There's no shying away from the fact that the 2013-2014 Hurricanes basketball team has awfully big shoes to fill. But you might just be surprised with some of the talent still on the roster, I sure was.
On Tuesday, I got the opportunity to attend the team's summer practice and coming in I sort of knew what I was trying to look for, but I didn't really know what to expect. One of the few things I knew I was going to look for was some of the things the "new" guys do well and what they don't, while trying to see what the "old" guys had improved in.
First let's talk a little bit about the student-athletes Coach Larranaga was able to reel in through the transfer market.
- Angel Rodriguez sat out Tuesday's practice with some minor knee and wrist injuries, but he was working out on the side doing ball handling and conditioning drills. There have been reports that he will sit out a year, but he is still planning to apply for a waiver and try and play during the upcoming season.
- Sheldon McClellan looked impressive. There's no doubt that he has a really talented offensive game, but it was great seeing him shouting out instructions on defense and he looked more engaged than he ever did during the times I watched him in Texas. He will definitely be forced to sit out a year.
- Ex and now current 'Cane, Donnovan Kirk looked a lot stronger than he did during his first tenure down in Coral Gables (Well, he's also a lot older, right?). Kirk was working on his back-to-the-basket moves and also had some really nice range on his jump shot, which was encouraging.
- Perhaps the player that most Canes fans are relying on for any noise this season is senior, Rion Brown. Brown had a good practice and his jump shot looks a lot more consistent, which is where he has struggled in his UM career so far. If he can continue to improve his dribbling and expand his offensive game, while keeping his three-point shot sharp throughout the season, he'll be fun to watch.
- Rion Brown might be the player that many expect the most out of this season, but I think the most intriguing player this season could be sophomore, Tonye Jekiri. Jekiri sat out practice Tuesday with an undisclosed injury, but he was on the stationary bike the majority of practice and even displayed a really nice elbow jumper at the beginning of practice. The injury doesn't seem to be too serious.
- People could say whatever they want about Erik Swoope's offensive game, or lack of one, but the guy is a flat out hustler. There was a couple of times where I honestly thought that the backboard glass was going to shatter during some of his dunk attempts. Swoope showed pretty much what you can expect from him during game day, lot of hustle, not much offensively and a lot of strength.
- Garrius Adams is a player that sat out all last year with a knee injury, and sat out Tuesday's practice with a lower extremity injury, but again, nothing serious. Raphael Akpejiori also sat out practice due to an injury. He'll be a huge part of the rotation come winter.
- As for Justin Heller and Steve Sorenson, they actually looked a lot better this time than they looked at the same time last year, but they're still ways away from getting any meaningful minutes.
- A lot of people have DeAndre Burnett penciled in as the starting point guard when it's all said and done because of his ability to put the ball in the basket, but he's still recovering from his collarbone injury. Burnett, however, was in good spirits and seems to be healing rapidly. He kept doing the same crazy dribbling drill over and over again.
- JUCO Forward James Kelly showed a lot of promise during practice. There's really not much out there on Kelly's skill, but he's getting acclimated to the Division 1 game. "It's really different because here we get to work a lot on our individual skills while also working on the team aspect, while there (JUCO) you just run plays and don't really work on your game." Kelly, much like Swoope, wow'd me with his power dunking the ball, but that's not all he does. He has a really smooth release in his jump shot and is more than capable of shooting from the outside. "I like to play in-and-out" Kelly told me. It's a bit unfair to expect him to replace Kadji's production right from the start, but you should be really excited to see him play because he has a lot of game.
- As impressed as I left the practice facility with James Kelly, the most impressive player on the floor in my opinion was freshman, Davon Reed. Right from the beginning, Coach Larranaga was working with Reed on the far court on his offensive game. Reed was matched up with Sheldon McCllelan most of the afternoon, and he held his own really well. He knocked down a couple of shots from the perimeter and also had some really impressive drives to the hole. I asked Reed what 'Canes fans can expect from him during his career at Coral Gables: "High motor, play hard every possession, and just do whatever my team needs me to do to win games."
- Corn Elder was filling in with his football and classroom duties, while Manu LeComte is battling it out with his native country of Belgium.