Thursday, October 16, 2003

Miami Basketball Preview

Coles has veteran nucleus returning

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

The Miami RedHawks need something to get over the hump. Coach Charlie Coles isn't sure what it is, but he thinks he knows.

"I just think we need to establish a competitive attitude early on," said Coles, who officially opens his eighth year as Miami's coach and 14th overall at 7 a.m. Saturday when he convenes the RedHawks' first practice. Coles believes the injection of talent from a five-player freshman class will help make practices more competitive, which could be the difference in Miami winning the close games they've been losing.

"Practice should be fun to watch this year," Coles said.

Will the offense be more polished in the second year of using the Princeton system?

Coach: Charlie Coles (120-93, eighth year; 212-177 overall).
2002-2003: Finished 13-15. Lost to Ohio University in overtime in Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Lost: Bryan Reed, Doug Williams, Matt Jameson, Ryan Baumgartner, John Morningstar.
Gained: Tyler Jones, Nathan Peavy, Doug Penno, Monty St. Clair, Eric Van Buskirk.
Projected starters: Juby Johnson (F), Danny Horace (F), Nate VanderSluis (C), Chet Mason (G), Josh Hausfeld (G).
Exhibition games: Nov. 8 vs. Upstate Basketball; Nov. 13 vs. Findlay.
Regular-season opener: Nov. 21, at Liberty.
Tickets: (513) 529-HAWK (4295).
It should be. The RedHawks struggled last season while trying to put "traditional" positions (point guard, shooting guard, etc.) behind them in favor of the passing and cutting at which almost every player on the floor takes his turn. The attack showed improvement when then-freshman Josh Hausfeld replaced Matt Jameson - a true point guard who was out of place in Miami's new offense - in the starting lineup.

Experience alone should make the offense more productive. Hausfeld and the three other returning starters - senior Juby Johnson and juniors Chet Mason and Danny Horace - accounted for 73 percent of the RedHawks' scoring.

Who will play the post?

The center in Miami's Princeton-oriented offense must be able to pass, and it helps if he also is a threat to score from outside. That keeps opponents from clogging lanes to the basket with a sagging center on defense.

Redshirt sophomore Nate VanderSluis hasn't been able to play enough to prove he can perform any of those functions. The 6-foot-11 VanderSluis has played just 82 minutes over 14 games since joining the Miami program, but his size alone demands attention.

If VanderSluis doesn't earn the starting job, it probably will be because true freshman Monty St. Clair beats him out. The 6-9 Roger Bacon product displayed an outside touch with the Spartans that could be the difference in the competition.

"He makes a big difference," Coles said.

Who will be Miami's sixth man?

Gene Seals has been Coles' first option off the bench for most of the last two seasons, but the 6-6 senior is sidelined indefinitely with a patella (kneecap) problem that required surgery.

"He's in rehab now," Coles said. "It could be mid-December, late December or January (before Seals returns)."

Coles believes true freshman Nate Peavy, a 6-8 forward from Chaminade-Julienne, is the top candidate to replace Seals.

"He's the best athlete on the team," Coles said.

Can Miami continue to improve on the road in the MAC?

At 4-5, the RedHawks were two games better on the road in the MAC last season than they were in 2001-02, but that still wasn't good enough to overtake Kent State, which went 6-3 away from home on its way to the East Division championship.

"There's always one team that wins road games while everybody else is losing," Coles said. "That's the team that wins the MAC."

The good news for the RedHawks is their only game against Bowling Green, perhaps the MAC's deepest and best team, will be at Miami's Millett Hall.

Is Juby Johnson the MAC's best all-around player?

While The Sporting News picks Northern Illinois senior forward Marcus Smallwood as its preseason Player of the Year, it also lauds the 6-5 Johnson as "a potential 20-point scorer and lock-down defender" and as "one of the emerging stars in the league."

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