Dewan Huell is the only Miami native on the University of Miami men’s basketball team, and he wears that distinction proudly with a giant “3-0-5” tattooed on his right tricep.
The former Miami Norland star, who is having a breakout sophomore season and leads the 18th-ranked Hurricanes in scoring heading into Monday’s home game against seventh-ranked Duke, has also become the team’s unofficial culinary tour guide.
“The guys were looking for foods you don’t really find much in Coral Gables, so I started taking them to my favorite food spots up north — Miami Finga Lickin’ on Northwest 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, Jackson Soul Food [in Opa Locka] and Golden Krust Bakery, which has great Jamaican patties,” Huell said.
Among the players Huell has introduced to the local soul food and Caribbean food scene: Bruce Brown, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence and freshmen Lonnie Walker and Chris Lykes.
Huell could have gone to the University of Kansas. Or Florida State. Or South Carolina. North Carolina was interested, as were Louisville, Maryland, Florida, and many other top-notch programs. The 6-10 forward was a McDonald’s All-American, led Norland to three state titles and was rated the No. 21 recruit in the nation by ESPN.
But when signing day rolled around on Nov. 18, 2015, and it was time to commit to a school, there was no question where he wanted to go: down I-95 to UM.
“I think it’s a good story, the hometown kid staying here and trying to build something in the city I love,” Huell said. “A lot of local football players come to UM, but not too many basketball players. I hope I can help change that.”
Once upon a time, Huell dreamed of being a Hurricanes football player. As a kid, he was a talented receiver for the North Dade Bulldogs. But he broke his collarbone in seventh grade, and his mother, Christina Hernandez, prohibited him from playing football.
“When I saw him laid up in bed crying in pain, I didn’t want him to play sports anymore,” Hernandez said. “But he got to middle school and started playing basketball, and he loved it. He broke his pinky finger early on, and I got mad, told him we don’t have money to go to hospitals and deal with broken bones. So, we went to Walgreens, bought some tape, he just taped those fingers together, kept going, and here we are today.”
Hernandez and many of Huell’s friends and relatives show up for every UM home game. She can often be seen wearing a t-shirt that reads: “Some people wait their whole life to meet their favorite athlete. I raised mine.”
Huell’s maternal grandfather was 6-9, his mother is 5-11, and he reached 6-8 by ninth grade. He honed his skills with the help of youth coaches Perez Alexander and Jean-Camille Dubuisson (“Coach Doobie”) and Norland coach Lawton Williams. By his senior year, he was 6-10 and averaging 19.2 points and 9.1 rebounds. He arrived at UM as one of the most highly-touted recruits in program history.
Things got off to a rocky start. A few weeks into his freshman year, on Sept. 14, 2016, Huell was arrested on misdemeanor battery charges on the Florida International University campus after a scuffle in a dorm room with a man who was visiting Huell’s ex-girlfriend. Charges were dropped. UM coach Jim Larrañaga said he never questioned Huell’s character, and used the experience as a teaching moment.
“I felt like Dewan was a terrific kid, a good person, but when there’s a blip on the radar like that, as a coach, you feel responsible for helping the kid learn from it, to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Larrañaga said. “He’s never had any issues at all since then.”
Huell had plenty of learning to do on the court, as well. Like every freshman, he had to adjust to the college game, which features bigger, faster, more experienced players. He averaged 17 minutes, 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds a game his first season at UM.
Although he didn’t make as immediate an impact as he had hoped, he could tell his game was improving, and he knew he would be counted on to play a bigger role this season with the departure of Kamari Murphy.
Huell vowed to put in more hours than ever during the summer. He showed up at the gym at 5:30 a.m. for individual workouts with graduate assistant coach Chaisson Allen, who has since been promoted to player development assistant. He worked on his passing, his jump hook, his free throws, his driving game. He wanted to prove he can do more than dunk.
“There was a lot of hype around me when I got to UM, and when I wasn’t living up to it, I used that as fuel,” Huell said.
Over the course of the year, he added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame — from 215 pounds to 235 pounds. He improved his bench press from 200 pounds to 300 pounds. He has also bettered his grades in the classroom, which delights his mother, who works in medical billing.
“I got all Bs fall semester, which is my best semester so far,” Huell said. “My Mom always told me books come first, and getting good grades frees my mind to play better basketball.”
This season, Huell leads the Hurricanes with 13.9 points per game and is averaging 6.5 rebounds and 25.5 minutes. Last season, he had one rebound against FSU. In last week’s 80-74 win, he grabbed eight.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, who recruited Huell heavily, said: “Dewan is an exceptional athlete. He’s not really a center. He’s a power forward with small forward quickness and athleticism. He’s a tough matchup for most traditional centers because he’s long and athletic and quick. He’s making tremendous strides. I’ve watched him for a number of years, and I’m not surprised at all. I think he’s only scratched the surface of his potential and as he gets bigger and stronger, I think he could be an All-ACC player.”
Larrañaga said Huell’s hard work and patience have paid off, and serve as a lesson to other young players.
“College basketball is very, very different from high school,” Larranaga said. “Being 6-10 in high school, you are usually the tallest player on the court every single night. Now, you’re just one of many. As a high school senior, you’re 18 and the oldest on the team. Now, you’re the youngest guy on the court and going against guys with three or four years’ experience.
“When you’re a McDonald’s All-American, and three-time state champion, you get a lot of recognition. What you have to understand is that in order to have the same level of success in college as you had in high school, there’s a lot of adjusting to do. Dewan devoted the necessary time to let those seeds blossom into the beautiful success he’s having this year. And he’s only going to get better.”
Larrañaga points out that Huell didn’t start playing organized basketball until seventh grade, and that author Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, “Outliers,” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill or field. “Dewan hasn’t come close to that. He has a very high ceiling. Very high.”