In an era of college basketball where "one and done" athletes control the landscape, University of Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga has consistently preached veteran leadership on the floor. Whether it was through senior-laden teams such as Durand Scott’s 2013 squad, or last year’s team led by Angel Rodriguez, Miami has consistently beaten teams due to their experience.
But as the profile of Miami’s basketball program has grown since Larrañaga’s arrival in 2011, so too has the ‘Canes recruiting base, with more top flight freshman beginning to enter the program this summer. Entering 2016, rather than having a rotation made up of mostly upperclassman, Miami now finds itself in a different place. A youth movement may be sweeping through Coral Gables.
While upperclassmen such as Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy, and Ja’Quan Newton all come back in 2016, a large amount of playing time will be given to newcomers this upcoming season. Whether it is top ranked prospects such as Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown, or foreign players such as Dejan Vasiljevic, the ‘Canes will have to mesh several groups of players together over the course of the offseason.
"This year, we have five veteran players and five newcomers who are eligible to play in games, and they have to blend themselves," Larrañaga said this morning during his annual summer recap press conference. "And we don’t know, quite frankly, at this early stage who is the starting five and the guys off the bench who rotate in; but it takes a team effort to really have great results."
During Larrañaga’s tenure at the University of Miami, teamwork has been a central focus for the roster, as they have worked together to beat storied programs such as Duke and North Carolina. In order for this theme to continue this season; however, the ‘Canes will need leaders to step up in pivotal spots.
Returning players such as Ja’Quan Newton and Kamari Murphy will have increased roles now that seniors such as Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri have graduated. Rising freshman such as Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell will need to step into key roles despite their inexperience at the college level.
But while each player has settled into their new role during the offseason, coach Larrañaga says incoming freshman Dejan Vasiljevic "has made his presence known." Vasiljevic is a more versatile player in Miami’s system, and brings forth skills unique to Miami’s offense. In 2014, Vasiljevic made the all tournament team in the FIBA U17 world championships, and has the potential to change the dynamic of Miami’s offense in 2016.
Whether or not the change comes from Vasiljevic, the Hurricanes will look very different offensively in 2016. Although he would not give specifics regarding the system, Larrañaga did say "on offense we are planning on using an offense we haven’t used before."
With Larrañaga confirming that Miami’s offense will look different this season, many will speculate as to what the system may look like. One can expect it to be a guard-heavy system due to the abundance of perimeter players as opposed to big men, but Larrañaga did stress that the ‘Canes are working harder towards getting stronger in the weight room.
"From the progress that I see in the weight room we are heading in the right direction," Larrañaga said while discussing how the team has worked throughout the summer. "The weight room is very, very, significant to us. How strong you are really determines how well you are able to battle for position on the floor, especially near the basket, where the game is won."
Entering 2016, strength in the paint will be an X factor for the Hurricanes. With the graduation of three year starter Tonye Jekiri during spring, the ‘Canes will now look to new, young faces, such as sophomore Ebuka Izundu, and freshman big men such as Rodney Miller and Dewan Huell.
Larrañaga praised the potential from players such as Izundu, but despite the progress they have made, "Coach L" said Miami’s strength isn’t where it needs to be at this stage. Larrañaga did stress that he does like the work ethic Miami has shown so far in the weight room. Only time will tell how the Hurricanes will fare in the low post.
Miami has had unprecedented success within the program during the past five years, but with so much change surrounding the team entering 2016, Miami will have to continue working hard and find their identity early, to make a run.