As the basketball coach at Florida State University, Leonard Hamilton certainly views the University of Miami as a fierce rival, and will do everything in his power to help his tall, inexperienced Seminoles derail the red-hot Hurricanes on Sunday at the sold-out BankUnited Center.
But Hamilton isn’t ashamed to admit he has a place in his heart for the UM program after building it from doormat in 1990 to Sweet 16 in 2000. He still has a house in Miami. So, when he watched the 25th-ranked Hurricanes humiliate top-ranked Duke by 27 points Wednesday night, in front of a raucous capacity crowd, he couldn’t help but feel like he was watching one of his children all grown up.
“I wasn’t surprised Miami won, but we were all surprised with the way the game was won,” said Hamilton, reached by phone Friday night. “Obviously, Miami had a focus and maturity that allowed them to play at such an extra high level on such a big stage.
“I’d say they could be one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. They’re no fluke. Not too many teams could do to Duke what they did. They’re a very good basketball team. They’re playing unselfish, sharing the ball, accepting roles. They have great chemistry. They’re doing the things championship teams do. They’re on a mission. If you don’t come with your ‘A’ game against this team, something bad will happen.”
He said the win over Duke is as significant as his UM team reaching the Sweet 16.
“We had a lot of great games for Miami, but that game Wednesday was on a huge stage. It was great for the program and the community. They showed the country who they are and put Miami basketball on the lips of every sports fan.”
UM players and coach Jim Larranaga got a standing ovation when they walked into the Sports Grill in South Miami late Wednesday night, which was a first.
“It felt great, and a little weird,” said sixth-year senior Julian Gamble.
“Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon,” said senior forward Kenny Kadji. Well, not exactly everyone, he corrected. “I still don’t think that many people respect us. I keep reading more about how bad Duke played than how good we played. I always have that underdog mentality.”
Miami is 14-3 and sits alone atop the ACC standings with a 5-0 league record. The Seminoles are 11-7, and 3-2 ACC.
The key to UM’s success, Hamilton said, is maturity. The Canes have six seniors, including 23-year-old Gamble, fifth-year senior Reggie Johnson, fifth-year senior Trey McKinney Jones, and 24-year-old Kadji, who transferred to UM from the University of Florida. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the loss that the Canes were men and his Blue Devils played like boys.
“They’re the way we were last year, an older, mature team that doesn’t get rattled,” Hamilton said. “They’ve made their mistakes, and gained wisdom through the journey. When your most inexperienced player is Shane Larkin, that’s pretty good because he might be the youngest most mature guy in this league.”
As seasoned veterans, they know they have to put the Duke game behind. They realize that every opposing coach will use their win over Duke as motivation.
“When you have as many veterans as we have, we look at things in perspective,” Gamble said. “We know we’ve got a target on our backs and will get everyone’s best shot, but we continue to be hungry.”
Larranaga has warned his players of challenges to come.
“When you beat No.1 Duke, that is a big thing and it captures the attention of players and coaches,” he said. “You don’t fly under the radar screen anymore. The excitement we felt before we played Duke is how excited our upcoming opponents will be to face us.”
Hamilton has a suggestion for Miami fans.
“The basketball fans in Miami need to get in line tomorrow for season tickets, because this is what the ACC’s all about,” Hamilton said. “Right now UM is setting the tone, sitting at the top. Get used to it. This could be the start of something big.”