LeBron James Brings Heat to the Miami Hurricanes, Too
But who knew the trickle down would reach all the way to the University of Miami?
The Hurricanes are suddenly James' team, too. He has adopted the Atlantic Coast Conference bottom-dweller, playing pick-up games with players on campus and promising to make appearances at BankUnited Center this season. And the Canes apparently have adopted James as well. He shows up at least four times in various photos in the annual media guide, not including a full-page Nike ad.
In a town where the Canes reside a rung below the Heat in the sports consciousness and a mile behind the football program on their own campus, they can only hope that James will raise the profile of basketball for everyone.
"You have a guy like LeBron in town, it's definitely great for us as a program,'' Canes guard Malcolm Grant said during the ACC media day last week in Charlotte, N.C.
The campus was abuzz in August after James and his pals, including Heat players Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller and All-Star Hornets guard and close friend Chris Paul, came by to play a pick-up game. Canes coach Frank Haith said he was approached by representatives of James, who wanted to set up the scrimmages to prepare for training camp.
After his visit to campus on Aug. 26, James even tweeted about it.
"Just left 'The U' hooping with the team ...Great runs! Needed that"
It didn't hurt the 'Canes, either.
"There's no question that's a huge impact,'' Haith said. "Every college player thinks they're going to play in the NBA. But to have those guys talk to your players about basketball things, just being that sounding board -- we as coaches, we coach them. But having that from a pro player, a guy who's well thought of like LeBron, is a positive. There no question about that.
"I can remember talking to Malcolm about talking to Chris Paul. He spent a lot of time talking to Chris Paul. Chris gave him some advice on some things. There's no substitute for that. That's good for your kids.''
There apparently was some good natured disagreement over a dunk by Miami's DeQuan Jones that was blocked by James, Jones claiming he was fouled on the play. The interesting part? Haith sided with James and against his own player.
"I would tend to believe that LeBron got that clean,'' Haith said. "I'm gonna go with LeBron on that.''
No sense going against his best new recruiting tool. James is now part of the pitch as Haith works to build a program that can compete with the powerhouse teams of the conference such as Duke and North Carolina.
"Who doesn't want to come to a school and you have the chance of having LeBron come to a game or come working out with us?'' Grant said. "When you tell a kid that, that's his dream. How many kids can you name that don't love LeBron James? So I think that's really big for us.''
Winning should help, too. Miami surprised many with its run in last season's ACC tournament. The Canes were 4-12 in conference play and seeded 12th going in. But they upset Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, reaching the semifinals for the first time since joining the conference in the 2004-5 season.
Miami gave eventual national champion Duke a run in the semis as well, leading at halftime before falling, 77-74. The Canes finished 20-13, giving them confidence going into this season.
"It's gonna make us more relaxed, more confident this year and things of that nature,'' said Durand Scott, a freshman who made the ACC All-Tournament first team after averaging 14.7 points per game in a breakout performance. "Just knowing that if we just come in, play hard, just everybody on same page, same focus, the damage we can do as a team.''
The Canes have never finished above .500 in the ACC regular season. But if they can build on last year's finish and move into the upper half of the conference, they might make basketball relevant on a campus devoted to football.
As for winning over Miami, James will do the rest.
"He loves the game and he loves kids,'' said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who led James and Team USA to a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. "He will not sit still in just doing his own thing. What he does will spread to the community. There's no question about it. Dwyane [Wade] is like that, too. So the combination of the two of those guys, I don't know if it will make Florida a basketball state, but it'll make basketball in Miami and throughout the state of Florida even bigger.''