Coming off of the greatest season in program history, the Miami Hurricanes basketball squad opened camp with plenty of optimism, but also a fresh look. Having graduated 6 seniors as well as losing ACC POY Shane Larkin early to the NBA Draft, the team looks vastly different then it did this time last year.
Head Coach Jim Larranaga and staff certainly have their work cut out for them, and he was quick to point out the transition ahead,
"We have so many new players. Everybody comes from a different background. Learning the game from their high school or AAU coach and now they come to the University of Miami and they’re looking at an entirely different way of teaching and learning,"
But as is Coach L's way, there is always a hint of optimism,
"It’s going to take them some time. We have to be very, very patient with them. Some kids learn faster than others. Hopefully, once they all learn what we’re teaching, we can develop into a very fine team."
So what will be the keys to a successful season? Here are a few things to watch:
Point Guard Play - There are not enough superlatives to illustrate how sensational Larkin was last season. Perhaps the best PG to ever come to Coral Gables is now in Dallas playing for the Mavericks, leaving some big (and often fluorescent colored) shoes to fill. Deandre Burnett is a true freshman who is going to give the entire ACC fits with his scoring touch, but even after a year in prep school learning the point, seems better suited as a lead/scoring guard. Another freshman, Belgium import Manu Lecomte is a potential sleeper to fill the role. On Lecomte. Coach L was not bashful on projecting an immediate role.
"I have been very impressed with him as a person. From what I hear, from talking to the other guys, they are very impressed with him as a point guard. You’ll see him a lot during the season, either as a starter or someone coming in off the bench. He is going to earn a lot of playing time."
Once football season ends, Corn Elder might get a crack to run the team. In the interim and as LeComte gets acclimated with the speed of major college hoops, look for 5th year senior Garrius Adams to handle the ball quite a bit. The 6'5 Adams, like Bunett, is more of a lead guard. But his experience and smooth game will likely earn him plenty of minutes at the point. Larranaga is quick to point out that running the point for the scout team last season, Adams was nearly indefensible, even for ACC Defensive POY Durand Scott.
FYI, for those wondering, Angel Rodriguez will NOT be playing for the 'Canes this year.
Coach L made it official yesterday:
"In one of our very first conversations, Angel shared with me, that he was struggling with injuries that he sustained during his two years in college. One was a wrist injury, and one was a very serious tendinitis in his knee. When we had him visit with our trainer Wes Brown. Wes felt that it was so severe that he took him to our team doctors. They did x-rays and MRI’s, and eventually shut him down the entire summer. When Angel and I talked about him for this upcoming year, the discussion was, ‘There is no sense applying for the waiver to help you be eligible when you’re not physically going to be fit enough.’ He told me at that time, he would much prefer to just sit out the year anyway, learn the new system and be 100 percent, or close to 100 percent, for his last two years. We were waiting to decide whether or not to apply for the waiver to see how he was feeling. I spoke to him the other day. We both agreed that we weren’t going to apply for the waiver, so he’s definitely going to red shirt this year with Sheldon McClellan and be available next season and the following year."
Big Strides for Big Tonye Jekiri - The 7 foot sophomore earned minutes as a true freshman with solid if not spectacular play and a defensive mindset. Jekiri averaged just 3.3 ppg last year, and with Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji, and Julian Gamble all graduated, more will be needed.
""When Tonye was a freshman, the very first thing you noticed was he’s got size and speed, but he didn’t have the bulk or the strength to battle against the bigger, stronger guys on our team. When he was going against Reggie, Kenny, Julian, and Raphael, they pushed him around. He has worked very, very hard at gaining strength and gaining weight. I believe he is very close to 240 pounds now. Last year he was about 215. He’s just much stronger, much more confident. He worked very hard on his shooting, so much so that he’s developed tendinitis in his shoulder from shooting too much, which I’ve never heard of before. I also think he’s a much more confident player. He gained very, very valuable experience as a freshman." - Coach Larranaga
But has he developed a low post game? That remains to be seen.
Newcomers - Burnett is a potential candidate to lead the team in scoring and win ACC freshman of the year (if he can play good enough D to stay on the floor). He is that good. Davone Reed is a slasher who can shoot and handle the ball well enough to earn plenty of minutes. Former 'Cane and Depaul forward Donnovan Kirk returns to UM for his final season and will be needed to provide shot blocking and some scoring at the 4 spot.
But the newcomer I think could be the most important to a successful season is JUCO transfer James Kelly. The 6'7 240 pound F reminds me a lot of former Miami and current Orlando Magic high flyer DeQuan Jones. Kelly may end up with a more polished game then Jones, perhaps with less athleticism, (few in the world can match the exploits of Jones in that category) but like Jones was as a senior may be asked to play a lot of minutes at the 4. If Kelly can fill the role of rebounder, defender, and trash man on the offensive end, it will take a lot of pressure off of Jekiri which could be key in his development.
Stay tuned for much more coverage from State of the U in the coming weeks, as we countdown to Hoops season.