Injuries thin front court

Julian Gamble, the Canes’ fifth-year senior forward/center, is expected to miss the entire 2011-12 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) Tuesday.

The veteran, who was expected to be a key contributor in Jim Larranaga’s first season as head coach, played in all 35 games last year, starting 13. He averaged 3.8 points and four rebounds per game while placing second on the team in shooting percentage (58.6).

“We feel awful for Julian Gamble,” said Jim Larranga in a statement. “Tearing your ACL is a devastating injury at any time in your career, but particularly in your fifth year of eligibility.”

For Gamble, his focus now shifts from the upcoming season to the rehabilitation of the knee ligament that has proved to be very troublesome for countless athletes before him.

“We will do everything we can to support him in his efforts to rehabilitate this injury,” Larranaga said. “We know he will also be there supporting his teammates, because that is just the kind of person he is.”

Gamble remains optimistic despite the devastating injury.

“I promise I will come back better and always keep my head up in hard times,” Gamble tweeted Tuesday in the aftermath of the injury.

The news of Gamble’s misfortune came less than two months after starting center Reggie Johnson underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Johnson is expected to be held out for at least another four months and the team anticipates a mid-season return from the team’s leading big man, who averaged a near double-double last season with 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

The injuries will force the Canes to get creative during the first few months of the season until Johnson’s return. The 2011-2012 season schedule was released Wednesday afternoon, and features some challenging non-conference match-ups against NCAA tournament regulars.

With two of the Canes’ best post players sidelined to start the season, Miami will rely heavily on redshirt sophomore center Kenny Kadji, who will be eligible to play for the Canes after sitting out the 2010-11 season due to his transfer from the University of Florida.

Kadji, a 6-foot-11-inch center from Cameroon, will be Larranaga’s go-to option in the paint as sophomore Raphael Akpejiori, of Nigeria, looks to gain playing time in a frontcourt that is spreading thin.

Larranaga, however, is no stranger to success without size up front.

His 2006 George Mason team that made its miraculous run to the Final Four did not have a single player taller than 6 feet 8 inches.

George Mason, which belongs to the Colonial Athletic Association, defeated storied programs like Michigan State, UNC and Connecticut en route to the Final Four that season.