Clark Stresses Patience

University of Miami men's basketball coach Perry Clark issued a warning way back in October of 2002 to all of those close enough to listen. Like it or not, Clark warned that his team would encounter some trying times despite a nice stable of fresh talent arriving in Coral Gables.

"I told you guys before the season started that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park for us," says Clark "There is a maturity process that you must go through in the this game and obviously these guys are experiencing that right now. All we can do and work to get better. I'm not disappointed with anybody because I expected this. It is what it is."

The Hurricanes (7-6, 0-2), preparing for their third straight Big East conference road swing Saturday, Jan.18 against Seton Hall after consecutive losses to Connecticut and West Virginia, have struggled in an effort to close out games this season, with down-to-the-wire defeats to Florida, the No. 6 Huskies and the Mountaineers as prime evidence. And much of the problems stem from the inconsistent play of the newcomers and an inability to clamp down defensively on the opposition during crucial stages of games.

By Clark's own admission he has come to realize the win-now mentality of South Florida sports fans, especially UM supporters that would probably consider another quick exit from the NCAA Tournament as a failure. But unlike the fans, Clark isn't about to press the panic button. Clark, in his third year with the school, doesn't even know if this team is good enough to make the postseason tournament of 64.

"Most of these guys are still learning," Clark said. "It's going to require a lot of patience."

After storming out of the gates with 13 consecutive victories a year ago, the Hurricanes are just one game over .500 13 games into the season for the first time since 1993-94 and are currently sitting at the bottom of the conference's East Division. Clark stopped short of blaming or signaling out any player for the Hurricanes lack of offensive production in a recent interview. But he understands that several of the younger players will have to pick up their production for the Hurricanes to show any signs of improvement this season.

Finding offense last year wasn't so difficult thanks to the presence of John Salmons along with leftover Hurricanes Darius Rice and James Jones. But with Salmons now wearing a Philadelphia 76ers uniform Clark knew that finding a reliable third scorer- to complement Rice and Jones- would be a priority this season.

The Hurricanes are still searching.

Despite Jones (19.3) and Rice (17.2) leading the way, the Hurricanes have not been able to rely on anybody else for points. With opposing teams double-teaming Rice and Jones on most occasions the Hurricanes have been forced to look in another direction for some offense. Only the results haven't been what they expected.

Freshman Robert Hite, Miami's third-leading scorer who is averaging 7.5 points a game, has had his minutes reduced lately after a quick start that included 13 points apiece against New Hampshire, Texas A&M and Savannah State. But Hite has scored just seven points combined in two Big East games combined and hasn't finished a game in double-figures since Dec. 27 at Central Florida. Hite said that playing in a conference as competitive and physically challenging as the Big East several months after stepping out of high school hasn't affected his game. Hite maintains that he needs to be aggressive and not step on the court with any doubts in order to regain Clark's confidence and play well. Hite, who has started in 12 of 13 games this season, has seen his minutes sliced to 21.1 a game.

"I played in a competive environment in high school so the speed and size of these guys hasn't been a big adjustment," Hite said. "I just need to use my head a little more out there." Another player logging significant minutes for the Hurricanes is freshman guard Armondo Surratt who despite starting just seven games this season has been on the floor for an average of 29 minutes a contest. Surratt, averaging 5.8 points a game, has impressed the coaching staff with his ball-handling skills and ability to create for his teammates. But Clark wants Surratt to make smarter decisions on the court.

"That will come with experience," Clark. "Very few players just come into this league and do everything right. It just doesn't happen." Clark is thrilled to have a handful of young players with so much potential on his squad, not only for the rest of the season but for years to come. But at the same time he wants them to know that making mistakes is fine.

"They're going to play and they are going to make mistakes," said Clark. "The bottom line is that we're still trying to become a good basketball team. The young guys are going to play regardless of the situation. That's just the situation right now."

Clark doesn't expect any mercy. And why should he.

After facing the Pirates, Miami has home dates against Connecticut (11-1), Syracuse (11-1) and Providence (8-5). The Hurricanes play at 8-5 St. John's (Feb. 2) before returning to Convocation Center to host 9-5 Villanova (Feb. 8).

"It certainly isn't going to get any easier," Clark said. "These guys understand that."

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