The University of Miami men’s basketball team just got bigger heading into Saturday’s road game against No.12 Notre Dame.
Ivan Cruz Uceda, a 6-10 Spaniard and junior college All-American, joins the Hurricanes lineup after sitting out 16 games because of eligibility complications stemming from the date he enrolled. Uceda starred at Harcum (Pa.) College the past two seasons, leading the team to the national semifinals for the first time in school history. He averaged 14.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and set a school record with 29 rebounds in a game.
Miami’s coaching staff and Sports Management program, and the city’s weather and Latin culture, lured Uceda away from other suitors such as Ohio State, Marquette, Penn State and Villanova.
“Miami’s Miami,” Uceda said, smiling. “I feel like home away from home. The weather, people, culture is more like my own house. It’s the same as Spain, you can talk Spanish everywhere.”
He enjoys having Spanish speakers Angel Rodriguez, Mike Fernandez and Chris Stowell on his team. Uceda is initially expected to come off the bench for the Hurricanes, who are riding a wave of confidence after beating No. 4 Duke by 16 points Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Irish (16-2, 4-1 ACC) like to play a four-guard lineup, so defending could be a challenge for Uceda, but having an extra big man in the post could be particularly helpful for the Canes (12-4, 2-2) on Saturday. Notre Dame may be missing its best post player, Zach Auguste, who is suspended indefinitely with an academic matter. Auguste is the Irish’s second-leading scorer with 14.3 points per game, and he averages 6.4 rebounds.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga is eager to see how Uceda fits into his rotation. Uceda was the team’s leading rebounder on a summer trip to Spain, but ACC play is different.
“Ivan has some clear strengths, but he also has some clear limitations and things he has to overcome,” Larrañaga said. “How that will relate during game conditions we just don’t know. His strengths are he can be an effective low-post player, an effective three-point shooter, passer, and he can be a very good defensive rebounder. He’s not as good as an individual or team defender. We’ve worked with him, but until we see him under game conditions, we won’t know.”
Uceda agreed that defense will be his biggest hurdle.
“In Europe it’s more about basketball IQ, here it’s more physical,” he said. “I think I’ve improved a lot in that aspect. The trainers did a great job, and I’m feeling in really good shape now. I wasn’t used to playing like that, running all the time.”
He could have signed with a pro team in Spain, but Uceda is an honor-roll student and wanted an education.
“In Spain, you either play ball professionally or you study. It’s really complicated to do both,” he said. “I wanted to study because basketball’s not going to be forever, so I wanted a Plan B.”
UM men at No. 12 Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Joyce Center, South Bend, Indiana.
Records: UM 12-4 (2-1 ACC); Notre Dame 16-2 (4-1 ACC).
TV, radio: ESPN2, WQAM (560 AM).
Noteworthy: The Irish are 12-1 at home. The Canes are coming off a 16-point road win over No. 4 Duke. Miami won their last meeting, 71-64 last season. Spaniard Ivan Uceda, a 6-10 forward, will make his Hurricanes debut after sitting out 16 games because of eligibility issues.