Miami basketball has an opportunity to experience its best season in program history.
All the pieces are there: an experienced coach, one of the most talented backcourts in the country and the ability to be an explosive offense.
But as the No. 11 Hurricanes (2-0), who started their season Nov. 10 with a win against Gardner-Webb University, work toward a special year, there are still questions about how the team’s level of experience will affect them.
Former captains Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy both graduated after last season, leaving guard Ja’Quan Newton as the only senior on the active roster. This is compared to three freshman, four sophomores and two juniors.
With expectations set high, much of the pressure will fall on the shoulders of the younger players.
“Our number-one priority has two parts: defense and rebounding,” coach Jim Larrañaga said. “As talented as I think our young guys are, they’re not used to playing against NBA-caliber players every single day at the defensive end.”
In the past, successful UM teams thrived off intense defense and dominant rebounding, but player leadership played an important part.
It is still uncertain who will be the clear-cut leaders for the 2017 Hurricanes.
“Ja’Quan Newton has been the senior core for the team,” highly-anticipated freshman Lonnie Walker said. “You also have Bruce Brown and DJ Vasiljevic, who help you out. They tell you what you messed up on, and they pay close attention to detail. Everything is pinpoint.”
Larrañaga, who is in his seventh year at Miami, named six different players as possible captains and said the team will be alternating from game to game. But regardless of which players wear the metaphorical “C” on their chests, the relationships the players have with each other, including the freshmen, are what separates this team from the pack.
“I feel like this is a brotherhood – it’s a family,” freshman guard Chris Lykes said. “We look out for each other. We are building a chemistry on and off the court at the same time.”
Part of that chemistry has come from players making sure teammates are managing their time correctly to maximize potential.
Sophomore Bruce Brown recognizes the struggles of being a freshman in college and is trying to help the new guys adjust to their tight schedules.
“One day, we had a 6 a.m. lift, so we actually drove over to the dorm and woke them up to drive them to the gym,” Brown said. “I missed one because I woke up late. You wake up at 7 a.m. and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’m going to get a tough reminder.’ We just didn’t want that to happen to the freshmen.”
Brown talked about how the players spent a lot of time together before the season to bond, whether through paint-balling or just laughing in the locker room.
Walker said the freshmen gelled on the first day.
“Usually when you go to certain places and meet new friends, it takes maybe a week to get adjusted – two weeks depending on the type of person you are,” Walker said. “But this freshman class, it came together so fast.”
“It makes everything a lot easier knowing that guys around you have the same schedule,” Lykes said. “We got a lot of guys who are hungry for success. They’re just making sure us freshmen are doing things the right way. I really think it’s going to be a great year for us, and I’m excited.”