His University of Miami basketball team had just been bounced from the NCAA Tournament late Friday night after a 78-58 loss to Michigan State, one of its worst defensive UM efforts of the season, and Coach Jim Larrañaga chose to give his players a dose of perspective — something he has lots of after 33 years of coaching.
“I told the team I was really proud of them,” he said. “Back in September, October to think we’d make the NCAA Tournament with basically nine scholarship players would have been a tremendous accomplishment, and it was.
“I also told them we’re going to really miss Davon [Reed] and [Kamari Murphy] and the great leadership they provided and that the young guys have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to get us back in the Big Dance next year.”
Reed and Murphy are the only two seniors on the Hurricanes roster. Everyone else returns, and the team will be joined by what is being considered the best recruiting class in Larrañaga’s career. Lonnie Walker, a 6-5 shooting guard from Reading, Pennsylvania., is a McDonald’s All-American — the fifth in UM history — and ranked No. 19 in the ESPN Top 100, Miami’s highest-ranked recruit in 15 years.
Also in the class is Washington, D.C., point guard Chris Lykes, a 5-6 lightning-quick playmaker rated the 11th best point guard prospect by ESPN, and Australian power forward Deng Gak, ranked 93. Sam Waardenburg, a 6-9 forward from New Zealand, joined the team in January and will be eligible next fall.
The addition of Lykes should have an immediate impact, as the Canes this season lacked a true point guard after the graduation of Angel Rodriguez and transfer of Manu Lecomte, now with Baylor, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Lykes can step into the starting lineup and distribute the ball, it will allow Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown to do what they do best — drive and score.
“We’ve got a big recruiting class coming in, and we’re going to be really good next year, so I’m excited for that,” sophomore Anthony Lawrence said. “We’ve got a lot of experience with the guys coming back, so I think we can do better next year. I’m sad with how we lost [to Michigan State], but I think we did more than people expected.”
UM, which ended the season 21-12, was a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and played a spectacular first eight minutes against the Spartans on Friday night at the BOK Center. The Canes, capitalizing on Spartan turnovers, scored the first 10 points, went up 17-5 and Brown’s one-handed slam off a steal was season-highlight material.
But then Larrañaga, detecting that the Spartans were attacking the zone better, switched to man-to-man defense, a decision he later said was a mistake. Michigan State’s star freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward got to the basket, “and carved us up,” in Larrañaga’s words. MSU ended the first half on a 30-8 run and never looked back.
Miami was held to a season-low 23 rebounds and one block, and was outscored 40-28 in the paint.
“I hate for us to go out this way, but my goal was to get back to the NCAA Tournament and then see where we can do once we got here; so, the fact we got here, I’m extremely proud of these young guys,” Reed said. “I’m very, very happy to be part of this program. Sad to be moving on, but there’s nothing but success to come for this program. Coach L is the greatest coach I’ve ever had, his wealth of knowledge of the game. And I’m more than certain that he’ll take this program to even bigger heights, which he’s been doing since he got here.”