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Hamilton's heavy hand helps Hemsley, 'Canes

Lessons learned from the coach's "tough love'' philosophy land Miami and its best player in the Sweet 16 for the first time. UM plays Tulsa tonight.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


AUSTIN, Texas -- As soon as the horn sounded and his Miami Hurricanes had held off Notre Dame late last month, senior guard Johnny Hemsley dashed around the court deliriously.

photo
[AP photo]
Miami's Johnny Helmsley holds up three fingers after making a 3-point basket against Ohio State.
He was ecstatic and relieved.

Hemsley, the Hurricanes' top scorer and most dazzling talent, had violated a team rule and was reduced to a spectator while the Hurricanes bid to strengthen their NCAA Tournament credentials.

Another coach might have allowed Hemsley to play as a reserve, even sparingly, but not Leonard Hamilton. It's not his way. He's a strict disciplinarian who preaches mental and physical toughness, and the players on the floor -- and those rocking nervously in their seat on the sideline -- better reflect that.

Or else.

Or else Hemsley and the Hurricanes (23-10) might not be at this point, in the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time. They meet Tulsa (31-4) in tonight's South Region semifinals at the Erwin Center.

"I guess the word tough love is appropriate," said Hamilton, bristling a bit when asked for the umpteenth time about his relationship with Hemsley. "As youngsters growing up, your parents had to say "no' to you. They had to ask you to do things you didn't want to do, but you didn't worry about it because you know how they felt about you. That's how you have to be as a coach.

"I'm not really sure I've responded to Johnny any differently than I did to Tim James or any of the other players. I've tried to treat them all basically the same: with love and affection and respect."

Hemsley, perhaps the proverbial stubborn child at times, apparently has responded.

Just in time.

Hemsley has played -- and behaved -- like an All-American since that suspension Feb. 26, his second of the season (he sat out two games in December after throwing a temper tantrum during a timeout against Detroit in which he kicked a chair and retreated to the locker room for the rest of the game).

In the four games leading up to the NCAA Tournament, Hemsley averaged 18.5 points and 5.0 rebounds, including playing the entire 45 minutes in an overtime loss to St. John's in the Big East tournament championship game. Then in wins against Arkansas and No. 3-seeded Ohio State, Hemsley averaged 22.0 points and shot 46.7 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from three-point range.

"I've been playing well, and I owe a lot to my teammates," he said. "They have gotten me the ball where I can do some damage."

But earlier in the season -- even as recently as last month -- he was getting the ball in similar positions and as often. But the net results weren't what would be expected from a player who emerged from James' shadow last season to be named first team All-Big East and was one of 30 preseason candidates for the Naismith Award this season.

"With the loss of Tim," Hemsley said of the graduation of the forward picked in the first round by the Miami Heat, "I felt like I had to score all the points for us to win. Early in the season, my shots weren't going and I got down on myself."

It showed. He shot 8-of-30 (1-of-10 from beyond the arc) against North Carolina and 2-for-15 (0-for-6) against Pittsburgh.

"He's a tremendous player, and when he gets it going, because he has so much talent he can take and make tough shots," Villanova coach Steve Lappas said. "A lot of times you'd like to see guys take those kind of shots, but when he has it going, he makes them."

Hemsley hit a tough 30-foot shot with a Wildcats defender in his face at the buzzer to beat Villanova. (Replays showed the shot was after the shot clock hit zero.)

"Our thing was, you know he's going to get his 18 (points), but is he going to go 6-for-17 or 10-for-17?" Lappas said.

Hemsley could be that way off the floor, too. One day he would be the good son. The next, well . . .

Hamilton didn't hesitate to act.

"Young people want discipline," said Tulsa coach Bill Self, Hamilton's assistant for four years at Oklahoma State. "It's tough love. He's great at seeing problems before they become major problems, identifying them and handling them. He cares about the players beyond the basketball court."

At Miami's senior day, Hamilton and Hemsley had tears in their eyes as they engaged in a heartfelt embrace.

"You don't get to see a lot of things me and coach Hamilton have to go through," Hemsley said. "When he had to discipline me or I had to sit out games, it seems like (we) are having altercations. But (we) have a great relationship. I've learned so much from him. I look to him as a father figure, as a mentor. I wish I had four more years to play for him. My game and my personality as being a man would be nothing but better."

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