Miami basketball stays focused on upcoming season despite FBI allegations

Photo credit: Isaiah Kim-Martinez

For the first time since University of Miami basketball was linked to a Department of Justice investigation into corruption in college basketball last month, Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga publicly addressed the allegations Oct. 23 at the team’s media day.

“I cannot state more emphatically that I have absolutely no knowledge of any wrongdoing by any member of our staff and I certainly have never engaged in the conduct that some have speculated about,” Larrañaga said, reading from a prepared statement.

While neither UM nor any athletes at the school were named specifically in the indictments, there was a “University-7” mentioned in the legal documents, and the description matched Miami.

The complaint claimed that an unnamed “Coach-3” was involved with attempting to funnel approximately $150,000 to “Player-12,” an unnamed high school basketball recruit expected to graduate in 2018, through Adidas.

“Based on what we know at this time, my legal team believes that I am ‘Coach-3’ as labeled in the original complaint in September, though it has not been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Larrañaga said. “I am grateful that we have come to that conclusion as I know I did nothing wrong, and it’s comforting to know that none of my assistants are connected in any way.”

When asked about his relationship with James Gatto, the head of global sports marketing for Adidas, or anything in regards to the investigation, Larrañaga would not giving any further details. He referred to his prepared statement on more than three accounts, saying that he can’t answer any questions because the investigations are ongoing.

While neither sophomore guard Bruce Brown nor senior guard Ja’Quan Newton would speak about the scandal, both showed support for Larrañaga as a basketball coach and as a person.

“I look at him as a father figure and how he’s helped me on and off the court,” Newton said. “He’s a special person to me.”

Despite the allegations of the federal probe, the team is focused on the upcoming 2017-2018 season that is just days away.

The Hurricanes, who finished 21-12 overall and 10-8 in the ACC a season ago, are ranked No. 12 in the country by the USA TODAY preseason coaches poll—the highest Miami has ever been ranked by a major poll in the preseason.

The preseason accolades have not stopped there.

Brown was named to the 2018 Julius Erving Award Watch List – an honor for the 21 best small forwards in the country – and has been picked to the preseason All-ACC second team. Freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV was named to the 2018 Jerry West Shooting Guard of The Year Award Watch List.

Walker, a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American, tore the meniscus in his right knee in July, but Larrañaga said Walker should be “close to 100 percent” when UM opens up its season against Gardner-Webb University Nov. 10.

“I think we have three terrific perimeter players in Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown and DJ Vasiljevic, who all have a lot of experience from last season,” Larrañaga said. “And they all bring something a little different to the table. And I think they’ve all done a great job of being some of our leadership with the team.”

While the Canes were known for their defensive prowess last year, the team could feature a more up-tempo, run-and-gun type of play this year.

“It’s going to be a lot of dunks, getting out in transition, a lot of threes and slamming,” Brown said at ACC Media Day Oct. 25.

“I’m really happy with where we are right now,” Larrañaga said of his team’s progress. “But as I said, we’ve got a lot of work to do defensively. We’ve got a little bit more firepower at the offensive end, but we’re going to miss Kamari Murphy and Davon Reed’s ability to defend and rebound. Those are two categories we’ll be really focused on before opening day.”

Although the Hurricanes’ roster – which features just one senior – might be inexperienced, the players have their sights set high.

“We want to win it all,” Newton said. “We want to win the ACC and the national championship, and I think we have the talent to do that.”