We are now nearly two months removed from the end of the Canes Hoops season, an up-and-down campaign that left fans feeling like we missed an opportunity. Miami had arguably their best collection of talent in the program’s history, and all we had to show for it was a first round exit in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, that final loss has become a little less inexcusable (Loyola-Chicago went on to the Final Four), but the inevitable off-season attrition also reared its ugly head, as Lonnie Walker IV and Bruce Brown Jr both entered the draft, and sophomore center Dewan Huell declared for the draft but has not yet hired an agent, allowing him to hopefully return for another season. This is a somewhat common occurrence in the college basketball world (at least for top-tier teams). However, teams losing underclassmen to the draft typically have new recruits coming in looking to take advantage of the opportunity to play right away. That’s where things became grim for the Canes, as there was a total of zero new recruits coming in. All of the momentum we should have gained from this season was halted with the disappointing finish and the loss of talent that would not be replaced.
Having an empty recruiting class is normally inexcusable for a program in the top conference in the country. Miami had the misfortune of being wrapped up in the FBI investigation that engulfed the college basketball world (Coach Larranaga was later exonerated) and that made them too hot to convince recruits to come here (somehow Arizona still got a top 100 recruit to go there). The timing of the probe was awful, as the story dropped just before programs really start locking in recruits, and Coach L wasn’t cleared until after most of the recruits were already committed. It was an extremely frustrating situation, but it was also the hand we were dealt. How this staff would deal with it was what was now important.
The only avenue the Canes had left to improve this squad for next year was the transfer market. This staff had success pulling in talent this way in previous seasons, with names like Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan coming to mind. The Canes even have a transfer they brought in last year who is eligible to play this season in guard Miles Wilson. To replace an entire recruiting class with transfers, on the other hand, appeared to be a very tall order. Just when it felt like hope was lost, this staff came through.
Over the course of two days, the program announced 3 transfers joining the program. All 3 players appear to have the goods and aren’t castaways. They all want to be here. First to join the Canes was Wyoming guard Anthony Mack, the high school teammate of Deng Gak who spent the last year redshirting due to concussion issues. If all goes well, he could have 4 years of eligibility starting with this season. Mack had legit suitors coming out of high school, including national champs Villanova. Next was Oklahoma guard Kameron McGusty, who was a solid scorer during his freshman season at 10.1 points per game. He took somewhat of a back seat this season as freshman-phenom Trae Young took most of his touches. McGusty will have to sit out a year, but will be valuable down the road. The last transfer to join was Florida Gulf Coast grad student Zach Johnson, an elite scorer who was viewed as the prize of the transfer market. Johnson averaged 16.1 points per game on 47% from the field and 39% from behind the arc. In his last 4 games, Johnson averaged 25.7 points per game, 52% from the field and 60% from behind the arc. Those are big time shooting numbers (against the Atlantic Sun Conference, but still).
Recruiting is meant to accomplish 3 things: provide younger athletes so graduation doesn’t completely decimate your team, provide bodies to increase competition in practices and depth, and to improve the overall talent of the team. Having no recruits in this class meant that the departures of Lonnie Walker IV, Bruce Brown Jr, and Ja’Quan Newton would not be offset, the roster would be down at least 3 players from last season (unless you filled those spots with walk-ons) and that the talent level of the team would inherently be lower than last season. The coaching staff sought to address these issues through the transfer market, and initially it looks like they succeeded (we won’t know for sure until they hit the court). Anthony Mack has potentially 4 years of eligibility and Kam McGusty will have 2 (makes the team younger). 3 transfers replace the 3 departures number-wise, and with a redshirted player (Deng Gak) and a transfer that sat out last season (Miles Wilson) joining the lineup, Miami will likely have an extra player in their rotation. Talent-wise, the Canes are in a better position than many of us thought they would be with a legit scorer like Zach Johnson entering the fold. How close they are to last season’s squad in regards to talent is tough to determine with so many new faces and players who have yet to play a college game, but if they are anywhere close, we can hope for improvement on last season’s underwhelming campaign.
An additional benefit that this transfer class brings is fortifying the players’ connection to the program. Watching Lonnie and Bruce enter the draft (and Dewan Huell explore his options) with plenty of eligibility remaining shows that late first and second round prospects don’t feel like there is enough in the program to convince them to bet on their talent by playing another year of college ball. While this issue is not completely solved, bringing in players that have personal relationships with players already on the team could create more of a cohesive mindset with the team. Anthony Mack was the high school teammate of Deng Gak, and Zach Johnson was a high school teammate of Dewan Huell. Johnson is also a local talent having played at Miami Norland High School, and stated that the opportunity for his family, friends and high school coach to watch him play factored into his decision to come to Coral Gables. Gaining more players that should feel like part of the family and have hometown motivation are great dynamics to set the tone going forward on the court and on the recruiting trail.
How do you feel after Miami’s splash into the transfer market following an unfruitful recruiting cycle? Let us know in the comments.