Last season, Miami Basketball failed to reach the postseason for just the third time in the nine seasons of the Jim Larranaga era. Coach L had taken the U to the NCAA Tournament in the three prior seasons and nearly won the NIT title in 2015. So why did a perennial tourney team wind up winning just five games in the ACC? Recruiting and bad luck.
No one can do anything about bad luck. Forward Dewan Hernandez’s failed NCAA appeal and big man Deng Gak suffering a season-ending injury in game number eight couldn’t have been foreseen. This left an already-thin Miami bench with just two big guys; center Ebuka Izundu and stretch 4 Sam Waardenburg.
Where Miami’s failures could’ve been prevented is on the recruiting trail. After several great recruiting classes for Larranaga, he came up empty in 2018. Miami added an important contributor via transfer with guard Zach Johnson but didn’t sign a high school senior in the entire recruiting process. This left the cupboard bare when injury and bad luck struck.
The result? A thin basketball team that had to play through 5’9” point guard Chris Lykes and failed to achieve double digit conference wins for the first time since 2013. But this recruiting cycle, Coach L and company have made sure not to repeat the failures of last year.
Losing three of their best players (Anthony Lawrence, Ebuka Izundu and Zach Johnson), made it a necessity for Miami to rely on incoming freshman and not stopgap transfer options. Miami still has some talent left but there’s far more question marks on this year’s returning players than even last year’s. Prior to last week, Larranaga had done an admirable job signing some players that would fill the gaps in Miami’s roster.
Before the season ended, combo guard Isaiah Wong and forward Anthony Walker signed their letters of intent with the Hurricanes. Wong is one of the top wing players in the nation and should be able to pick up the offensive slack that is lost with AL3 and Zach Johnson graduated. Wong is smaller than most at 6’2” but has shown good ball handles and a strong touch around the rim.
Walker adds some desperately needed size even if he might be a little too small to play the 5. Standing at 6’9,” the New Hampshire native is more under the radar compared to the guards in Miami’s class. But Walker is still an important addition; he will almost certainly see minutes in the Canes’ thin frontcourt rotation and should bring value as an athletic, stretch big.
Then came the news that sent this class from middling to one of the best in the ACC; Harlond Beverley was coming to Miami. Another highly-ranked combo guard, Beverly spurned the likes of Georgia and Alabama to join Miami. He’ll likely compete with Wong for a big role right away, potentially even the starting spot next to Chris Lykes. Beverly adds another skilled ball handler who can score off the dribble and get to the rim. He’s bigger than Wong at 6’4” but at only 170 pounds, he’ll need to continue to add mass and muscle.
Today, Miami’s recruiting class is the 24th best in the nation and 4th best in the ACC, according to 247 Sports. This is exactly the sort of turnaround Coach Larranaga needed to orchestrate to rebound from last season’s unmitigated disaster. Adding one more piece, like forward Tristan Enaruna, could be the last step in making this class a potentially huge stepping stone toward a quick rebuild and making Miami a consistent force for the next four years. For Coach L, it couldn’t have come at a better time.