by: Camron Ghorbi
On the highest shelf of the grandiose bookcase that stands proudly behind Katie Meier's desk, overlooking the war room belonging to one of college basketball's great generals, lies one word spelled out in white ceramic tiles: dream.
Below on her desk, cluttered with papers ranging from practice notes scribbled in black ink to the lengthy game tape analysis scattered about, the scene is anything but dream-like.
But as she prepares for the Hurricanes' looming matchup with perennial powerhouse Tennessee, a challenge for which she feels both excited and confident, Sunday's contest seems very much like a dream realized.
"I'm not going to put a helmet on and hope Tennessee misses shots," Meier says. "We're going to be Miami, and we're going to figure out what the best Miami is for this match-up. I hope they play the best game of their year, and I hope we're ready for it."
It wasn't always like this.
Rewind to a particularly bleak span beginning back in 2006, her second season as head coach of the Hurricanes, when Miami compiled a total of 30 wins over the next three years. The team struggled in conference play, often looking overmatched once starters were out of gas. The Hurricanes won nine games in 2007-2008. Nine.
"It was tough. I've coached games where we've lost by 60," Meier recalls, shaking her head.
But press fast forward, and hit pause just before the start of the 2010-11 season. Watch the next few games, and you'll see the latter stages of a brilliant transformation in place since Meier's arrival in 2005.
The type of ferocity, recklessness, and high energy that defined her team's play on the BankUnited Center parquet would catalyze the beginnings of a 41-game home winning streak, the second-longest streak in the nation and one very much alive to this day.
By year's end, Miami had made the unprecedented leap from bottom of the cellar to top of the conference, and the Canes had racked up 28 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Think it was easy? Dream on.
Meier recalls a stretch in 2006 when the Canes played Maryland, North Carolina and Duke - all of whom earned No. 1 rankings at some point that season - within a two-week span. All three would advance to the Final Four.
"I've coached games here where, straight up, we didn't have a chance," Meier says. "We're not in that position anymore."
As the Hurricanes prepare for Sunday, the growth and maturation of the program is evident - even to her.
"When you're building a team, and you go up against a great programs like Tennessee, or Rutgers, or any of the teams we've played, you have to have depth," Meier said. "In the early years, you knew you had five that could play with five. But when your five got tired and their second five was up against your tired first five, you would lose the game."
After graduating two of the conference's most prolific scorers last season, the Hurricanes opened their 2012-13 campaign with the most sound defensive performance in program history, holding North Florida to a record-low 24 points. They won the game by over 50 points.
Still, Miami entered practice the next day hungry and ready to atone for the previous night's poor shot selection and lack of team chemistry. With a collective intensity matched only by their own head coach, the Hurricanes know 2012-13 is the type of year to dream - and dream big.
"I don't care who we're playing right now, we have a solution to whatever problems they pose," Meier said. "I told the team that it's on us this season. I really want them to know that about themselves."