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Larranaga looking for consistency for his Miami program

April 8, 2016 Columns No Comments

College basketball fans may be familiar with the term “one-and-done” as it applies to five-star prospects who spend a year on campus before leaving for the NBA draft. But the phrase has a different meaning for the University of Miami.

“One-and-done” has been the case for Miami when it comes to the NCAA tournament in recent years.

The Hurricanes in the 2016-17 campaign will be trying to accomplish something the program hasn’t managed to do since the late 1990s, which is put together consecutive appearances in the NCAA tourney. They last accomplished that as members of the Big East when they played in the 1998, 1999, and 2000 national events, getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history in 2000.

They settled for an NIT berth in 2001 before making it back to the NCAA in 2002, where they lost in the first round to Missouri. In 2003, however, they stumbled to 11-17 and didn’t get to the postseason.

Then, after making the NCAA field in 2008 and winning a first-round game, they fell back to the NIT in 2009. Their NCAA Sweet 16 berth in 2013 was followed by a 17-16 record and no postseason appearance in 2014.

What will 2017 bring as a follow-up to this season’s NCAA regional semifinal appearance?

Like the 2013 team which lost its entire starting lineup when guard Shane Larkin opted for the NBA draft to join seniors Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Reggie Johnson and Trey McKinney-Jones on the departure list, the 2016 Miami team loses some key seniors.

Guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez were 1-2 in scoring, and center Tonye Jekiri was the leading rebounder. Forward Ivan Cruz Uceda wasn’t much of a factor in the NCAA tourney, but had seven starts and made some big baskets in the Hurricanes’ run to a share of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In addition, guard James Palmer announced last week he was transferring after two seasons.

That leaves coach Jim Larranaga with just six scholarship players with collegiate experience going into the fall. That includes guard Rashad Muhammad, who sat out this past season after transferring from San Jose State.

Guards Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton were the team’s No. 3 and 4 scorers, and forward Kamari Murphy was second in rebounding and blocked shots.

The other returnees are freshmen Anthony Lawrence, a 6-7 forward who demonstrated his potential with an 18-point performance in a win over Notre Dame, and center Ebuka Izundu. Lawrence played in 33 games, Izundu only 15, but he had 11 points and seven rebounds in an early win over Mississippi State. If he adds some pounds to his 6-11 frame, Izundu could be a “major factor” next season, Larranaga said.

Unlike three years ago, however, Larranaga has some immediate help coming in.

He signed a solid recruiting class in November that includes just the program’s fourth McDonald’s All-America, 6-10 power forward Dewan Huell out of Miami’s Norland High. Bruce Brown, a shooting guard from Wakefield, Massachusetts, who played for Vermont Academy this season, is considered a Top 30 prospect, and Rodney Miller, a 6-11 center from Laurelton, New York, who played for Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, is another Top 100 player.

Does that class added to the veterans make for a better nucleus than what he had to start the 2013-14 season?

“The answer to that is we have to wait and see because we’re missing three scholarships,” Larranaga said, referring to penalties incurred because of violations under the previous staff. “So we’re not ready to go to war yet.”

Larranaga, who spoke at a meeting with local media as he took a break from the recruiting travels that have occupied his time since the loss to Villanova in the Sweet 16, said he hopes to announce another signee next Wednesday (April 13), the initial signing date for the spring period.

“We’re not done recruiting,” he said. “We have two scholarships available to us, and we’re still missing one. So right now if you look, we’ll have 10 scholarship players and three open spots. That’s a third of our team. So we still are very, very active in the recruiting arena.”

Larranaga said he will continue working to build the roster through the summer with the top priority adding a veteran from among the up to 700 transfers that could be available. Last year the addition of Muhammad was a last-minute deal with Larranaga and his staff hustling to get the perimeter shooter enrolled in classes and a place to bunk.

“I hope we don’t have to do that again, but if we have a scholarship available, we’ll be looking for a guy all summer long because we’re already shorthanded by one,” Larranaga said. “We don’t want to be shorthanded by two.”

Of course, several things are going to have to come together for Miami to get back to the NCAA field in 2017. Can Newton cut back on turnovers in taking over at point guard? Can Murphy continue the strong inside play he demonstrated down the stretch? Will the freshmen be ready?

But one bets against Larranaga and his staff at their own risk.

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