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Guarded Optimism

By Omar Kelly

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

CORAL GABLES · Guillermo Diaz is an attacking, high-flying player who craves the spotlight and usually gets it by making the spectacular look easy.

Rob Hite is a laid-back Midwesterner whose game is as smooth as his calm demeanor.

Miami's success rests with the two athletic 6-foot-2 guards, who will have to carry the scoring load for the talent-depleted Hurricanes.

If new coach Frank Haith can get Diaz and Hite to take a little of each other's game, the Hurricanes have a chance to play well in Miami's inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Hurricanes, who were 14-16 last season, need Hite to be more aggressive, especially against the double-teams he is expected to draw now that Darius Rice's eligibility is over, and for Diaz to learn how to play under control.

They are perceived as the UM players who would be contributors, if not starters, on just about every other ACC team.

"It's all about finding a way to play that puts this team in position to be successful," said Haith, who played a part in developing Milwaukee Bucks guard T.J. Ford while serving as an assistant at Texas. "To do that we need those guys to be consistent for us every night, and it's certainly going to be a challenge for them."

In his freshman season, Hite was too passive, consistently passing up shots to upperclassmen whose skills didn't match his. As a sophomore, he made significant strides, doubling his scoring average to 15.2 points, which was good enough for second on the team, while improving his shooting percentage from .396 to .488.

But Hite -- considered Ohio's second best high school player in 2001, behind Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James -- hasn't peaked. To do that, he's going to have to embrace his role as Miami's new go-to player, not shying away from taking shots, especially in critical situations.

"I've matured a lot as far as knowing the game, learning the little ins and outs of the game. I've got a better understanding of what I can do and what I can't do," Hite said. "I've watched other players older than me, saw what they did, how they handled certain situations, and it's helped me get better. Now I've got to stay focused to provide my team what we need."

Hite is right. The Hurricanes are his team, but Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, certainly is a fitting sidekick, if not co-star.

Diaz learned the game from his older brother, Carlos Escalera, who was a Division II All-American at Missouri Southern State before playing professionally in Puerto Rico.

Diaz earned a spot on the Big East All-Rookie team after averaging 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He has a 40-inch vertical leap and used it often getting to the rim. Playing volleyball for the Puerto Rico Junior National team helped develop his jumping ability.

Volleyball is considered his best sport, but Diaz, who drew a scholarship offer to play volleyball from UCLA, saw a better future playing basketball.

"Playing volleyball was too easy. I had everything in my hands, whatever I wanted to do I could have done," Diaz said. "I wanted a challenge, something with a lot of competition. That's why I came to America to play college basketball."

Diaz's play was so clutch, so gutsy, he rarely shied away from taking last-second shots, and hit a few tying and winning baskets.

Haith says Diaz's next challenge is to learn how to play under control.

"Sometimes it's good to make the easy play instead of always going for the spectacular," Haith said. "He has difficulty staying out of trouble on the court.

"He doesn't have to worry about searching for trouble because in this league trouble is going to find him."

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