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Canes are All In for Top Hoops Recruit

Having received four commitments from 2014 prospects, the Miami Hurricanes Men’s Basketball staff is being judicious with their final scholarships. Miami is heavily focused on bringing in an athletic combo forward, viewed as perhaps the one hole in the roster. The coaching staff canceled visits with two other prospects to focus on the player widely ranked as the best player remaining on its board. We talk to Dante Buford's mom and make the case for why UM could be a great fit for this gifted athlete.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Buford
Photo courtesy of Tracy Buford
Tracy Buford

The Hurricanes have gone all in for Dante Buford, a 6'7", 210-pound athletic dynamo. Originally from South Carolina but in school at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, this consensus top 150 player turned heads this summer adding ball skills and increased shooting range to his well-known package of power, strength, and explosive quickness around the basket.  Buford's final three schools are Miami, home state South Carolina, and Oklahoma, and Miami will receive his first official visit in less than two weeks. We emailed with his mother, Tracy Buford, who still lives in South Carolina, to get an idea where Dante's recruitment stands.

Ms. Buford, who says it feels like she "is the one being recruited", comes from a somewhat unique position, as she told us that she is "really not a sports person", and that her involvement with Dante's recruiting has been examining the character of the coaches involved. "I believe I'm a pretty good judge of character and I've also been able to see right through the ones who I feel probably didn't have Dante's best interest in mind," she explains.

Unlike some parents, Ms. Buford doesn't look at her supremely gifted child as a meal ticket or anything of the sort. She is clearly looking out for her son's interest as more than just a basketball player. "The one thing I have told both of my kids from day one is that I just want you to grow up and do better than I did.  Don't settle," Ms. Buford said. "Find something that you absolutely love doing and go after that."

Ms. Buford also wants Dante to focus on what the school can provide him off the court.  "I want him to continue to do well in school.  I want him to graduate and have something to fall back on regardless to what happens with basketball," she said. "I am more concerned with him getting a great education than I am with him playing basketball."

If education is truly a top priority for the Bufords, Miami should certainly have an edge. Miami, which like the city that shares its name is known for diversity and international flavor, is considered "most selective", ranking 47th in this year's U.S. News & World Report rankings. As a private school with an enrollment of fewer than 11,000, Miami students often receive personal attention in classes, with 53.5 percent of classes having fewer than 20 students.  Though South Carolina and Oklahoma both offer extensive academic support to their athletes, both are large public schools with enrollments north of 21,000 and fewer than 37 percent of classes at the smaller size. Both are ranked in the 100s by U.S. News and World Report.

She has met with the coaching staffs of all three remaining schools, and told us that she was "pretty pleased" with all of them.  "I just had a great vibe with all three coaches and their staffs," Ms. Buford explained, before noting that, "It's not my choice so I can just say I like all three."

She admits that she was very impressed with Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga. "Coach L seems like a pretty sincere guy," she said. "I like the fact that he seems to be concerned about the players and not just during the basketball season."

"Our visit was great," Ms. Buford continued. "We talked, I learned about the school and Coach L's style of coaching and his team and we just had a nice conversation, and it was kind of like talking to people I already knew.  I felt at ease talking with him and Chris Caputo.  Both of them represent the University of Miami in a very positive and professional way."

Dante obviously agrees, having recently shared positive thoughts with "I have a real good relationship with Coach Larrañaga and Chris Caputo," he told the site, "and they are talking about how they're going to use me in their system and that's how I want to be used when I get to college so I'm real comfortable with them."

From all indication, Dante wants to be used on the wing, and reports are that he has made a smooth transition to being an inside-outside threat. The Hurricanes lack a true small forward on the roster and are expected to use swingman Davon Reed and potential three-guard lineups unless they get the dynamic Buford. Coach L has shown what he can do with an athletic, powerful wing like Buford, helping Sacramento Kings F DeQuan Jones make the leap from mistake-prone substitute to NBA player in just one year of tutelage. The playing time and opportunity will certainly be there for Buford to seize if he enrolls in Coral Gables.

It looks like playing time is available at Oklahoma, though not at Dante's preferred position. Oklahoma's roster shows only one post player in its sophomore or freshman classes, and the Sooners only have one post commitment thus far in 2014. With potentially only two frontcourt players on the roster beyond his freshman year, it is difficult to imagine Dante playing heavy minutes on the wing.

South Carolina is a more interesting case, as it's hard to know what Frank Martin's roster will look like from year to year. Martin has made over the roster in just over one year, taking on seven freshmen in his most recent recruiting class and jettisoning many former players.  With two commitments already in the class of 2014, the recruiting website shows South Carolina as over the scholarship limit - indicating that possibly up to four players would be forced off the roster for next year to get to the scholarship limit of 13 if Dante joined the class. Who knows exactly who would be left and what minutes would be available when he arrived on campus, and what would happen if he didn't meet expectations immediately?

Having cut his list to three, Ms. Buford expects her son to decide after his visits and sign in November's early signing period. "Being comfortable in his surroundings is one thing that is very important to Dante," she said. "I believe he wants to visit each of the schools and see which one will feel like home to him."

Many students find Miami to truly be home, with a freshman retention rate of 91 percent.  And though all three of Buford's finalists are known as football schools (and even the basketball coaches would admit that), Miami has shown considerable growth as part of the community in the Coach L era. The team is known for its enthusiastic relationship with the student body, starting with visits to on-campus dorms and ending with packed student sections and multiple court rushes as the Hurricanes knocked off traditional powers like Michigan State and Duke. South Florida fans have taken notice as a whole and some have even starting calling Miami a "basketball town" given the extraordinary success of both the Canes and Miami Heat.  According to the NCAA, Miami had the sixth-largest growth in per game attendance in all of Division I last year, with an average of 1,878 new fans pouring in for each game. Some of these new fans included Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who were famously jumping out of their seats as the Hurricanes demolished UNC last season. With a high-powered, experienced team including transfer guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan set to take the court alongside the 2014 freshman class, Miami will be expected to make a serious run in the ACC and the NCAA tournament, and Buford and his fellow freshmen can expect to play in front of packed houses for most of their college careers.

Buford was scheduled to visit Miami this weekend but pushed it back to 10/23 as he was waiting on his test scores to post which we have heard came back fine.  After Miami, Buford will visit South Carolina right after for the weekend of October 25 and Oklahoma the following weekend.

Though she knows it is difficult to expect an 18-year-old to make a "wise decision", Ms. Buford will offer her opinion, but trusts her son to make the right choice for himself.  "I am very confident that he will make an excellent choice regardless," she said. "It's his choice and I want him to know he can make it when he is ready.  Whatever he decides his mother is already proud of him."

After talking with Tracy Buford, it's clear how much she both loves and roots for her son. Hurricanes fans are looking forward to rooting for him too, hopefully in Coral Gables for the next four years!

Dante Buford '14 Official Mixtape (via iaelites)

Thanks as always to SOTU Hoops Consigliere Josh Frank aka @JoshDaCane for assisting with this article!