While there may not be high expectations from the outside looking in, Haith is confident in his group of young players that only includes two seniors that will be regulars in the rotation. While he lost guards Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite, his leading scorers for the past two seasons, he has a number of guards coming back this year that will be expected to make an impact, for some of them, an immediate impact.
"There are a lot of unknowns. Who is going to be our leading scorer, our go to guy? We are still figuring those things out," Haith said. "Let's see what happens. What I can tell you is this, we are going to play hard, we are going to compete every night and we'll be fun to watch play. We are going to have an exciting ball club. In terms of how good we are going to be, let's just see."
But it will be a time where Haith learns about his recruits and how they have developed over the past year and how his incoming freshman will make their mark. A major key to the success of this year's team is the development of the sophomores.
Breaking down each position though, this is clearly the deepest team Haith has had, but it's also the team that has the most unanswered questions.
GUARDSThe ‘Canes have three guards who have had significant past playing experience in Denis Clemente, Anthony Harris and Jack McClinton. While McClinton did not play last year due to redshirting following his transfer from Siena, he was a starter there and averaged double digits as a freshman.
Who will do what remains the question, however, all three players are interchangeable between the point and shooting guard positions; however, the two players that are expected to start remain a big mystery although it's easy to assume that they will be Clemente at the point and Harris at the two simply because they have the most experience playing at the University of Miami.
McClinton will be a sparkplug off the bench early, but may very well end up breaking into the starting line up as the season grows on as he seems to be a team favorite because of his unreal work ethic.
"I like Jack's toughness. He's a Baltimore kid. He's very tough and very competitive. Last year, he didn't play in any games because he couldn't travel, but he brought it everyday in practice," Haith said. "He always wanted to guard Guillermo and Rob. He's a workman type kid. He's going to clock it in everyday. I am anxious to see him play."
But Harris' senior leadership will be a key to a team that only has two seniors that are in the regular rotation returning to this year's team. Coming off an up and down year for him that saw it begin with a broken foot and end with a late season swoon, he's ready to make a difference as a senior.
"Anthony Harris is doing very well. When he came back off the foot injury, he played really well, but I don't know how well we know in terms of how his foot injury affected him towards the end of the year. We need Anthony to play well and to be a leader this year. When he does play well, we tend to play well as a team. He needs to be a leader this year and he's accepting that role."
Newcomer James Dews could be the type of player that provides scoring pop off the bench as he becomes more acclimated with the system as he was a big time scorer in high school, but don't expect too much too early from him as he is currently struggling with a foot injury.
FORWARDSForward is a wide open spot for the ‘Canes particularly at the small forward position. In the past two seasons, the ‘Canes played with a three guard rotation and two power forward/center types in Gary Hamilton and Anthony King.
This season though, Haith is counting on development of sophomore Brian Asbury who could also double up as a shooting guard when Haith wants to go big. Asbury's biggest problem as a freshman was simple. He did too much thinking and not enough playing.
At 6-foot-6 and very long, Asbury will provide Haith something he hasn't had in the past two seasons: a player who actually has the size and speed to match up with most small forwards in the ACC.
"With Brian last year was, he's always had good skill and it's gotten better, but when you know what you are doing and understand the offense, you will play more free and easier. And I don't think he ever understood and it took away from his game," Haith said.
Expected to man the power forward position will be junior Raymond Hicks and sophomore Jimmy Graham who will provide both size and great athleticism at the position.
Hicks came on late with some big games down the stretch in the ACC Tournament and the NIT. At 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, Hicks has freakish athletic ability and great hops. Graham provides that brutish strength at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds. Built like a Greek god the biggest problem he has is playing defense without fouling and it's something the coaches work on daily with Graham.
"Jimmy has had a great summer. His mother Becky Vinson moved to Miami last year so he's been here all summer. He's got a great body," Haith said. "He's really improved in his skill level. That's the area he had to make improvement by being more fluid offensively. But what we are trying to teach him is about playing defense without fouling because of his size. In practice, every time he fouls, we call it. We need Jimmy on the court, need him to play. He gives us that physical presence we need."
Freshman forwards Dwayne Collins and Lawrence Gilbert are both expected to get some playing time although Collins is expected to be the biggest contributor of all the freshmen simply because you can't coach the gifts that possesses. He's 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and long with a 7-foot-4 wingspan.
Collins also has the ability to knock down the 18 footer so he can force other power forwards to come out to the perimeter and force them to defend him. Against bigger power forwards, he's simply too quick and will able to blow by them. But growing accustomed to the ACC and learning the system will be the biggest key to how much playing time he earns.
"Dwayne I think he'll play a lot. He's different than any post player we've got in terms of his athletic ability and length," Haith said. "He can be a special player. He's like a deer in headlights right now because of youth, but I think he will be on the court and play quite a bit."
Gilbert, on the other hand, gives reminders of Asbury as a freshman, so he may not see the court as much, but if he learns the system quickly, he provides a great athlete who is very versatile and will be among the taller small forwards.
Sophomore combo forward Adrian Thomas presents the biggest questions because there is really no idea what position he actually plays. He's not as physical as Hicks so he's not really a power forward and he's not as quick as Asbury so he's not really a small forward. It will be on Haith to find the best match ups for Thomas and when to get him in games. If he can provide a spark off the bench early in the non-conference games, it may earn him a more significant role when ACC play begins.
CENTERThe man in the middle is the man of the hour, Anthony King. Quite frankly, this team is his to put on his shoulders. Haith expect him to a double-double every game and expects him to be an aggressive force in the paint.
He is one of the captains of the team along with Harris and his presence on the offensive end of the court will be just as important as his contributions on the defensive end where he's been a dominating shot blocker over the past two years.
"King has been someone that since we've got the job here, he's made strides each year in terms of his offensive game, being a more aggressive scorer and wanting to score, he's put in a lot of time," Haith said. "We need Anthony King to be a double-figure scorer. Hopefully he can do that for us."
But with all the questions that remain unanswered until the team finally takes the floor for its season opener against FIU at the Convocation Center November 11, Haith is confident this team will perform when put to the task.
"I like my team. I really do. We're young, we're athletic. I think we'll be fun to watch play. I am just anxious to see our guys play against someone else."
INJURY REPORTCurrently Thomas and Dews are not practicing with the team. Dews is struggling with a foot injury. While Haith said it is not a stress fracture, it's enough to keep him off the court for the time being. He's expected to return in a week or so.
Thomas is suffering from a muscle strain in his abdomen. He is also expected to return within the week, however, with a muscle strain in that area, it's quite important to let that injury heal before rushing back into action.
THE SCHEDULEWhile Haith said at Media Day that he loves the non-conference schedule, there is some reservations here on the quality of the non-conference schedule. The only real game of substance is a road game at Louisville on December 23rd, otherwise the schedule resembles a marshmallow. FIU, Alcorn State, Evansville, Buffalo, Cleveland State, Lafayette, Northwestern, Lafayette, Stetson, Binghamton and Lehigh aren't exactly national powers or even conference powers. UMass on the road could be a challenge and Mississippi State at home and Nebraska at the Office Depot Center might be tough, but these games overall don't present the challenge the ‘Canes faced last year, particularly with Harris out for the first season's first seven games.
No matter what the expectations for Miami might be, anything less than 12-2 in out of conference games would be a complete and utter disappointment.
OUR CALLThis is going out on a limb, but this team should win at least 20 games and make the NCAA Tournament. It's a lot more talented than people may think. The loss of Diaz and Hite while it may hurt in some people's minds because they scored a majority of the team's points the last two years, it is going to make the offense a lot more wide open for other players to get in the mix. Players won't be deferring to others because this will be more of a team oriented game than in the past.
Haith will finally get his wish playing with a traditional line up. Expect Clemente and Harris at the one and two, Asbury at the three with Hicks at the four and King at the five.
But don't be surprised to see McClinton at the starting shooting guard spot by mid season if the raves of his teammates turn out to be true when the lights are on.
Collins will make the most noise as a freshman. He will average 20 minutes a game and will average double figures in points, mainly on put backs and dunks.
The player that will make the biggest improvement is Asbury. Last year, he was thinking too much. This year, he's ready to play. It won't be thinking. It will be balling and he has the skills to ball.
So how's this on for size, a 20-10 regular season with an 8-8 conference record, a 2-1 record in the ACC Tournament, a six seed (no one wants to be a five seed, they always get eliminated in the first round) in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Sweet 16. Overall 24-12.
Rudy Rodriguez-Chomat can be reached at email@example.com