

If there was any doubt before, there may not be now that Clark wants no part of the Gators, Seminoles or Golden Panthers. From the sounds of it, the Hurricanes head coach no interest in playing any of the schools that require jumping on a bus and heading north on I-95.

When hit with the full-court press, Clark used the Hurricanes commitment to their conference and the difficulty of getting a tournament started that would feature the likes of some or all of the college basketball teams in the state.

"The Big East has it's own challenges," said Clark. "My job and any other coaches for that matter shouldn't be to run to the media to start a series. That's something that the coaches and athletic directors need to do at the end of the season."

Forget Jones' two game-shifting blocks midway through the second half or Tyler's ability to consistently burn the FIU defense with a sweet jumper all night long, Clark probably had the best move of the evening.

"I'm looking at Texas A&M, I'm in the mist of the battle and nothing else."

Not the type of stuff I would expect from a guy who gets a lot of credit thrown his way for encouraging athletic director Paul Dee to put Florida International back on the schedule when he arrived on campus almost two years ago.

Not the words I would expect from the mouth of someone who supposedly worked overtime to get the Gators to sign a deal with the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic, but won't play them.

Although, it shouldn't come as a surprise because the last time I checked UF is playing Gonzaga and Miami is playing Indiana in a couple of weeks.

Clark has stated most than once that he doesn't notice how many people are in the seats (not many, Perry) when he steps out on the basketball court before a game. And even though he probably didn't like what he heard Monday night because most of the crowd was made up of FIU supporters, it's hard to understand why Clark isn't being more receptive to playing these type games.

It can only help the Hurricanes basketball program find a way of matching up against the Golden Panthers and other state universities in the early part of the season before moving on to the Big East conference in January. Sure beats playing the likes of Howard, Lafayette, Lehigh and Tennessee-Martin in early November and December, like the Hurricanes have done the first two years of Clark's tenure.

Clark has said that the Hurricanes are just trying to learn about themselves and getting better in the early stages of the season, which included after games against teams called the Bisons and Leopards. Their two close calls in the Virgin Islands Tournament not withstanding I beg to disagree. Early season test against the Seminoles, Gators and even a respectable University of South Florida squad would do more for the Hurricanes maturation process.

Hey, despite getting outmuscled on the blocks and eventually running out of gas with the game still in the balance, FIU coach Donnie March would have no problem with playing the Hurricanes annually. Regardless, if Miami doesn't want to travel down the street to the Golden Panther Arena.

"I'll tell you what, sitting in that locker room an hour before the game and hearing those kids and the band was really something," March said. "Our kids were tremendous in showing their support and should be applauded. Those kids were still making noise after the game, it was a special feeling."

Maybe, the fact that the announced crowd of 3,847 was wearing blue and yellow and chanting ‘FIU! FIU!' well after the final horn didn't sit well with Clark, no matter what he said. This was the same guy who said last week he would be disappointed if Miami fans were outnumbered by Golden Panthers rooters.

But says here that Clark should make use of whatever little support was shown Monday night for college basketball in the area and not try to avoid the matter all together. There are things that Clark will probably never be able to control even if FIU and Miami played 100 times in the same season. And several reasons why the UM student body never shows up and never will to any sporting events.

Apathy runs wild in Coral Gables when it comes to sports.

For all the success of Hurricanes athletics, most of the students that attend the school commute their from all parts of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Not too many dorm occupants are jumping in the train and heading over to the arena or the Orange Bowl.

For whatever reason as well sports aren't heavily promoted on campus, which leaves to question how many people even knew who Larry Coker was if they saw him walking around campus.

And finally, not too many students are jumping at the chance of sitting at a two and a half hour event when an evening of entertainment awaits right down the road in Coconut Grove.

A lot was made of the energy and atmosphere inside the Miami Arena the other night. But aside from a wild FIU student section, it was the same old somber feeling in the place. In fact one of the loudest cheers of the night came when a contestant nailed a three-pointer from half court to take home $1,000. The upper-level of the arena was not needed, covered with a black tarp.

Scary thought considering the highly anticipated Ryder Center, which will seat 7,500, would have been half filled last night. I could see it now- half of the Dean Smith Center or Cameron Indoor Arena covered up before a Duke-North Carolina basketball game.

This should put tell anybody what they need to know about UM students when it comes down to sports. A young man wearing an orange T-shirt certainly showed where his heart was by hoisting up a sign every several minutes that read ‘Tommy loves Steph'.

If only they shared the same feelings for the Hurricanes.

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