It remains to be seen how the University of Miami men’s basketball team will fare this season, but one thing is certain heading into Friday’s official first practice: Senior center Reggie Johnson is thinking big.
“Tournament and make noise,” he replied, when asked his preseason goals. “I definitely want to make noise in the tournament, no ifs, ands or buts. Forget the NIT. Forget all that. I’m telling you right now. Sorry if I sound cocky. … Some of you probably think, ‘Oh, he’s crazy,’ but I’m telling you right now what’s going to be this coming season.”
The Hurricanes finished 20-13 last season, were fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (9-7) and reached the second round of the NIT.
Nine players return from that team, including six seniors. The team boasts five players 6-10 or taller, speedy guards Shane Larkin and Bishop Daniels, and versatility in Durand Scott, Trey McKinney Jones and Rion Brown. UM cracked the Top 25 in a few preseason magazine polls.
“Barring injuries, we’re going to be a heck of a team, top three in ACC,” Johnson said.
Kenny Kadji, Johnson’s frontcourt mate at 6-11, shed 20 pounds to become a more mobile big man at 242 . pounds. Seven-foot freshman Tonye Jekiri of Hialeah’s Champagnat Catholic School is quick and can block shots.
Julian Gamble, a 6-10 senior who missed last season with a knee injury, has been impressive in preseason workouts.
“Julian has impressed me as much as or more than anybody on team,” second-year coach Jim Larranaga said. “After his injury he couldn’t practice for a very long time. I did not have a vision of what he was going to be like. In February, when he came back to practice, he labored at everything we did. I thought, ‘He’ll have a very hard time contributing.’ In the summer, he was in the weight room conditioning, getting stronger. These last four weeks of practice he has been very, very impressive running the floor, rebounding at both ends, being a heady player. He’s going to fit very much into our rotation.”
UM’s home schedule includes games against Michigan State (Nov. 28), Duke (Jan. 23) and North Carolina (Feb. 9). The first exhibition is Nov. 2 against St. Leo, and the regular-season opener is Nov. 9 against Stetson.