University of Miami basketball coaches Jim Larrañaga and Katie Meier are dealing with construction dust and offseason rust as they prepare for opening games four weeks from now.
While the locker rooms, weight room and offices are undergoing a $1.7 million renovation, the Hurricanes are adjusting to new teammates — five on the men’s team and four on the women’s team.
Larrañaga, known for his creative motivational tactics, brought in a group of Navy SEALS to address his players. One exercise called for the players, led by guard Ja’Quan Newton, to do jumping jacks in perfect form and unity. After the first one, Newton wasn’t satisfied.
“All of a sudden Ja’Quan barked out, ‘One perfect jumping jack!’ and the rest of the players responded, ‘One perfect jumping jack!’” said Larrañaga, whose team lost 92-69 to eventual champ Villanova in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season. “That’s the message, not just to do it OK but to do it great.”
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Meier said she’s “way ahead” of schedule at practice, where she was able to install a complicated defense in one day, thanks to her players’ experience and the knowledge of the two freshmen from Belgium and Denmark.
“We better be good because it’s the hardest schedule we’ve put together,” said Meier, whose team lost 74-71 to South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Meier praised senior guard Jessica Thomas, “who is playing out of her mind. She was really disappointed by that NCAA loss. That’s fueled her, and it’s diesel.”
“We expect a full, great season from Keyona Hayes, who should average a double-double; she’s dominating practices,” Meier said. “Shaneese Bailey is more explosive than Riquna Williams was. Her closing speed is frightening.
“I like my talent. We’ve got a lot of different looks.”
Larrañaga, who said only 300 season tickets remain on sale, complimented freshmen Bruce Brown (“High-energy guy, reminds me of Durand Scott”); Dejan Vasiljevic (“Very good offensively”); Dewan Huell (“Terrific athlete, fun kid to be around”), 7-0 Rodney Miller, and transfer Rashad Muhammad. Newton is handling the ball as much as Shane Larkin and Angel Rodriguez did.
Huell, charged with misdemeanor battery last month, is “working through” the legal process, said Larrañaga, who did not suspend Huell over the incident in which he attacked a man visiting his ex-girlfriend at her FIU dorm.
Larrañaga said he wasn’t aware that UM’s NCAA probation ends Oct. 21, but he’s glad to put it behind the program.
“That’s more than five years we’ve dealt with it,” he said. “But now that it’s over I can see a difference in recruiting. We signed Dewan and Bruce, two highly regarded players.”
▪ Larrañaga dismissed Donald Trump’s “locker-room talk” analogy, saying the presidential candidate’s demeaning comments about women would not be acceptable among his players.
“I don’t use vulgarity,” said Larrañaga, who does not permit cursing. “The language you use and the way you interact has to be first class.”
▪ As for the renovation project, he compared most of the facilities of his ACC adversaries to a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton hotel.
“We’re more like the Delano, that boutique place, a small private school, great location, different from a big state university that has all the bells and whistles,” he said. “We give you a lot of personal attention. But it’s far more challenging to build a house when you have fewer dollars to work with. You have to be creative.”
▪ Larrañaga said he’s proud of UM alum Sheldon McClellan, the undrafted rookie who is playing for a starting spot with the Washington Wizards. “We’ve been texting,” he said. “Sheldon is definitely an NBA talent.”