University of Miami

UM basketball coach Jim Larrañaga rebuilding roster with talented newcomers

The season wrap-up news conference for UM men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga came much sooner than it did the previous season.

At this time last year, Larrañaga was leading his troops to a Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette in the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Hurricanes, who finished 17-16 and 7-11 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, are not participating in a postseason tournament.

Although Larrañaga might not like to use the term, it was a rebuilding year for Miami, which lost its top six scorers from the 2013 squad that swept the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.

The young, inexperienced team developed throughout the season, one which began with a home loss to St. Francis-Brooklyn but ultimately pulled out seven ACC wins in arguably the most difficult conference in the college game.

“I would say we improved,” said Larrañaga, who wrapped up his third season as coach of the Canes. “If you ask me after we lost to St. Francis-Brooklyn, I thought we might not win a game. And then we beat N.C. State at N.C. State, I thought, ‘You know, we could win the ACC Tournament.’ ”

Now Larrañaga looks at next season and knows he will have a full complement of his own players he brought in and not the leftovers from the Frank Haith era.

His focus heading into the offseason is on recruiting and scheduling his nonconference schedule.

“We need our nonconference schedule to be strong enough that when the [NCAA] Selection Committee looks at our body of work, they feel like we challenged ourselves in the nonconference,” Larrañaga said. “They know we already have a great league, and it’s only going to get better with Louisville. But they want to know what we did in the nonconference.”

Larrañaga said he has one available scholarship remaining. He would like to see if he could use it on an experienced transfer, preferably a big man who can score in the post.

With how skilled the backcourt is projected to be, a post presence would really complete next season’s team.

The Canes have seven guards who could prove serviceable next season. Point guard Manu Lecomte (7.7 points per game) is the top returning scorer while 6-6 wing Davon Reed (6.5 ppg) would be second. They then add to the rotation three players that redshirted last season and two freshmen.

The redshirts who will finally get to contribute: Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State transfer), Sheldon McClellan (Texas transfer) and Deandre Burnett (freshman from Carol City High whose season ended after a wrist injury sustained in an exhibition game before the regular season began).

“There’s basketball terminology to describe [Burnett] to a tee — two words: Bucket getter,” Larrañaga says. “He gets buckets. He just knows how to score.”

Rodriguez has conference championship experience, having played in the Big 12 championship game in 2013 — a loss to Kansas when he was with Kansas State.

“His leadership is going to be very important to us because we have a lot of guys who are hungry, but we need a leader,” Larrañaga said.

Larrañaga also is reeling in Ja’Quan Newton, a talented 6-3 point guard from Philadelphia who is rated four stars by Rivals, and 6-3 shooting guard James Palmer, a three-star recruit.

In the frontcourt, he only returns center Tonye Jekiri and forward James Kelly, neither of whom are prominent scorers. Larrañaga hopes the 7-foot Jekiri can develop his offensive game in the post.

Incoming freshmen up front include Ivan Cruz Uceda, a 6-9 power forward from Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Omar Sherman from Duncanville, Texas.