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17 July 2012

Team looks for new leaders, big improvements in offseason

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Trey McKinney Jones makes a driving leap through the lane against Florida Southern. The Hurricanes lost in the NIT second round. Zach Beeker // Staff Photographer

After losing to Minnesota 78-60 at home in the second round of the NIT, a season filled with adversity came to a close for the University of Miami Men’s basketball team (20-13, 9-7 ACC).

“It was a tough season,” said Miami center Kenny Kadji, who played his first season for the Canes after transferring from UF.

The 6-foot-11 big man from Cameroon, was one of the bright spots for a team that was hampered by suspensions, an NCAA investigation and injuries that caused impact players like Durand Scott, DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson to miss a combined 23 games.

Kadji led the team in 3-point field goal percentage (41.8 percent on 67 attempts), a skill he acquired while playing high school basketball in France, and rebounds with 170, a particularly troublesome area for the Canes. Miami ranked ninth in the ACC with a rebounding margin of -0.2, often allowing opponents to score off second-chance opportunities.

“The rebounding definitely wasn’t where we want it to be,” assistant coach Eric Konkol said. “And some of it was injury and not having all of our best rebounders, but it’s definitely something we need to improve on and we’ve been working on it in the offseason.”

Konkol said there are several factors that will contribute to better rebounding in the future.

“Some of it comes from being physically stronger, and this is a great time to improve in that, and also being aware – being mentally aware – that we need to improve at this,” he said. “ And that starts with the individuals who need to take the initiative and have the responsibility.”

One of the players who has taken a leadership role during the offseason to improve his game is redshirt junior Trey McKinney Jones.

“Right now I’m in Orlando, working out with my uncle,” said the Milwaukee native, also coming off his first season in Miami. “He used to play overseas for many years and played for the Magic and I’m training with him. I’ll be training with him for a few weeks and then I’ll be back with the team, training with the rest of the team for the rest of the summer, getting ready for next year.”

McKinney Jones is focusing on getting back to being more of a “slasher” who drives to the basket, a facet of the game he often utilized in his first two seasons at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

“I’ve been used to playing point guard my whole life and so I feel like I lost my dribbling ability a little bit,” he said. “So I want to get back to being a little better ball handler. Also this year I didn’t really get to the basket as much as I have in the past and I want to work on that as well, to be more of an all-around player instead of just a shooter.”

But while McKinney Jones, his teammates and coaches agree that last season could have been a “little bit better” and that there is still a lot of room for improvement, there were also plenty of positive takeaways: The Canes finished with the best ACC record since they went 9-9 four years ago, the team beat Duke on the road for the first time, and pummeled archrival Florida State in front of a raucous home crowd.

Nonetheless, Miami is poised to make big strides this summer and work toward the ultimate goal: a championship.

“Our goal is to win every game,” Konkol said. “We want to win every game. We feel like we’re in the ACC, if we can compete for an ACC championship, then we can compete for a national championship. So I think it always starts with ‘we want to win an ACC championship’ and if you do that then you’re going to put yourself in a good position nationally.”