CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -Frank Haith came to Miami four years ago with a glistening reputation. He was widely considered to be one of the country's best recruiters, someone who certainly would make a seamless transition from assistant coach to head coach and quickly lead the Hurricanes to prominence.
Three seasons of mediocrity followed.
So this year, it wasn't a shock when Miami was predicted to be the worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. When the Hurricanes opened league play with six losses in eight games, the NCAA tournament seemed a long shot, at best.
Haith was undeterred.
``I never doubted what we were able to do,'' Haith said. ``I don't think I ever was concerned about anything because I felt we were on the right track.''
Clearly, he was right.
No longer a relevant-only-in-football school, Miami (22-10) plays Saint Mary's (25-6) Friday in the first round of the South Regional, a trip that represents the Hurricanes' first NCAA appearance since 2002 - and a bit of vindication for Haith, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not.
``I'm not fazed by anything anybody our basketball family says about us,'' Haith said. ``I'm really not. Coaches may say that, but trust me, I'm not fazed by it. If anything, I'm hardened by it. I think that's who I am. ... I never wavered on what I believed this team was capable of doing or what we were capable of accomplishing.''
It all came to fruition Sunday night, when Haith saw Miami's name on a bracket.
Deep down, he knew that was coming seconds before it was revealed on the television broadcast, because something inside his brain wouldn't shake the notion that the Hurricanes would be placed on the same pod with Texas.
Sure enough, Texas is the No. 2 seed in the South, Miami No. 7, meaning if form holds, those schools will play in the second round. That's significant only because Texas is the school where Haith was before taking the Miami job, a move he made with the full support and urging of one of his many mentors, Longhorns coach Rick Barnes.
``I love Frank Haith,'' Barnes said. ``He's one of my best friends. He's like a brother to me.''
Barnes still touts Haith's skill as a recruiter, his basketball savvy and his incredible work ethic, even among those who make their livings working 80- or 90-hour weeks during the season. Haith usually wakes up early and watches tape. He stays up as late as he can watching tape.
He's always studying, always learning, and Barnes says Haith has always been that way.
``I'm not surprised at all,'' Barnes said. ``Frank has an incredible feel for the game. He knows what he's doing. He's been around it a long time and Frank's had to work his way up. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He knows what it takes to win. He's a great evaluator of people, he surrounds himself with good people, so I'm not surprised. I'm really, really happy for him.''
It's cliche to say Haith is a rags-to-riches story, but it sort of rings true.
He has nine brothers and sisters, and he's the product of a hard-scrabble upbringing. He once cut a cast off his leg for a basketball game. He wouldn't let a little thing like an emergency appendectomy keep him from coaching at Virginia Tech a couple seasons back. Back in college, he would stop every 75 miles to fill his Ford Pinto with oil, so he could keep commuting to work as an assistant at his old high school.
Someone once asked Miami standout guard Jack McClinton what it's like to be the leader of the Hurricanes.
McClinton looked back with a blank stare. In his eyes, there's only one leader of this program, and it's Haith.
``When we were losing, he was always there to pick us up,'' McClinton said. ``He always stays positive. ... He told us, 'Look, I feel like something special's going to happen. You guys keep working hard, something good will happen for this program.' And something did happen. We got a berth into the NCAA tournament.''
Haith isn't looking past Saint Mary's, a team that was ranked much of this season, and ahead to a potential second-round matchup with Texas. He says he isn't spending time picking Barnes' brain about the Gaels, either; Texas beat Saint Mary's 81-62 earlier this season.
``Frank doesn't need much from me,'' Barnes said.
This week, Haith's focus isn't the Gaels or the Longhorns. It's his own team.
Miami played with a desire to prove those doubters wrong for much of the season. Now that the Hurricanes are in the NCAA field, Haith doesn't want them to think the job is complete.
``When you're building a program, you have a vision of what you want to get accomplished,'' Haith said. ``And we all want to play in the NCAA tournament. That was our goal. And to have it happen when so many people said you couldn't do it, that's gratifying.''

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