University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes forward Donnavan Kirk thrives in return engagement

Donnavan Kirk was listed as a “newcomer’’ on the University of Miami basketball team’s preseason literature, but anyone who followed the program for the past five years was familiar with his name.

The 6-9 power forward from Pontiac, Mich., began his career at UM in 2009 and was redshirted after a back injury his freshman year. He played sparingly the first half of the 2010 season and transferred to DePaul to be closer to his ailing grandfather and because he hoped to get more playing time there. Kirk played two seasons at DePaul, averaging 6.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

All along, he kept tabs on the Hurricanes and kept in touch with his UM roommate, Garrius Adams. He said he made the right decision going to DePaul, got a lot of experience there, but as he watched the Canes’ thrilling March Madness run last spring, he got the itch to return.

When he graduated from DePaul with a marketing degree in May, he decided to come back to UM for graduate school and his final year of eligibility. He is working toward his master’s degree in Community and Social Change at the UM School of Education.

Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga brought Kirk in to help make up for the loss of big men Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson. So far, he is the team’s leading scorer with 14.5 points per game and is averaging eight rebounds. He started the season with back-to-back double-doubles for a combined 34 points and 20 rebounds.

“With the graduation of those three guys, we were looking for size, and Donnavan reached out to us, and it made sense because he is familiar with UM, with our personnel,’’ Larrañaga said. “Being a fifth-year player, he is further along in the process than if we had brought in a freshman. He is long, athletic, can score, block shots, make perimeter shots. He gives us a lot of what Kenny Kadji did and is filling his role very nicely.’’

Kirk’s teammates say he brings an infectious energy to the team and is a force on the boards.

Adams is rooming with Kirk again and happy to have him back, not just for what he does on the court but also for his homemade blueberry muffins and his killer spaghetti and pasta Alfredo.

“I was upset when he left, didn’t think he should have, but Donnavan felt it was best for him,’’ Adams said. “When he was deciding what to do this season, he called me and asked how it is with Coach L, and I told him he’s a great coach and encouraged him to come back.’’

Kirk feels at home. He liked what he found when he returned.

“It’s a real focused group, and with this staff it’s more about learning, about why things should be done this way or that way,’’ he said. “Coach L is a great teacher and motivator. Everything happens for a reason, so I don’t regret going to DePaul. I progressed a lot there.’’

Kirk’s high school coach, Kurt Keener, is pleased to see his former player contributing for the Hurricanes. He watched Kirk’s game evolve at the famed Detroit Country Day — Shane Battier and Chris Webber are among the alumni — and was most impressed with his work ethic and team-first approach.

“Donnavan wants to make the most of his last year of college basketball, and with Miami’s change in coaching and all they did last year, he wanted to go back and be part of it,’’ Keener said. “He loved the school, loved the city, and has a high comfort level there. That is why he is playing with such confidence.’’

Although he misses his mother, Tanya Orr, his father, Eric Kirk, and his three younger siblings, Kirk does have a Detroit connection here in Battier. Keener phoned Battier over the summer and told him to reach out to Kirk, if he could. Keener wound up as Battier’s son’s coach in Cane Nation, a youth basketball camp.

“Shane is really busy, but it was nice to see a familiar face from Country Day,’’ Kirk said. “Everything just fell into place here, and I’m really happy to be back.’’