In the four years since Jim Larranaga took over the program, the Hurricanes have won an ACC Regular Season & Tourmanent Title, appeared in the Sweet 16, made an NIT final appearance, been consistently competitive in the power house ACC, and probably should appeared in two more big dances .
Heading toward 2015-16, Coach L and the 'Canes have a talent laden roster.
How successful can this team be next year? Who are the key performers?
For all that and more we sat down with Miami's very enthusiastic and successful skipper.
SOTU: Coach, you have an activity you did once with George Mason in 2004, and once last year with UM, where you have players release butterflies. Can you tell us a little more about that, and what it symbolizes?
Coach L: Well we try a lot of different motivational techniques. We try different ones each year. The idea of the butterflies actually came from my brother, Bob. In a conversation more than 10 years ago he was telling me that at weddings they release butterflies. I asked him what the significance was and he said the old Native American Indian theory was that butterflies when released fly together to a particular destination. And the butterflies were a sign of good fortune and that when people got married they were traveling together to a set destination. And hopefully they would enjoy good fortune and success on their journey. When he told me the story I researched it. I found out what it was all about, and we did it one time at George Mason and the players loved it. And we did it last season as well here at Miami, where we had a lot of new guys, and we wanted them to bond. The reason we did it was to tell them that they were on a journey together, and we wanted them to have a good time together.
SOTU: Can you please talk about some of the staff changes that the program has undergone this offseason? Can you talk about who you've lost, what it means, and who is replacing them?
Coach L: Well first of all, what we tell our players and coaches all the time is, my job as the Head Coach at the University of Miami is to help my assistant coaches and to help my players achieve their goals. And their job is to help the me and our program achieve our goals. And one of the goals of every assistant is to become head coach one day. Michael Huger who was one of my former players, and an assistant with me for many years, was given a chance to go back to his alma mater Bowling Green. He was thrilled and it is a great opportunity. A month later Coach Erik Konkol who had been with me for 11 years, got the Head Coaching job at Louisiana Tech.Louisiana Tech is a program that has been at the top of Conference USA for a number of years. So those opportunities do not come along very often. What we did was we elevated Coach Chris Caputo, who has been with me 14 years, to associate Head Coach. That gives him a little more responsibility. We also hired Jamal Brunt, who was an assistant coach at the University of Richmond, to replace Coach Huger. Jamal is someone who did a fantastic job at Richmond and is someone I have gotten to know over the past 7-10 years, and I think he is going to be a great addition and a great role model for our young players. We then elevated Adam Fisher, who had been our director of basketball operations, to take Coach Konkol's position. Adam did a great job in the Ops spot, and now is getting a chance to help us full time in recruiting and on the court coaching for the first time in his career. He was replaced in the Ops spot by James Johnson, who was a former assistant of mine at George Mason, and also the Head Coach at Virginia Tech for two years. He brings wealth of experience to our program.
SOTU: Angel Rodriguez did some incredible things in his first year in Miami, but was also up and down. What do you think Angel needs to do this coming season to help the program?
Coach L: Angel impacts the game in so many ways. He is a terrific leader on and off the court. He's an outstanding shooter when he is on, and has the capability of scoring in the 20's. Angel also can shoot the ball from long range, has great moves to the basket, and can find the open man very well. He's a great on the ball defender as well. His only issues this past season were two things. One he was a little inconsistent at the times where I thought he was trying to do too much, and two he got hurt toward the end of the season when he injured his wrist against FSU. If he did not sustain the injury, our season might have ended up even better. I think what he needs to be is just focused. I think again that sometimes he put so much pressure on himself that at times he did not make the same decisions as when he was really sharp. Players don't play the same way every time out. If you watched the NBA Finals you saw a guy like Timothy Mozgov went for 28 one night and only played 9 minutes the next. Even Steph Curry went like 4-16 in game 2 and then in game 5 goes for 37 points. Players don't always play the exact same way. What we need is for our players to play a little more consistently. And that's what we need Angel to do, make consistently good decisions.
SOTU: Tell me about Davon Reed. By season's end he seemed way more aggressive. What can we expect from him this coming season?
Coach L: I think Davon has an outstanding sophomore season. And the incredible thing about it he injured his knee in September and the Doctor said he would miss 4-5 months. He was able to come back in December, and he was a little rusty. It took him maybe 4 weeks to shed the rust, but he had a heck of an ACC campaign and he just keeps getting better.
SOTU: Can you talk about Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, who after a year with the team practicing will be eligible this year?
Coach L: Kamari is very athletic. He's about 6'8 and can run the floor extremely well, and can jump extremely well. He's a very good rebounder at both ends of the court. He has the potential to be an outstanding defender, and he's going to add a lot of athleticism to our front court.
SOTU: How about incoming freshman Anthony Lawrence Jr.?
Coach L: Anthony goes by the name "Little Amp" or just "Amp." He is a very versatile player. His dad, who played for the University of Miami, was also his high school coach. His dad is about 6'9 and Amp is about 6'6 or 6'7 and about 200 pounds, but he may grow a little more. We're not sure exactly what position he's going to play. He might be a three, he might be a four. But he handles the ball very well, so eventually he might end up in our back court. He played point guard in high school. I don't think he will play PG for us initially because a lot of times when you play point you match-up with point guards on defense. He'll handle the ball a lot because of his skills, but he'll likely guard the 3 position on defense.
SOTU: What can we expect from sophomores to be JaQuan Newton, Omar Sherman, and James Palmer?
Coach L: I think JaQuan Newton took a major step forward during his freshman year. We do want him to become a better three point shooter though, and he is working on that during the off season. James Palmer is a very versatile player, and a very smart player. He can shoot, handle, and pass, but we need him to be a better and more focused defender. Omar Sherman can really shoot the three and has a nice post up game. A guy of his size at 6'8 260 pounds, really needs to focus on rebounding and defense though. If Omar can become better at defending, especially the ball screens, and rebounding his position he could have a tremendous sophomore campaign.
SOTU: Flat out, is Tonye Jekiri the most underrated player not only in the ACC but maybe the country?
Coach L: Tonye has improved dramatically over the course of his career here. And hopefully he will take another major step forward this coming year. He is going to be a senior and he led the conference in rebounding last season. We are trying to get him to become more of an offensive threat. He has a very nice shooting touch, and he has gained more and more confidence in that. Now he has to find ways to free himself inside to make more shots. If he does that he should have a sensational senior campaign, and average a double-double.
SOTU: How important will it be to have Tonye around for incoming big man Ebuka Izundu's first year in the program?
Coach L: Ebuka will make a very nice transition primarily because Tonye's a great role model and they will get along well, and he will learn a lot from Tonye. But he will also have guys like Kamari Murphy, to show him some things defensively, and Omar Sherman who can help him with his shot especially given they are both left-handed. He's going to have very good role models to work with.
SOTU: Sheldon McClellan have a fantastic first year in Coral Gables. Can we expect even more from him this coming season?
Coach L: I am going to expect more from Sheldon. He got very, very good by the end of the year just by believing in himself. The coaches always had tremendous confidence in him. He is a great athlete, incredibly skilled, and a wonderful young man. We just need him to be as aggressive as possible. There were games where he wasn't quite as aggressive as we'd like last year. He's at his best when he is attacking and looking to score in double figures.
SOTU: Coach, what do you think the identity of this team will be in terms of style of play?
Coach L: We are going to want to run more than we have at any point in our first four seasons, primarily because our team is built that way. But also with the shot clock now at 30 seconds, it will dictate a faster game for us naturally. We are going to have a quicker front court. When you add guys like Kamari, Ebuka, and Amp, you add three very good athletes to the program. They can all run and they can all jump. We expect to be better defensively. Defense was an area of weakness last year. We were in the top 75 teams defensively, but to accomplish our goals we need to be in the top 25 defensively.
SOTU: How satisfying was it to watch Duke cut down the nets? Did it prove that Miami should have been in the NCAA Tournament given that UM defeated Duke at Cameron?
Coach L: Well I definitely think we deserved to be part of the field. I was very impressed by the job Coach Mike Krzyzewski did, because when we played them I think we exposed some things that they needed to adjust to improve as a team. And Coach K made those adjustments. His team dramatically improved, and he was playing with 4 freshman, who were key to their run. The way they played offensively and defensively in March and April was very, very impressive.
SOTU: What is the focus for recruiting this coming year given the program will lose Angel, Sheldon, Tonye, and Ivan Cruz Uceda as well?
Coach L: Well recruiting is like breathing, you have to do it everyday and you have to do it a lot. So my coaching staff has been very busy. But we've gotten great response from the young men that we've talked to. They seem to have a great deal of interest in the University of Miami. We won't really know anything before September. I know a lot of teams in the ACC are getting commitments now, but we do not anticipate anything like that. But we do think we are in good enough shape we should get some in September.
SOTU: Last but certainly not least, how important it is in this coming year with the team looking to have everything in place for a big year, for the fans to come out and fill the Bank United Center consistently?
Coach L: I think the Bank United Center is a fantastic home court, when the arena is packed. When our pep band is playing, and the student section is waiting on line to get to best seats, it's incredible. Every time we have sold out the BUC, our team has responded and had a great performance. So it is very, very important that we get that consistent support. Starting in non conference, we are playing some great opponents, including our game against Florida. We need our students and our community to get behind this team, because we feel like this can be a very special season.
Thanks again to Coach Larranaga for giving us the chance to get to know him and the team a little better.
Stay tuned for much, much more coverage of Miami Basketball right here on State of the U.