At Miami, fans find more to life than first downs; Baltimore's Hemsley helps Hurricanes basketball gain foothold at football school


The way things have gone the past few years, the University of Miami might start becoming known as a basketball school.

While the problems the football team has had on and off the field have been well-documented, the basketball team has quietly become a solid upper-echelon program in the Big East.

With road victories this year over St. John's and Syracuse, and a near-upset of then top-ranked Connecticut at home, the Hurricanes have gone where no team in recent school history has ever ventured: into the Top 25.

"I think our kids are motivated by the fact that not many people believe in us," said coach Leonard Hamilton, in his ninth year at Miami.

The Hurricanes certainly have gained a measure of respect, as evidenced by this week's No. 16 ranking, the highest a Miami team has achieved since the 1959-60 team was ranked No. 10.

Miami has carved out a 16-5 record (10-3 in the Big East) with mostly unheralded personnel, led by senior forward Tim James and junior guard Johnny Hemsley. While James has gotten a little attention, Hemsley is relatively unknown outside the league.

The former Southern (Baltimore) High School star has scored in double figures in 16 straight games, and produced 29 against St. John's and 21 against Syracuse. He is averaging 17.1 points, second only to James.

"He's typical of the type of kids we get," Hamilton said of Hemsley. "There might have been kids with bigger reputations coming out of high school, but he's worked very hard here to become a very good player."

The same can be said for Hamilton, a former assistant under Eddie Sutton at Kentucky and Oklahoma State. Miami lost 29 straight Big East road games after joining the league in 1991-92, and in 1993-94 became the only team in league history to finish 0-18.

The turnaround came in 1994-95, when the 15-13 Hurricanes made the NIT. They went again two years later, then made the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1959-60, losing a close game to UCLA in the opening round.

Hemsley and his teammates are looking forward to their rematch with Connecticut a week from tomorrow in Storrs, Conn. The Hurricanes lost in overtime to the Huskies last month.

"It represents more than just a game for us," said Hamilton, 50. "Connecticut is one of the best teams in the country, and for a program like Miami to win a game like that would be quite an accomplishment."

Sort of like beating Notre Dame used to be in football, back before Miami started becoming known as a basketball school.

Chaney jabs at NCAA

The news that Temple guard Rasheed Brokenborough's bid to gain a fourth year of eligibility was rejected by the NCAA did not come as a shock to Owls coach John Chaney. But that didn't mean Chaney wasn't bothered by the decision, which was based on the fact Brokenborough had been a non-qualifier out of high school.

The NCAA had previously approved players who were partial qualifiers, but had graduated in four years.

"They can't be fathers or parents," Chaney said of those on the committee that rejected both Brokenborough and Massachusetts center Lari Ketner. "He beat all the odds. It's a shame. Most of them should be going to prison like Mike Tyson."

Tough against elite

The Big East has a 10-11 record against teams in the Top 25, the most wins for the league against ranked non-conference opponents since going 12-12 in 1995-96. Of the 55 starters in the Big Ten this season, only five are freshmen. Northwestern's 14-6 start this season was the best for the school after 20 games since 1945-46. John Bennett, who played for four years at Rhode Island before graduating last year, died Monday of internal injuries suffered after being hit Jan. 28 in Providence by a van carrying members of the band Railroad Jerk. He was 23.

The other Devils

While the top-ranked Duke men's team is blazing a course through the ACC standings, its seventh-ranked women's counterparts aren't exactly slouches.

With a win at Clemson on Sunday, the women, who are 13-0 in league play after last night's victory over Wake Forest, would tie an ACC record with 20 straight conference wins, matching the 1992-93 and '93-94 Virginia teams.

Quick recovery

After giving birth to an 8-pound, 3-ounce son, Conor Troy, three days ago, Arizona State women's coach Charli Turner-Thorne was expected to return to practice today.

Sun staff writers Milton Kent and Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

Planting seeds

East South

1. Connecticut 1. Duke

2. Cincinnati 2. Auburn

3. Wisconsin 3. Miami

4. Kansas 4. Ohio State

Midwest West

1. Mich. State 1. Stanford

2. Kentucky 2. Maryland

3. N. Carolina 3. St. John's

4. Arizona 4. Indiana

Note: Connecticut's win at Stanford last week helped the Huskies back to the East. If Auburn continues to win -- and win big -- the Tigers might become a top seed in the West.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad