NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)—After three years as an assistant at Texas, Frank Haith left in 2004 to become the head coach at Miami.
Yes, Miami—where basketball seemed to exist solely for balance, opposite the school’s storied football program.
“There was no question that Frank was ready to be a head coach,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said Saturday. “I think you look at where the Miami program has come from … Frank has done just an unbelievable job.”
Barnes and Haith will become opponents for a couple of hours Sunday, when second-seeded Texas faces seventh-seeded Miami in the second round of the South Regional. It’s a matchup neither coach really wanted—but the only way to avoid it was with a first-round loss.
“In the tournament setting if we weren’t winning, I would be pulling for Texas,” Haith said. “So that obviously makes it very difficult because both of us can’t win.”
Haith moved around as an assistant before heading to Texas in 2001. There, he was part of Barnes’ staff, which led the Longhorns to the 2003 Final Four.
Michael Schwartz, a former Texas player, was a video coordinator on that staff. He’s now with Haith at Miami.
“Going to Texas and meeting coach Barnes ended up being as good as anything that’s ever happened to me,” Schwartz said. “He’s just a very special person to all of us. Obviously he’s a mentor. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of his program.”
This meeting is an unlikely one for Texas and Miami. The Hurricanes went 12-20 last season and were picked to be the Atlantic Coast Conference’s worst team in 2007-08. Instead, Miami is one of only two ACC teams still around in the NCAA tournament.
Texas (29-6) has been to the round of 16 four times in the last six years, but the Longhorns faced their own obstacles this season. After losing in the second round in 2007, they lost star Kevin Durant to the NBA.
The Longhorns have recovered just fine. The backcourt tandem of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams averages more than 35 points per game.
Abrams was recruited to Texas by Haith.
“I got to know him real well,” Abrams said. “He was cool. He was a nice person to talk to. He’s always straightforward with you. He’s not going to tell you what you want to hear. That’s just the kind of person that he is.”
Abrams scored 26 points in a 74-54 win over Austin Peay in the first round, although that wasn’t even the best performance of the afternoon session at Alltel Arena. Miami (23-10) beat Saint Mary’s 78-64 behind 38 points from junior Jack McClinton.
McClinton said he’s still on medication after dealing with a fever a couple of days before the Saint Mary’s game. That obviously didn’t slow him against the Gaels.
The 6-foot-1 McClinton is in his second season with Miami after transferring from Siena. He is the Hurricanes’ leading scorer on the court—and a key contributor off it.
“Jack is always watching tape,” junior Lance Hurdle said. “It’s good to have your leading scorer in there watching tape and working on his game all the time. He always had these metaphors before the game. It gets us pumped up.”
What kinds of metaphors?
“Top secret information,” McClinton said. “I don’t want any other teams using my metaphors to get pumped for a game.”
If Miami needs any help Sunday, the crowd likely will provide it. The burnt orange of Texas has never been popular in Arkansas. Fans booed the Longhorns on Friday and roared their approval when underdog Austin Peay took the court.
The crowd quieted down as Texas routed Austin Peay. It will be a different story if Miami can keep it close.
The Hurricanes went to the round of 16 in 2000, but for the most part, they’ve been an afterthought in basketball—despite competing in high-profile conferences like the Big East and ACC. This season, Miami has taken a big step toward changing that, and Sunday presents a chance for another.
No matter who prevails, it will be an emotional day for the men on the sidelines.
“It’s almost like, you know, your dad. You’re trying to please your dad,” said Haith, who at 42 is only 11 years younger than Barnes. “Rick likes to look at us as brothers. I still look up to Rick.”