Could Miami coach Haith be on the list at USC?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

David CloningerMarch 13, 2008 

CHARLOTTE -- Miami's already on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's radar, after going 21-9 and finishing fifth in the ACC. The Hurricanes can push themselves further onto the screen with a few wins in the ACC tournament.

It may also serve to push coach Frank Haith onto another screen -- a list of candidates to replace retiring coach Dave Odom at South Carolina.

"I don't know much about the job, so I'd rather not comment on that," Haith said on Wednesday, after the Hurricanes' practice. "My focus right now is on what we're trying to do."

Haith wasn't asked about his interest in the job, but rather if USC is viewed by coaches as a good spot to build a program. The 43-year-old skipper said he didn't know much about the Gamecocks' history or program other than it was headed by Odom, a close friend.

"I know Dave Odom very well and I love him. I think he's special, part of who I am," Haith said. "Dave and I still remain great friends, and he's a mentor."

The Gamecocks are set to play their first-round SEC tournament game today and a loss ends the season. Odom will retire and the coaching search will start to heat up once the weekend is over and some potential candidates find out if they're going to play in the NCAA tournament.

Published candidates who have not wanted to comment on their links to the USC job are Oklahoma's Jeff Capel, Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant and Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. USC Athletics Director Eric Hyman is likewise keeping mum on who he may contact once Odom's tenure is done.

Haith seems a natural fit. He fits Hyman's profile of a "young and energetic" coach and has guided Miami to two NIT berths and some kind of postseason tournament this year, his fourth with the program. He was born in New York but grew up in Burlington, N.C., graduating from Elon, and still has connections with the North Carolina recruiting trail, as evidenced by three N.C. natives on the 'Canes' roster.

Most importantly, he's somewhat familiar with USC. When Odom was hired in 2001, he brought Haith, then a Wake Forest assistant, with him to USC. Haith served for around four weeks before Texas' Rick Barnes offered him an assistant job, which he accepted.

• HOMECOMING: Several North Carolina natives are playing in the tournament this week, three from Charlotte.

Clemson's K.C. Rivers, Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow and Wake Forest's Jamie Skeen grew up in the Queen City, although Rivers finished his high school career at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy. He began at Independence High School, Morrow went to Charlotte Latin and Skeen to North Mecklenburg.

Rivers' teammate, freshman Demontez Stitt, graduated from Butler in nearby Matthews.

"Oh, man, it's going to be great," Stitt said after the Tigers' regular-season finale last week. "Me and K.C. been talking about it all year, how great it will be to play at home."

"All my friends want tickets," Rivers said. "It'd be great if we could win it in my hometown."

There are North Carolina natives on every ACC team except Duke, Florida State, Maryland and Virginia. The tournament is also a return for three of the last four North Carolina Mr. Basketballs -- Stitt (2007), Skeen (2005) and Morrow (2004).

• AWARDED: Two more ACC awards will be handed out today. N.C. State's Frank Weedon will receive the Skeeter Francis Award and Florida State's Matt Zitani will receive the Bob Bradley Spirit & Courage Award.

The Francis Award, given to a person who demonstrates notable achievement and service to the media in coverage of the ACC, is being presented to Weedon after more than 45 years with the Wolfpack. A sports information director from 1960-72 who moved into administration, Weedon is as one of the biggest ambassadors the school has ever had.

The Bradley Award, named for the long time Clemson sports information director, is presented to someone who overcomes illness or adversity to become a valuable contributor. Zitani, a forward for the Seminoles, was told his athletic career was probably over after having a brain tumor removed in 2003. Zitani transferred to FSU, walked on to the basketball team and was rewarded with a scholarship this year, going on to play in 23 of 31 games, starting five.

• 3-POINTERS: Country music star Kenny Chesney viewed some of Wednesday's practice sessions courtside ... Virginia's Sean Singletary has scored at least 10 points in an ACC-best 51 straight games ... The ACC is still the top-rated conference in the nation's RPI, with only two teams (Georgia Tech and Boston College) with losing overall records ... ACC freshmen have combined for 34 double-doubles this year.

• HE SAID IT: "Anybody could have won there." -- Wake Forest freshman guard Jeff Teague, commenting on the high school state championship ring teammate James Johnson won in Cheyenne, Wyo.

David Cloninger • 909-4218 | dcloninger@heraldonline.com

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