With all the talk of the University of Miami football team, the start of the basketball season slipped a bit under the radar. The women play their first exhibition at home Tuesday night against Nova Southeastern, and the men, ranked No. 12 in the preseason coaches’ poll, open at home Wednesday against Newberry College.
Men’s coach Jim Larranaga, delighted to be talking about something other than the pending FBI investigation, said fans are “in for a real treat” when they see freshmen Chris Lykes, Lonnie Walker, and Sam Waardenburg. Deng Gak, a 6-10 freshman forward, will be redshirted so he can get stronger and have more time to develop.
“Wow!” Larranaga declared, when asked to describe the freshman class. “I’ve watched a lot of basketball in my lifetime, but these guys are fun to watch. You’ll see Wednesday night, it’s a treat. They’re fun to coach, fun to be around. They’re hard as heck to guard.”
Walker, coming off a summer knee injury, can’t wait to get started. He said the setback made him even hungrier in the weight room and the practice court.
“That was a minor setback for a major comeback,” Walker said. “It made me lift with purpose, get stronger, really a blessing in disguise. I can’t wait to play. I want to show I’m here to win.”
Larranaga plans to start his veterans – Bruce Brown, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence, DJ Vasiljevic and Dewan Huell.
Women’s coach Katie Meier has been staying up late, scribbling in her trademark notepads as she tries to figure out how to replace departed leaders Adrienne Motley, Jessica Thomas and Keyona Hayes. To make matters more complicated, Laura Cornelius, Emese Hof, and Khaila Prather are sidelined with injuries.
“I’m already on my seventh notepad, and that’s rare this early in the year,” Meier said. “Construction zone. Work in progress. But our new players are fearless and I’d rather have mistakes early and fearless play than fearful hesitation.”
Prather, nursing a knee injury, is determined to be a leader from the bench.
“Those of us who can’t play have to keep encouraging, keep teaching the younger players,” she said. “It’s really tough to have to watch, but it’s still exciting that game day is here. You still get butterflies.”
As for the FBI investigation, UM athletic director Blake James said the school has been in contact with the NCAA and cooperated fully with federal authorities. He and Meier offered Larranaga their unwavering support.
“I have no doubt in that man’s character,” Meier said.
Added James: “Jim has an incredible track record over his 47 years of coaching. He has done nothing but exceed expectations here, and as he said last week, he has emphatically stated that he has done nothing wrong and he’s given me no reason to believe anything but what he said. Until someone shows me something else, I’ll continue to support our coach and the young men in our program.”
Tuesday, 7 p.m.: UM women vs Nova Southeastern. Watsco Center. Trick-or-treating for kids from 6-7 p.m. in Hurricane 100 Room.
Wednesday, 7 p.m.: UM men vs. Newberry College. Watsco Center.