Sheldon McClellan hasn’t played a basketball game at 11 a.m. since his AAU days, but he isn’t complaining that he and his University of Miami teammates will be on the BankUnited Center floor that early Saturday morning.
That is tipoff time for their second-round NIT game against Alabama, and now that they are over the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament, the Hurricanes have their sights set on the NIT championship at Madison Square Garden on April 2.
“We are happy to be able to play again,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Second-seeded Miami (22-12) might have to play without point guard Angel Rodriguez, whose injured right wrist continues to bother him. He missed practice Thursday and Friday and was having an X-ray. Asked if Rodriguez would play, Larrañaga said: “We’re not sure yet.”
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The Canes will be up against a highly motivated Crimson Tide team (19-14), which beat Illinois 79-58 in the first round. Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a Miami native who was beloved by his players, was fired last Sunday. The administration said he didn’t win quite enough games (31-33 the past two seasons).
Players were crushed and are honoring Grant with their NIT performance. Freshman Justin Coleman tweeted #PlayForCoachGrant.
“The Alabama players are on a mission,” Larrañaga said. “They were very disappointed they let [Grant] down, and they feel with a few more wins they’d be in the NCAA Tournament and he wouldn’t have lost his job. They are taking responsibility, playing for him, and our guys have to be highly motivated.”
Two of the more interesting matchups will be UM’s Belgian guard Manu Lecomte against the Tide’s Belgian guard Retin Obasohan. They know each other well.
The battle in the paint between Miami’s Tonye Jekiri and Alabama’s Jimmie Taylor should also be a good one. UM recruited Taylor, a 6-10, 240-pound forward.
“Jimmie Taylor has the longest arms you’ve ever seen, he dunks everything around the basket and blocks a lot of shots,” Larrañaga said.
Alabama’s leading scorer is Levi Randolph, who averages 15.3 points per game.
Saturday: UM men vs. Alabama
What: NIT second-round game.
When/where: 11 a.m.; BankUnited Center.
TV/radio: ESPN; WQAM 560, WVUM-90.5 FM.
Seeds/records: No 2. UM 22-12; No. 6. Alabama 19-14.
Noteworthy: The Tide is playing with a lot of energy after the firing of beloved coach Anthony Grant, a Miami native. … UM will try to contain Levi Randolph and avoid shot-blocker Jimmie Taylor, whom the Hurricane coaches recruited out of high school. … Miami is led by Sheldon McClellan (14.7 ppg) and Tonye Jekiri (10.1 rpg).