It is still far too early to think about The Big Dance, especially with such an inexperienced team, but University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larrañaga would like the Hurricanes to play as if they were dancing in sync, in rhythm, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
As the UM coach prepared his 5-4 team for its Sunday ACC home opener against Virginia Tech (6-3), he asked his players to think of themselves as a dance team, a marching band, or a synchronized swimming team. He wants them to think as one, and to play with precision and cohesion.
Offense is like dancing, its all about being in rhythm, he said. When you watch a band or an orchestra, if one person is out of sync, the music stinks. I try to tell our guys they have to dance together. Theyre not out there doing a solo.
Miami lost its entire starting lineup and top six scorers from last seasons Sweet 16 team, so this seasons squad is still trying to find its identity. Players are getting to know each other on and off the court.
The Hurricanes are returning from a 10-day, four-game road trip in which one of the goals was team bonding. Players visited Disneyland, attended movies together, and most important, became more familiar with each others playing styles. They went 2-2 on the trip.
The coaching staff continues to figure out its team, and make adjustments along the way. For example, freshman Davon Reed has been asked to start at point guard, and to play two other positions. Donnavan Kirk and James Kelly have taken on major roles inside while intended starter Tonye Jekiri polishes his game and tries to gain confidence.
Larrañaga also decided this team is better suited for zone defense than man-to-man. Weve zoned more than I ever did my entire coaching career, he said.
The players say they can see the progress, and are eager to show the home crowd on Sunday how they have improved since their last home game, a loss to Central Florida. The Hurricanes won two of three games at the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim, Calif., including an impressive win over Arizona State. They didnt play as well in a loss at Nebraska. Rion Brown had 25 points, but the rest of the starters combined to go 3-for-25.
Even with the loss to Nebraska, I think we bonded well on this trip, said Reed. We spent 10 days away together, which is quite a long time. Obviously, playing four games on the road gives you a chance to bond. Off the court, we gelled, too. Were not where we want to be, but were making progress.
Reed has been asked to do more than coaches thought hed have to do, and the freshman has handled the load with poise. He has been starting at point in place of fellow freshman Manu Lecomte, who struggled some early but has come on stronger the past few games.
Since the beginning of the season, Coach has talked to me about being point guard, about getting more comfortable in that role, Reed said. Its all about adjusting. I dont think about being a freshman. When the time presents itself, I just give it my all. Ive been dribbling my whole life, whether I play guard or forward, so its not completely new to me.
Reed said with each passing day, he is less afraid to be vocal and lead his older teammates.
Being a freshman, I dont want to rub anyone the wrong way, dont want to overstep boundaries, he said. But that position you do have to lead. I have to be positive, motivate my team, tell them to rally. I can really feel us coming together, and I have complete faith in Coach L that he has this team going in the right direction.