It got to the point last season that Miami of Ohio players and
coaches had to be wondering what else could go wrong. Four games
in, the RedHawks lost starting point guard Rob Mestas for the
year with a knee injury. Leading scorer Wally Szczerbiak missed
eight games in January with a broken right wrist. Then coach
Charlie Coles suffered a heart attack during Miami's first-round
MAC tournament game on Feb. 28.
"You kind of take a step back and realize what's really
important," says Coles, who's been given clearance by his
doctors to return to coaching. "We learned a lot of things
basketballwise, but more than anything we learned about life.
When you've been through as much as this team has, I know one
thing: At least we'll all be friends."
The RedHawks' unity and experience will be apparent on the court
as they try to do some damage in the NCAA tournament for the
first time in school history. (The program has produced just
four NCAA tournament victories in its 93 seasons and only one in
the last 20 years.) This season the weapons are there:
Szczerbiak and Mestas have fully recovered from their injuries,
and the RedHawks bring back five starters and 97% of their
scoring from last year's 17-12 team. The return of Mestas gives
Miami an added dose of speed and defensive tenacity and allows
senior Damon Frierson to go back to shooting guard, where he can
concentrate on what he does best--scoring. "I've got the easiest
job on the team," says Mestas. "All I have to do is get the ball
to Wally and Damon and I have an assist."
While it may not always be that simple, Szczerbiak and Frierson
will certainly provide a potent one-two punch. The
sharp-shooting Szczerbiak (page 80), a chiseled 6'8", 243-pound
senior forward who was the best player on the U.S. Goodwill
Games team, is sure to draw extra attention. That'll open up
things for Frierson, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball who's as
adept at shooting a three-pointer as he is at driving to the hoop.
"With Rob healthy, it allows us to be quicker and more aggressive
on offense and defense," says Coles. "We'll have two guys who can
handle the ball and a lot of people who can score. Last year we
were young, and it was a growing process on and off the court.
Now it's time to see what we've really learned."
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF [**]Wally Szczerbiak 6'8" Sr. 24.4 ppg
PF [**]John Estick 6'7" Sr. 7.9 rpg
C [**]Refiloe Lethunya 6'8" Jr. 5.3 ppg
SG [**]Damon Frierson 6'4" Sr. 18.8 ppg
PG [**]Rob Mestas 5'11" Jr. 4.6 apg*
'97-98 record: 17-12 Final rank (coaches' poll): unranked
[**]Returning starter *1996-97 apg