Commentary: Between injuries and transfers, everything went wrong for Miami basketball this season

Junior guard Chris Lykes follows through on a 3-pointer near the end of the first half in Miami's loss over Virginia Wednesday, March 4.
Senior guard Chris Lykes follows through on a 3-pointer near the end of the first half in Miami's loss over Virginia on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Just in November did many fans, including myself, think that Jim Larrañaga would lead the Hurricanes to a NCAAM Tournament berth. With four of five starters returning from the previous year, what could possibly go wrong? Well, basically everything went wrong.

The season first went downhill when redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg broke his foot in a practice towards the end of October. This injury kept him out for the entire 2020-2021 season.

Could this be a one-time freak accident or is there an underlying issue with the trainers for the men’s basketball team?

Well less than a month later, it was announced, just before the season opener, that freshman Earl Timberlake would miss three to five weeks due to a right ankle injury sustained in practice. Before the season started, Larrañaga revealed that several other players have missed time as well. Anthony Walker missed time due to an ankle injury caused by a dunk he did in practice and Rodney Miller Jr. missed time due to a medical condition.

Sophomore Harlond Beverly reaches around the back of the basket in an attempt to make a shot in Miami's win over Duke on Monday, Feb. 1 at the Watsco Center. Beverly sat out the final few games of the regular season as well as the ACC tournament because of injury.
Sophomore Harlond Beverly reaches around the back of the basket in an attempt to make a shot in Miami's win over Duke on Monday, Feb. 1 at the Watsco Center. Beverly sat out the final few games of the regular season as well as the ACC tournament because of injury. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Just two games into the season, Chris Lykes sustained a left ankle injury in the game against Stetson. Right before the Purdue game, he was considered out and his status was listed as day-to-day.

After Miami made a wild comeback against Purdue during the ACC-BIG Ten Challenge, the Hurricanes went on to play Florida Gulf Coast. Lykes missed that game too.

And then Lykes missed the next one and the one after that. And then he was supposed to return after Christmas from that same injury.

I guess they meant Christmas of 2021, because Lykes ended up missing the remainder of the season.

During that Florida Gulf Coast game, the Canes took more hits to the active roster. Redshirt seniors Kameron McGusty and Miller Jr. both left the game due to leg injuries. Miller came back a few games later but ended up playing just one minute before injuring his groin, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. McGusty, on the other hand, missed seven of the next eight games before making a full return.

vs VT
Redshirt senior Rodney Miller throws down a dunk in Miami's win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 at the Watsco Center. Miller sat out the entire 2020-2021 season due to injury. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Timberlake came back shortly after, making his first appearance during the Jacksonville game. The excitement for the highly touted recruit was short lived however, as an abscess was discovered near Timberlake’s shoulder. He barely played for the rest of the season and it is now reported that he will be transferring out of the program.

If the athletic trainers didn’t have enough on their hands, Elijah Olaniyi missed a game with an injured shoulder. It appears that he had been playing through the injury too. Walker also missed a game in late January due to a right foot injury. Isaiah Wong sprained his ankle several times, but only managed to miss at most a half at a time. Oh yeah, and Harlond Beverly played through a shoulder injury until he was shut down for the rest of the season.

In addition to these absences from the team, freshman Matt Cross left the program at the end of January and announced he would be transferring to Louisville, and Deng Gak has been limited all season due to injuries that kept him out for basically the last two seasons.

Willie Herenton, a senior walk-on from Chicago, was forced to step up in order to give breaks to the scholarship players. There has been only one Hurricanes player that has been available for every minute of every game this season, and that was graduate transfer Nysier Brooks.

Senior Elijah Olaniyi attempts a shot in Miami's loss to Florida State Wednesday Jan. 27 at the Watsco Center.
Senior Elijah Olaniyi attempts a shot in Miami's loss to Florida State on Wednesday Jan. 27 at the Watsco Center. Photo credit: Josh Halper

If the trainers or the strength and conditioning staff aren’t to blame, I don’t know who is. For the past three seasons, Miami has dealt with a significant number of injuries. This team went from potentially being at the top of the ACC to being in dead last.

At what point does the team look to hire more/better strength and conditioning coaches. With better trainers, we wouldn’t have to hear Jim Larrañaga blame the lack of bodies in his postgame press conferences. With better conditioning coaches, perhaps Miami could have won the ACC Tournament. After all, they nearly beat Georgia Tech with six scholarship players in the quarterfinals.

Even though the 2020-2021 season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, there is a lot to look forward to for the future. Wong had an amazing season. He averaged 17.1 points per game and added 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as well. Walker also improved his game, adding 9.6 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game of his own. The Hurricanes also have three recruits as of right now that look to make an early impact next season.

Other than the underclassmen, the eight seniors all have the chance to play one more year of college basketball due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Will they? Right now, Larrañaga has dodged the question. He has mentioned several times that all of them will have to evaluate whether or not they would like to return to Miami, possibly go pro, or even transfer.

Basically, there are a lot of unknowns next season. At best, the Canes could go into the season with a starting lineup including Lykes, Wong, McGusty, Waardenburg, and Brooks. At worst, all seniors could leave, and the best of the underclassmen could transfer. After all, two players have already announced they will be transferring, and more could follow suit. Let’s hope Miami can field a team next year and not have to deal with the same number of injuries as they have this past season.