University of Miami men’s basketball fans best bring along a team roster to Wednesday night’s season-opening exhibition against Florida Tech, because nearly all of the familiar names from last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference champion and Sweet 16 team are gone.
No more electrifying Shane Larkin dribbling up the floor 100 mph. No more Kenny Kadji blocking shots and shooting threes. No more Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson clogging up the middle. No more Durand Scott defense. And no more Trey McKinney Jones clutch shots.
Not a single starter returns from the Hurricanes team that finished 29-7. UM is the only team in the ACC with zero returning starters, and the Canes were predicted to finish in 12th place out of 15 (Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt just joined) in the preseason poll.
The only player who started any games last year is senior guard Rion Brown, a sharpshooter who started six games and averaged 6.4 points. UM lost 90 percent of its offense.
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“We’re in a learning mode,” coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We are taking our time, going very slowly. We lost our top six scorers, so we have to manufacture points different ways.”
One of the hardest players to replace is Larkin, the maestro of last year’s team. Manu Lecomte, a 5-9, 160-pound freshman from Belgium, will get that tough assignment. Lecomte just turned 18, but UM coaches say he plays with a maturity beyond his years.
Lecomte played for Belgium’s Under-16, 18 and 20 national teams. This past summer, at age 17, he was captain of the Belgian team in the European U-20 tournament. He averaged 21.6 points, 6.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He was recruited by UM assistant Michael Huber, who played professionally in Belgium and still has contacts there.
“Manu is a terrific little player,” Larrañaga said. “He’s very calm on the court. I imagine his teammates like him a lot because he’s a pass-first point guard. He just needs to learn to play against faster players. The players he played against are very high caliber, but maybe not quite as athletic as the players in the ACC.”
He is a different kind of point guard than Larkin, Larrañaga said.
“Shane is an extremely gifted athlete as far as speed, quickness and jumping ability,” the coach said. “He used that quickness in everything he did, defensively, guarding he was a nuisance. He came up with incredible steals because of his ability to anticipate plays. Manu is probably a little more conservative from a defensive standpoint.
“Offensively, Shane used his speed in the open court to create baskets for himself and others, whereas Manu is more comfortable creating for others.’’
Seven-foot sophomore center Tonye Jekiri will be counted on in the paint. The former Nigerian soccer player is new to basketball, having picked up the sport just four years ago. He beefed up from 215 pounds to 240 in the offseason and has the footwork and agility to be a good defender.
Power forwards to watch are 6-6 senior Erik Swoope, whose 365-pound bench press is tops on the team, and 6-9 graduate student Donnavan Kirk, no stranger to the Hurricanes program. He played 17 games over two seasons for UM and then transferred to DePaul in 2011 to be closer to his mother. He averaged 6.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for DePaul last season and chose to return to UM for his final year of eligibility.
Kirk has impressed the staff so much that he will likely start.
“Donnavan gives us some size and versatility, kind of like Kenny Kadji did,” Larrañaga said. “Kenny was an excellent three-point shooter, and Donnavan is very solid in that category.
“... He also has a very, very good jump hook I’d like him to use even more. He can defend a center or a forward, but he’s also able to switch on a perimeter player. I think he’s going to have a very good year for us.”
Other newcomers to watch include junior college transfer forward James Kelly, and freshman guards Davon Reed, Deandre Burnett and Corn Elder, a football player who will join the team after the football season.