It remains to be seen who will replace Shane Larkin as starting point guard for the University of Miami men’s basketball team this season, but one player who won’t be running the floor — at least not until next season — is Angel Rodriguez, a Kansas State transfer who played at Miami Krop High.
Coach Jim Larrañaga said Friday before the Hurricanes’ first official practice that the school will not appeal to the NCAA for a waiver to expedite Rodriguez’s eligibility because Rodriguez is recovering from tendinitis in his knees, and the player said he would rather sit out this season, learn the new system and come back 100 percent for his final two years of eligibility.
Larrañaga said that UM team doctors examined Rodriguez upon his arrival and “shut him down the entire summer” because the tendinitis was that severe.
“When we talked to Angel about this coming year, we told him there was no sense in even applying for the waiver if you’re not physically fit enough,” the coach said. “We were waiting to decide to see how he feels, spoke to him the other day and both agreed we’re not even going to apply.”
The point guard duties will likely be shared by Belgian freshman Manu Lecomte, graduate student Garrius Adams (back from a medical redshirt season) and freshman DeAndre Burnett of Carol City High, who is more of a scorer but can also play the point.
Lecomte has competed for the Belgian Under-16, U-18 and U-20 national teams. He is small — 5-9, 159 pounds — but has impressed his coaches.
“Manu is adorable and will have to be aware of all the girls who are going to be interested in him,” Larrañaga said. “He is a very good-looking young man, smart and has a very mature way of approaching his schoolwork and basketball. I am very, very impressed with him as a person, and the players are impressed with him as a player. You’ll see a lot of him, as a starter or a sub.”
The Hurricanes are coming off an Atlantic Coast Conference championship season and a thrilling Sweet 16 run. They lost the top six scorers from that team, including Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson. The only player returning who was in the starting rotation is senior forward Rion Brown, who has taken on more of a leadership role.
This season’s team has nine new faces, including five true freshmen.
“They are learning a whole new way of looking at the game of basketball,” Larrañaga said. “Everybody comes from a different background, learned the game from their high school or AAU coach. It’s going to take them some time. We have to be very, very patient with them.”
One player who could make a big difference — literally — is sophomore center Tonye Jekiri. He bulked up from 215 to 240 pounds over the summer and has been working on his shooting so much that he developed tendinitis in his shoulder.
“Tonye looks like a totally different person,” Brown said. “You won’t even recognize him.”
Senior forward Erik Swoope agreed.
“Tonye has so much more confidence this year,” Swoope said. “Last year, he had a lot of respect for the older guys. This year, he’s saying, ‘I am the big man, and for us to be successful I have to be a threat.’ ”
Added Larrañaga: “When Tonye was a freshman, the first thing you noticed is he’s got size and speed, but he didn’t have the bulk or strength to battle against the bigger, stronger guys on our team. So when he was going up against Reggie, Kenny and Julian and Rafael [Akpejiore], they pushed him around a lot. He has worked very hard at gaining strength and weight. He gained valuable experience as a freshman in practice against the veterans and in games against all the best teams in the country. He’s going to take a major step forward this season but still is not going to be the kind of player he’s going to become until his junior year.”
The Canes will play an exhibition game Oct. 30 against Florida Tech and open the season Nov. 8 at home against St. Francis.