Sophomore Bruce Brown and freshman Lonnie Walker are projected 2018 NBA first-round picks, big men on the University of Miami campus and a dynamic duo with personality to spare.
After Brown produced his second career triple-double and the third in UM history in the Hurricanes’ 77-45 season-opening win over visiting Gardner-Webb on Friday night, Walker raved about his new teammate.
“That’s Bruce Brown. He’s one of the reasons why I came here, and it’s evident on the court,” Walker said after Brown posted 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“He’s going to do that almost any game without (people) really noticing. That’s what he does. That’s his name. Bruce Brown. Call him ‘triple dub’ if you want.”
With 12 minutes left in the game, Brown said his teammates told him he was near the triple-double, and he went for the achievement.
“I’m happy I got it,” he said, “and I’m happy we won.”
Early on, though, the win was not at all assure. Miami started slowly, leading just 27-23 at halftime.
Walker, who did not start as coach Jim Larranaga went with a veteran lineup to open the game, produced 10 points and five assists in 25 minutes, making 4-of-5 shots, including 2-of-3 on three-pointers.
His first career basket provided instant energy when he took an alley-oop pass from Brown and dunked to cut Gardner-Webb’s early lead to 7-6.
And even though the play looked good, Walker said it wasn’t quite perfect.
“I kind of fumbled the ball, and when it went in, I looked up and said, ‘That’s my first points’,” Walker said. “It was ironic because my first basket my freshman year in high school was an alley-oop dunk. It brought back flash-back memories.”
Brown said his pass to Walker was something he was plotting since Walker arrived on campus in July.
“I knew he could jump,” Brown said. “You’re going to see a lot more of those.”
Added Walker: “A lot more.”
Brown, turning comedian, joked about an “almost” connection with Walker.
“I could have had him a second time,” Brown said, “but I just didn’t want to throw him the ball.”
The Brown-Walker Show put a happy face on an odd time for Miami basketball. The Hurricanes are 13th in the nation – its highest-ever preseason ranking – and yet there is great doubt about the future.
Miami’s program and Larranaga are under FBI investigation for alleged recruiting improprieties, and the effect of that probe is already being felt.
Larranaga so far has failed to sign a single player in the early period, which is when most of the top recruits pick their colleges. For example, North Carolina has already signed three of the top 50 players in the country, and Duke has picked up two of the top 10. Syracuse, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech have all signed top-100 players this month in the ever-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.
So, yes, Miami is falling behind in recruiting for this early period, and the Hurricanes have just 11 scholarship players on the roster.
Starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton, who had 13 points on Friday, is a senior this season. If Walker and Brown were to leave early, that would leave just eight scholarship players set to return next season, with Larranaga hoping he and his program are exonerated before the April recruiting period begins.
That’s why Miami is a “win now” team, more than most.
▪ Miami centers Dewan Huell and Ebuka Izundu combined for 28 points and 18 rebounds in just 40 minutes, which is outstanding production from that position.
▪ Larranaga said redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg, who missed Friday’s game due to a back injury, will be an important contributor this season.
▪ Miami guards DJ Vasiljevic (2-for-12) and freshman Chris Lykes (1-for-6) are much better shooters than what they showed, the coach said.
UM women hold off FIU
Miami’s women, who struggled to beat FIU 77-69 in the first half of Friday’s doubleheader, are ranked 24th in the nation. They’ve never really had a dominant center but expect to have one next season when 6-4 Beatrice Mompremier will be eligible after transferring from Baylor.
The Canes will also have to wait until next season for the return of sweet-shooting guard Laura Cornelius, who is rehabbing after knee surgery. In addition, Miami’s five-player freshman class will be one year older — and presumably better — by next season.
One of those freshmen, Mykea Gray, scored a game-high 27 points against FIU — quite a debut. She made 8-of-16 shots from the floor, including 3-of-8 on three-pointers, and 8-of-11 from the foul line. She also had a game-high five assists.
“I was nervous the whole time,” said Gray, whose powerful physique does not match her high-pitched voice.
Miami’s other star Friday was 5-9 freshman shooting guard Endia Banks, who helped Miami rally from a seven-point, second-half deficit by posting 15 points and eight rebounds.
“I was not panicked, uncomfortable or upset,” Miami coach Katie Meier said of Miami’s effort. “Mykea was scoring well, and Endia can score even more than she did tonight. But they led us in assists, too, and I’m proud of that.”
Given that Meier is relying so much on youth — another talented freshman, guard Kelsey Marshall of Miami Country Day, missed the game due to a death in the family — this might be a bit of a transition year after stars such as Jessica Thomas, Keyona Hayes and Adrienne Motley graduated this past spring.
And even with that trio of standouts, the Hurricanes last March were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament on the first weekend by a mid-major team for the second straight season — Quinnipiac in 2017 and South Dakota State in 2016.
Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer in women’s basketball. Earlier on Friday, 11-time NCAA champion Connecticut signed the No. 1 recruit in the nation for the third time in four years.
Baylor’s class is No. 1, and three ACC programs — No. 3 Florida State, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 9 Georgia Tech — cracked the top 10. Miami, with just one recruit so far, is not in the top 20.
Meanwhile, the FIU women, who finished 5-24 last season, gave a strong performance on Friday and are also likely to be better next season. The Panthers have no seniors, five freshmen — two of whom started on Friday — three sophomores and three juniors on their roster.
Point guard Kristian Hudson led FIU with 21 points. Kiandre’a Pound had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Shante Walker also looked good with 12 points, showing a nice shooting touch.
FIU coach Tiara Malcom is committed to recruiting locally — she has three Broward County freshmen on her roster, including Walker. That’s a major departure from the international signings that made the Panthers a respected national program for years under coach Cindy Russo.
On Friday, the plan looked like it could work, nearly shocking cross-town rival Miami.
Malcom, though, was not satisfied.
“I don’t do moral victories,” she said. “But I told our players, I’m very proud of them.”