They're a junk-heap contingent made up of a skinny kid from Brooklyn named Burns, a seven-foot Dominican called Tito and a 5-foot-11 guard from Kennewick, Wash., who really and truly is named Presto. Meet the most audaciously ambitious basketball team in America, the University of Miami Hurricanes.
By way of introduction, this is the school that gave you Rick Barry and then dropped the sport for 14 seasons. Not Miami as in Ohio, Miami as in vice. It is a city that is not interested in slow growth, so the Hurricanes slapped together a team that is turning into a comer in its first season on the court since 1970-71.
Among other things, the Hurricanes have accepted Tito Horford, the Dominican center in search of a school and a probable franchise player when he becomes eligible next year. In the meantime, the Hurricanes are the self-proclaimed youngest team in the country with five freshmen starting, and muss Don Johnson's hair if the sun-tanned tots haven't managed to upset a few teams in going 12-12 with four games remaining.
Miami has done it with pure run and gun, and the result is a track meet of a team with four players averaging in double figures. Nor have they done it completely against weaklings, with a schedule that includes five teams from last year's NCAA tournament, among them second-ranked Duke, 14th-ranked Notre Dame, and Georgia.
"We take two steps forward and then one backwards, but we're getting there," said Coach Bill Foster, the architect of this anarchy, who came from Clemson to rebuild the program two years ago when he was hired by Athletic Director Sam Jankovich. "I decided what we needed was something exciting. Miami likes a good show. So I decided to hide the defense and go with offense."
The Hurricanes first made themselves known with an upset of Georgia Nov. 30. They since have beaten Florida State twice, almost upset Arizona before losing in overtime (81-74), and trailed Duke by 10 at halftime in Durham before losing, 104-82, Wednesday night. Against the Blue Devils' highly regarded defense, they got a game-high 29 points from Dennis Burns, a 6-5 leaping freshman who flirts with the rafters.
The Hurricanes' fast start can be attributed to Foster, a 49-year-old South Carolinian with a steel string voice that demands attention. A career-long program salvager, he first invented UNC-Charlotte, starting there in 1970 and taking a Division III team upward and into the National Invitation Tournament in five years. In nine seasons at Clemson, a school that never before had won 20 games in a season, he made four trips to the NCAAs from 1978-82.
"He's a motivator, and everything is done his way," said Kevin Presto, the redshirt freshman guard who averages 10.6 points. "In fact, that's how he motivates you. You don't do it his way, he sits you down on the bench, right next to him."
Foster found his collection of talent scattered across the country. Presto was unrecruited when Foster spotted him at a prep tournament in Jacksonville. Burns, a redshirt freshman out of Sicklerville, N.J., is a lightweight leaping forward who committed to Clemson, but then followed Foster when he left. Leading scorer Eric Brown, a 6-6 freshman averaging 16.8 points, was a high school teammate of Syracuse's Pearl Washington in Brooklyn. Foster also picked up a couple of transfers along the way, including Tim Dawson, a 6-7, 210-pounder from Baltimore's Dunbar High School who was an Atlantic-10 all-rookie selection at George Washington.
Then there is Horford, who finally seems to have overcome his problems with improper recruitment at Houston and his brief, controversial stay at LSU. He is enrolled in classes and, according to teammates, doing well on court and off.
The Hurricanes still have an excellent chance of stealing a couple of more victories before they are through, although they start their final four-game stretch by meeting Notre Dame. They then will play American University in Miami, followed by meetings with Hartford and Marquette.
"You have to be ambitious," Presto said. "You set just a 10-game goal, and you'll probably lose all of them. Our goal has been to stay over .500 all year long. To get support in Miami you have to win, and 12-12 isn't good enough. We'd like to win 14 games, but we'll take 13.
"And in a couple more years you'll see us in the NCAAs."