Since Jim Larranaga moved down to South Florida, Miami basketball has been reliably tough.
His Final Four run at George Mason was legendary but that team was built differently than his Miami teams.
At Mason, Larranaga built successfully around guys who were a bit short or a bit...off. Something about them put them in the recruiting discount bin but Larranaga was sharp enough to find a lot of promising guys who could compete at a high level despite being a bit short or a bit slow or what have you.
It was the sum of the parts.
At Miami it’s been different and Larranaga, a former Terry Holland assistant at Virginia, has recruited at a high level.
High enough to recruit players who leave early for the NBA.
Last season Miami had Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, a sophomore and freshman respectively, taken in last year’s draft.
Unfortunately they were both guards and along with the departure of senior Ja’Quan Newton that means Miami has to start over again in the backcourt.
Well not exactly.
One of the ACC’s more exciting players last year was 5-7 Chris Lykes, a player that Larranaga said would be compared to Michael Jordan if he were but a foot taller. He did some eye popping things and with another year of experience will be even better. The ACC has had brilliant small guards over the years: Monte Towe, Spud Webb, Muggsy Bogues among them. Could Lykes be the next?
Miami will pair him with 6-4 D.J. Vasiljevic, from a Serbian family that moved from Canada to Australia.
He’s a junior now and is a dangerous shooter. We’ve always liked his game.
Senior Anthony Lawrence is 6-7 and can play at least three positions. We’d peg him as a starter too.
Toss in Florida Gulf Coast transfer Zach Johnson and Miami is solid in the backcourt if not as lavishly talented as last year. It’s still going to be a load.
The ‘Canes have a ton of size this year.
Dewan Huell flirted with the draft before deciding to return. A 6-11 junior, you won’t find Huell on the roster anymore: he’s changed his last name to Hernandez.
He’ll be backed up by 6-10 senior Ebuka Izundu who is at a minimum competent and strong.
Sam Waardenburg is a 6-10 redshirt sophomore from New Zealand. We’re not sure what to expect from him but he redshirted and he weighs just 216 so we’ll see. He may be a year away.
If you count New Zealand and Australia as one basic basketball zone, then Deng Gak gives Larranga three guys from the region. A 6-10 redshirt freshman like Waardenburg, he was highly sought after but still quite thin at 211.
Over the past 15-20 years a lot of guys from the Sudanese/Dinka diaspora have found their way to college basketball and Gak is just one of the wave. With a 7-5 wingspan he has huge potential as a shot blocker.
He’s never done that much but 7-0 Rodney Miller also returns, giving Miami five guys over 6-10.
Anthony Mack is a 6-5 transfer from Wyoming. He’s a bit of an unknown at this point so we’ll have to see.
Is it enough to compete in the ACC?
We think so. Miami could be a bit weak on the wings behind Vasiljevic and Lawrence but maybe Mack can step up there if needed.
They’ve got plenty of size and reasonable athleticism.
Their biggest asset remains the same though and that’s Larranaga. He’s been at Miami since 2011 and he’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to that program although there is a significant caveat.
Miami has been mentioned in the Adidas trial.
Essentially Adidas paid or tried to pay players to go to specific schools. As of this post it’s not clear whether Miami is in serious trouble or whether Larranaga knew but the program was definitely involved in the FBI investigation.
If it comes out unscathed then it’s blue skies, if you will, for the Hurricanes.
Larranaga is 69 now and shows no signs of slowing down. Even when he does decide he’s had enough, Miami basketball is sustainable. It’s in a beautiful part of the country, in a vibrant city, and more than any other program in America, Miami can recruit the Caribbean and South America and if you’ll recall, other players out of those regions (or at least their families) include Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Greivis Vasquez and Manu Ginobli.
Miami basketball, in other words, should be a factor for years to come.
If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
Check out our October '17 t-shirt! || Drop us a line