Heat assistant Juwan Howard to interview for Pistons head coaching vacancy

  

Heat assistant Juwan Howard (middle) will interview for the Pistons head coaching job. (Photo by Manuela Davies/Getty Images)

Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard will have another interview for a head coaching job.

Howard will speak to the Detroit Pistons about their coaching vacancy, the Palm Beach Post has confirmed. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first to report the story.

Howard, 45, met with the Knicks about their head coaching vacancy a month ago. About a week later New York announced the hiring of David Fizdale, the former Heat assistant and Memphis head coach.

The Pistons have been searching for a coach since former Heat assistant Stan Van Gundy was fired May 7. Van Gundy was the organization’s head coach and president of basketball operations. Heat executive Shane Battier spoke to the Pistons about a front office job but ultimately withdrew his name from the search.

Howard is from Chicago and played three seasons at the University of Michigan. He spent 19 seasons in the NBA, playing for eight different teams, but never for the Pistons. His last three years were with the Heat where he was a part of the 2012 and 2013 championship teams. He joined coach Erik Spoelstra’s staff immediately after retiring and worked in player development his first season along with being an assistant.

Howard’s only head coaching experience came in the 2016 Summer League where he led the Heat’s teams in Orlando and Las Vegas. Howard’s duties have including working with the Heat’s big men and serving as their defensive coordinator.

Dan Craig was the Heat’s lead assistant coach this past season.

Van Gundy spent the last four years in Detroit. The Pistons missed the playoffs in three of Van Gundy’s four seasons, qualifying in 2015-16 before being swept in the first round by the Cavaliers. Detroit was 39-43 this past season, ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Van Gundy spent more than 12 years with the Heat, including two full years plus 21 games of the 2005-06 season as head coach. Pat Riley replaced Van Gundy early in the 2005-06 and led the Heat to their first NBA title.

Others reportedly being considered for the Pistons job: Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, former Raptors coach Dwane Casey, former NBA star and current coach of the Raptors G League affiliate Jerry Stackhouse and TNT analyst Kenny Smith.

Former Cavaliers executive David Griffin has been rumored as a potential candidate for the front office position.

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Heat assistant Juwan Howard interviewing for Knicks head coaching job according to report

Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard holds back head coach Erik Spoelstra during a game against the Nets this season. (AP photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI – Throw Heat assistant Juwan Howard’s name into the long list of coaches the New York Knicks are targeting.

Howard and the Knicks could meet this weekend, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN – the Heat have given Howard permission to speak with the Knicks, the Post has learned. Howard, 45, has been on coach Erik Spoelstra’s staff as an assistant for the last five seasons.

The list of candidates since Jeff Hornacek was fired after compiling a 60-104 record in two seasons is long. President Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry reportedly have spoken with former Cavs coach David Blatt, Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, former Heat assistant and Memphis coach David Fizdale, G League coach Jerry Stackhouse, former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, former Hawks and Knicks coach Mike Woodson, analyst Kenny Smith and analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson. And they plan to meet with Spurs assistant James Borrego.

Some reports have Blatt and Budenholzer in the lead.

Howard played 19 seasons in the NBA for eight different teams, but never for the Knicks. His last three years were with the Heat where he was a part of the 2012 and 2013 championship teams. He joined the staff immediately after retiring and worked in player development his first season along with being an assistant.

Howard’s only head coaching experience came in the 2016 Summer League where he led the Heat’s teams in Orlando and Las Vegas. Howard’s duties have including working with the Heat’s big men and serving as their defensive coordinator.

Dan Craig was the Heat’s lead assistant coach this season.

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A look at how the Heat are preparing for the unique game of Sixers point guard Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks the ball past LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Cavaliers 132-130. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

It’s difficult to prepare for a 6-foot-10, 230-pound point guard.

Simulating what Ben Simmons does is almost impossible. A guard with the size of a forward who didn’t make a 3-pointer and took 88.1 percent of his shots from inside the paint in the regular season, while also rebounding and passing his way to 12 triple-doubles.

How did the Heat impersonate Simmons while preparing for Saturday’s Game 1 of their series against the Sixers? 6-foot-7 forward Derrick Jones Jr., who is not eligible for the postseason roster as a two-way contract player, took on the role of Simmons in Friday’s practice in Miami and 6-foot-9 assistant coach Juwan Howard acted as Simmons in Saturday morning’s shootaround in Philadelphia.

“You have to face him competitively first and foremost,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Simmons, who averaged 14.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists in four regular-season games against Miami. “He’s a special talent. Things will be decided in between those four lines. You have to deal with him with a great deal of respect and then you have to compete and our guys understand that. There’s a lot of things he does that are not scripted. That’s why it comes down to competition and finding a way.”

Howard played 19 seasons in the NBA as a power forward before joining the Heat’s coaching staff prior to the 2013-14 season. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists during his NBA career.

“Juwan could still play,” Spoelstra said when asked about Howard playing the role of Simmons on Saturday. “He could still play 8 to 10 minutes. I say that all the time. He and [assistant coach] Chris Quinn still take the body fat test and they will take that to their grave I’m sure. They’re ready to roll.”

When the real game starts Saturday night, the Heat are expected to rotate between 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson, 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow and 6-foot-8 James Johnson as Simmons’ primary defender.

“I just try to watch as much film as possible on him and see if I can make my teammates better,” Jones said of simulating Simmons in practice. “Just trying to attack as much as possible, getting them as much prepared as we need to be.”

HEAT-SIXERS PLAYOFF STUFF

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[Here’s the schedule for the Heat-76ers first-round series]

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[Spoelstra says the perfect picture of Ellington is ‘drenched in sweat, totally exhausted, working your ass off’]

[What did Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem celebrate Wednesday with champagne? ‘Our 15th year together’]

[Hassan Whiteside ready to do his ‘talking on the court’ against Sixers’ Joel Embiid]

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says assistant Dan Craig ready to be NBA head coach ‘right now’

MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra was a little busy to watch assistant Dan Craig’s unofficial NBA coaching debut Sunday, but he has caught up since spending that day welcoming his first child into the world.

Spoelstra, who returned to the bench for Tuesday’s convincing victory over Cleveland after he and his wife, Nikki, had their first child, Santiago Ray, on Sunday, praised Craig’s coaching skills, saying Craig, 37, is ahead of where Spoelstra was at Craig’s age.

“When I was that age I was becoming the head coach of the Heat but I told him, ‘you’re a thousand years ahead of where I was at that time,’’’ said Spoelstra, 47, who is in his 10th season as head coach.

“DC’s so much further advanced than I was even my first game. I didn’t know what I was doing. DC’s a well-schooled, well-drilled basketball coach. This guy’s ready to be a head coach right now in the league. He can certainly handle one game. This whole operation the way we’ve worked it guys have really stepped up and taken on more responsibility.”

Miami Heat assistant coach Dan Craig calls a play for his team as they played against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Sunday’s game in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Spoelstra left the team Saturday when learning Nikki went into labor and missed the first game of his head coaching career the next day. The Heat lost to the Pacers in overtime and although Craig was the acting coach, the loss goes on Spoelstra’s record.

Spoelstra said Craig “looks totally comfortable” in the head chair, especially after the experiences of coaching the Heat’s summer league team and the franchise’s developmental league team in Sioux Falls. Craig coached the Skyforce to the 2015-16 D-League championship. Craig is in his second season as Spoelstra’s assistant head coach.

As for Spoelstra, he leaned on assistant Ron Rothstein his first season. Rothstein was a long-time NBA coach who had stops in Miami and Detroit as a head coach as well as being an assistant for 22 years. Rothstein was the first head coach in Heat history.

“That means something,” Spoelstra said about Craig’s experience. “It gives you a lot of experience under fire whereas my first year coaching I literally had no idea what I was doing. Ronny had to tell me when to call time out. He’d be whispering, ‘hey, time out.’ ‘What?’ ‘Time out.’ ‘What?’ ‘TIME OUT!’

“Ronny was barking at me, screaming at me, ‘put this guy in.’ And finally, ‘we need to blitz him, trap him.’ Without Ronny, my first year I wouldn’t have survived. I just didn’t have the experience. I didn’t have the savviness these guys had at this point. I learned all of mine through pain. On the job training.”

Spoelstra also referenced assistants Juwan Howard and Chris Quinn, and Eric Glass, who moved up to video coordinator and player development coach this season.

“And not only DC but Juwan is ready to take that next step soon; Chris Quinn what he did (as the Heat’s Summer League coach) was tremendous, he’s going to be a future head coach,” Spoelstra said. “Eric Glass behind the bench. … he’s going to be a head coach. He’ll be the next in line to come out of the video room and get on the staff.”

Spoelstra also started in the video room.

“But it just shows you how much our staff has grown, how much it really is a village. Even with me coaching our staff really helps and it shows how much guys have improved.”

[Photo Gallery: Miami Heat host LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers]

[Heat mailbag: Is it dangerous for teams to jockey to face Boston in first round of playoffs?]

[Was Tuesday the final game between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?]

[With Bam Adebayo ailing (sprained ankle), Heat to face Cavaliers without top two centers]

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Air Jordan: Heat big man Jordan Mickey stays ready, it pays off against Hornets

 

Miami Heat’s Jordan Mickey dunks on Charlotte Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky during Miami’s victory Friday in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Wayne Ellington couldn’t wait for the question from Fox Sports Florida’s Jason Jackson.

“And I want to say something about Jordan Mickey,” Ellington said while talking about the contributions of the Miami Heat bench during Friday’s win at Charlotte.

“How often do we see him in a game. … and he’s ready. That’s the ultimate compliment and that’s a pure professional right there to not play and then all of a sudden you get into a game and you contribute the way he did.”

With Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo in foul trouble, Mickey entered the game with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter. The 6-foot-8 big man had played in just six games this season, including a total of 17 minutes since starting two games the first week of the season.

Mickey remained on the floor for the rest of the half, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds an assist and a steal in 15:38 while shooting 4-of-6. Olynyk and Adebayo picked up one foul each the final three quarters so Mickey did not return. But his contribution was not overlooked.

Coach Erik Spoelstra called the 23-year-old a “Miami Heat type guy.”

“Behind the scenes only us have seen it,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a big-time credit to Jordan Mickey and his character. He develops, he works, all I see behind the scenes is him spending so much time with Juwan Howard and working on skill development, working on understanding our system, staying in unbelievable shape.”

Spoelstra said Mickey’s conditioning peaked this week.

“All of his testing has been phenomenal. That’s what you want in your young players. You never know when you’re going to get an opportunity. Sometimes it’s weeks. But when you do get your opportunity you have to make the most of it. And he was prepared.”

Mickey, Olynyk and Adebayo gave the Heat a solid center rotation (although Olynyk and Adebayo were on the court together for more than seven minutes of the second half) with Hassan Whiteside still nursing a bruised left knee. The three combined for 30 points and 17 rebounds on 13-of-21 shooting, more than enough to offset Dwight Howard and the Hornets’ big men. Howard finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds.

Mickey credited Heat coaches for the time they spend with him during practice.

“I’ve been doing stuff off the court, running with the strength and conditioning coach, trying to stay ready, just stay in shape for this opportunity,” he said following the game. “It all paid off today.

“Everything is different than game reps. But they do a great job of trying to simulate it when I work out with other players.”

Mickey knew once Adebayo picked up his second foul – after replacing Olynyk who was whistled for two quick ones – his time was coming.

“When both of them got in foul trouble usually it’s going to be me or Udonis (Haslem). He called my name,” Mickey said. “I have the mindset to always be ready. It paid off. My teammates fed confidence into me. They trusted me they got me some pretty good looks I played defense, so I’m happy.”

[Should Heat make a play for Paul George if Thunder blow up their Big Three?]

[MRI on Justise Winslow’s left knee negative, Heat  confirm; no timetable on return]

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MRI on Justise Winslow’s left knee negative, Heat  confirm; no timetable on return

Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow drives against the Phoenix Suns during a game earlier this year. in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed today an MRI on Justise Winslow’s left knee was negative. Spoelstra, though gave no timetable on his return.

The Heat (13-14) are in Charlotte to face the Hornets (10-17) tonight but neither Winslow nor center Hassan Whiteside (bone bruise left knee) are with the team. Although it is unlikely either will play Saturday when the Heat host the Clippers, both players could be back by the end of next week.

The injuries have forced the Heat to recall guard Derrick Walton Jr. from the Sioux Falls Skyforce. This is the fourth time Walton has rejoined the Heat since he started camp with the Skyforce. Walton, who has played 12 minutes in four games and scored two points for the Heat, is on a two-way contract.

The Heat also are without Rodney McGruder, who had surgery on his left tibia, and Okaro White, who had surgery on his left foot. Neither are expected back soon.

Whiteside did some light work at practice Thursday but still would need at least one full-contact practice before returning. After suffering a left knee bruise in the season opener that forced him to miss five games, the 7-foot center was diagnosed with a different bruise on the same knee 15 days ago. He will miss his eighth game with the second bruise tonight against the Hornets.

Whiteside wore a knee brace and worked with assistant coach Juwan Howard and executive Alonzo Mourning Thursday.

Winslow, who was injured Wednesday during the Heat’s 102-95 home loss to Portland, didn’t seem worried after the game, describing the pain as tightness in his knee.

The 6-7 third-year forward was finding somewhat of a groove lately coming off the bench after starting 15 games, 13 of those at power forward. He is averaging 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assist in 27 games while shooting a career-best 42.6 percent.

“He’s going to stay here and be in the program with Hassan and we’ll re-evaluate him when we get back,” Spoelstra said about Winslow Thursday before the Heat left for Charlotte.

[Could two-big look continue when Hassan Whiteside returns?]

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Mailbag: Could ousted Memphis coach David Fizdale return to Miami Heat?

CLEVELAND – The NBA was stunned by the news Monday that the Memphis Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale.

Fizdale was a long-time Heat assistant to Erik Spoelstra before taking his first head coaching job prior to the 2016-17 season. Could he return to Miami now that he is out in Memphis? We answer that and more in our latest Heat mailbag.

If you weren’t able to ask a question this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter to @tomdangelo44 and @Anthony_Chiang. You can also e-mail me at tdangelo@pbpostcom.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and assistant coach David Fizdale at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on May 6, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

  From @ShawnO1362020: Do u think the heat will hire back Fizdale for an assistant job or any job open in the organization?

Fizdale lasted just more than one season in Memphis after signing a four-year, $10.2 million contract, although the fourth year is a team option. The Grizzlies lost in the first round of the 2017 playoffs and have dropped to 7-12 this year after having lost eight straight.

The tipping point, though, was his deteriorating relationship with center Marc Gasol, who Fizdale benched for the fourth quarter of a loss to Brooklyn on Sunday.

Fizdale was a popular figure in Miami during his eight years as an assistant coach, including the Big Three era in which he was part of two titles. The support he received from players he coached during his time in Miami was evident by the reaction over his firing.

But do not look for Fizdale to return to the Heat any time soon, or maybe ever. First, the Heat have no openings next to Spoelstra with assistants Dan Craig, Juwan Howard and Chris Quinn, who also carries the title of director of player development, on the bench.

Octavio De La Grana sits behind the bench because of the NBA’s limit on assistants allowed to sit next to the head coach. Fizdale could join De La Grana behind the bench but he isn’t about to take that position after spending more than a year as a head coach and also being owed the remainder of his $2 million this season and $3 million next year from the Grizzlies.

The question then becomes what Fizdale decides to do next season. Could an opening occur on the Heat bench for him to return or does he find another job? Look for Fizdale to be back on an NBA bench, but as a head coach.

From: @MiamiVikings: When do you think Bam will get more playing time? I don’t think he’s been horrible & he plays good defense & grabs boards in the minutes he’s given us.

Bam Adebayo has played in 10 games – three starts – this season, averaging 3.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 12.3 minutes and shooting 50 percent. But that playing time has diminished lately and the rookie has not seen action in seven of the last nine games.

Spoelstra has settled into a nice rotation with James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk getting all of the big-man minutes off the bench. He continues to praise Adebayo’s development and says there will be times when he is called upon.

“He’s continuing to work at it, now he has to develop a level of patience that’s required in this league,” Spoelstra said Saturday in Chicago. “It’s a long season. It can feel like it is months when you’re not playing but in reality it’s only a few days, few games.

“I’m not discounting how difficult that is for competitors. He just has to get committed to his player development, being prepared and being ready for the next opportunity when he gets it.”

[Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic named Eastern Conference Player of the Week]

[The numbers behind why Josh Richardson is playing like one of the NBA’s top defenders]

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Miami Heat greet free agent Gordon Hayward with huge committee, banner

Gordon Hayward saw this banner as he pulled into AmericanAirlines Arena today to meet with the Miami Heat. (Photo courtesy Miami Herald)

ORLANDO – Gordon Hayward was greeted by Miami Heat players, coaches, officials. … and a banner of his likeness as he pulled into AmericanAirlines Arena early Saturday.

The Heat had the first meeting with one of the biggest names remaining in free agency, hoping to lure the Utah Jazz small forward to South Florida. Involved in the meeting were owner Micky Arison, President Pat Riley, CEO Nick Arison, GM Andy Elisburg, Alonzo Mourning, coach Erik Spoelstra and most of his coaching staff.

Several players also spoke to Hayward including Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem and free agent James Johnson. Hayward and Johnson share the same agent, Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein.

Miami even delayed the arrival of coaches Chris Quinn and Juwan Howard to Orlando for the start of summer league, keeping them back in South Florida for the meeting. Eric Glass coached the Heat in their summer league opener, a 74-67 loss to Charlotte.

The Heat are hoping to land Hayward, who, if he leaves Utah, would be the biggest name to switch teams this summer.

[More sanity to free agency could benefit Miami Heat if they look to bring back both James Johnson, Dion Waiters]

[Blake Griffin to re-sign with Clippers; off the board for Miami Heat]

Hayward, 27, will command a max contract starting at $29.7 million. If he re-signs with Utah he could earn $172.4 million over five years. If he leaves the Jazz the most he can make is $127.8 million over four years, the difference being an 8 percent raise each year compared to 5 percent.

Hayward, though, is thought to be seeking either a three-year deal or a contract with a player option after three years so he can then take advantage of the increased max contract for a 10-year veteran. In that case he would make more money signing with the Heat considering Florida does not have a state income tax.

Hayward also has a meeting set up with Boston on Sunday and Utah on Monday and is expected to make his decision soon after meeting with the Jazz. While the Heat and Celtics appear to be the favorites, Boston was planning to sell Hayward on joining a super team, one that included Paul George.

But after Oklahoma City swooped in and acquired George from Indiana late Friday, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was scrambling to put together to Plan B.

If the Heat secure Hayward they will turn to re-signing power forward James Johnson. That would give Miami a lineup of point guard Goran Dragic, possibly Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson at shooting guard, Hayward, Johnson and Whiteside.

Miami then would have a $4.3 million exception to spend on a lower-level free agent.

If Hayward shuns the Heat the options would be James Johnson and re-signing shooting guard Dion Waiters, which could leave them with $15 to $17 million more to boost the roster. Or the Heat could pursue Rudy Gay, who has never hid his desire to play in South Florida, to play shooting guard.

Either way, the Heat should climb in the Eastern Conference considering how many teams have been weakened through free agency or trades. The Heat tied for the eighth-best record in the East with a 41-41 record and missed out on the playoffs because of a tie-breaker

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Coach Chris Quinn on Miami Heat summer league practices: ‘These guys have brought it every day’

Coach Chris Quinn and the Miami Heat open summer league play Saturday in Orlando.

ORLANDO – Although most eyes will be cast toward free agency and the Heat’s pursuit of Gordon Hayward and others, several members of the coaching staff will be leading a team of young players in the first of two summer leagues in which Miami will participate.

Summer league head coach Chris Quinn and his staff put the 13-man roster through a mini-camp at the team’s facility in Miami that included five practices in three days.

“Camp has gone really well,” Quinn said Friday. “The three days have been highly competitive, a little different than some summer leagues. We only had 13 bodies. Lots of times we have a little bit more, so guys get a little more rest when they’re not playing.

“But these guys have brought it every day. We’re cramming a lot but they’re soaking it all in. And when we’re competitive in practice, everyone was very competitive.”

The rostersis highlighted by first-round pick Bam Adebayo of Kentucky and Okaro White, the only player who has logged minutes with the Heat.

Adebayo, a 6-foot-10 forward/center who was taken 14th overall, makes his unofficial debut in a Heat uniform Saturday when Miami opens play at the Amway Center Practice Court at 11 a.m. against Charlotte.

Quinn said all 13 players will see significant time throughout the next two weeks that includes at least five games in Orlando before Miami moves onto play in the Las Vegas summer league.

“It will be fluid,” Quinn said. “With only 13 guys, everyone’ll get a chance to play. And that’s what we want to see.

“We’ve proven that guys that don’t play the first game end up playing by the end of the week and those are sometimes the guys that last. So everyone will get a chance to show us what they can do.”

Quinn, and his staff of Juwan Howard, Octavio De La Grana and Eric Glass, certainly have stressed the Heat roster is full of players who came though the organization’s summer leagues, including White, Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Willie Reed.

“A big part of our development program is not only with the players it’s with the staff,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Many of us have had an opportunity to get through the summer league program and we’ve all benefited from it.”

[Miami Heat among leaders to sign Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka according to Las Vegas book]

[2017 Free Agency Preview:  Is there more pressure than usual on the Heat to get it right this summer?]

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What Miami Heat players have to say about their schools’ chances in the NCAA tournament

 

 

MIAMI – The interest in the NCAA tournament among Miami Heat players got a head start this year when Kansas State and Wake Forest were paired in a play-in game.

That meant the automatic friendly wager kicked in between players when two of their colleges meet in the tournament.

Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) gladly accepted his winnings from James Johnson (Wake Forest).

“I came in like a man, I gave him my money and shook his hand,” Johnson said. “That was the last I wanted to hear of it.”

Kansas State’s 95-88 victory meant the Wildcats advance as an 11th seed.

McGruder is one of seven players and two coaches whose school is in the 64-team field. The list with the teams’ seeds:

Wayne Ellington, North Carolina: 1.

Josh McRoberts/Justise Winslow, Duke: 2.

Okaro White, Florida State: 3.

Udonis Haslem, Florida: 4.

Chris Quinn, Notre Dame: 5.

Juwan Howard, Michigan: 7.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas St.: 11.

Luke Babbitt, Nevada: 12

None of these teams could meet before a regional final. But we could have Florida and Duke the East final, FSU and Notre Dame in the West final, Nevada and Michigan in the Midwest final and North Carolina and Kansas State in the South final.

Only the truest/most die-hard Heat fan would have those Elite 8 matchups in their bracket.

We caught up with a couple of the players for their assessment on their teams’ chances:

 

Rodney McGruder’s school, Kansas State, defeated James Johnson’s school, Wake Forest, in the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ellington (North Carolina’s opening game is Friday against Texas Southern): “I expect them to go win a championship. In the beginning of the year I wasn’t sure how well our team was going to do. But obviously coach (Roy) Williams has proven to always make his team get better and better as the year goes on. That’s what they did this year.

“We’re ready, man. Jumping in as a No. 1 seed, it’s going to be challenging. But we’re ready to face the challenge.”

White (FSU’s opening game is today against Florida Gulf Coast): “We’re a 3 seed. Should have been a 2 seed. I got all the faith in those guys. Let’s go get us our first national championship. They’re young but they’re long and athletic. Surprising things happen every year.”

I informed Okaro that one analyst said FSU may have two future pros in Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac but they always “screw it up.” He was brutally honest.

“We normally do,” he said. “The years we’re supposed to go. … The year we won the ACC championship (2012) we were supposed to at least get to the Elite 8 and there was Final Four talk. We lost in the round of 32 to Cincinnati (62-56, as a 3 seed). We messed that up. It was kind of set up for us.”

Haslem (Florida’s opening game is today against East Tennessee State): “I’ll always have faith in my guys. I’m going to ride with my guys,” he said. “They got a good team. Talented. They did a great job recruiting. The tradition continues on.”

Haslem said he is also rooting for his hometown team of Miami and South Carolina, coached by his high school coach, Frank Martin.

“I’m keeping my eye on a few teams,” he said.

McGruder (K-State’s next game is Friday against Cincinnati): “I feel like you’re a tougher team playing in that play-in game because you already have that first game under your belt, the butterflies are out,” he said. “You know what it’s like to play in the tournament now. Some people don’t know what it’s like to play in the tournament. They haven’t had a game yet. It’s an advantage.

“You make the tournament that’s an accomplishment any way you look at it play-in game or not. The 11th seed is not like you’re a 16th seed.”

Babbitt (Nevada’s opening game is today against Iowa State): “They have a tough matchup. They’ve been OK in the past. I have them at least going to the Sweet 16 and then they play Kansas.”

[Miami Heat tasted playoffs for about 3 hours; odds looking better to be in postseason]

[If Dwyane Wade gets bad news today from MRI on elbow, could his next game be in a Heat uniform?]

[Q&A: Heat guard Wayne Ellington looks back at his March Madness experience]

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