“Lonnie, your hair is like artwork, looks like sculpture. How long did it take to get it that way, and what type of response do you get on the court and walking around campus?”
“For each of the players, today there’s a national student walkout in protest to gun violence, and it was largely spurred by what happened in Parkland. Considering you guys are just an hour away, how did that impact you, and do you have any thoughts on gun violence?”
If the Miami Hurricanes handle their NCAA Tournament opener against Loyola-Chicago on Thursday as deftly as they did the probing pre-game questions from the national media Wednesday, they could prove wrong the many experts who predict sixth-seeded UM (22-9) will lose to the 11th-seeded Ramblers (28-5) at the American Airlines Center (3:10 p.m., truTV).
Lonnie Walker IV, already a media darling as a freshman, smiled upon hearing the question about his hair, and proceeded to explain: “I get that question at least twice a day. I kind of let it grow up by itself. It’s its own person at this point because ever since my freshman year, it was a regular flat top, then senior year it became its own thing — people have been calling it a pineapple. The student section definitely has fun telling me all the names for it.
“It’s my thing. It defines who I am, just being a different kid. All I can say is, it’s pleasing that other people are truly delighted to look at my hair consistently.”
UM coach Jim Larrañaga opened his press conference with this announcement: “Just in case you’re wondering if I’m going to try to change my hair style to do the pineapple look like Lonnie has, the answer is no. My wife told me I wouldn’t look good that way.”
On a much more serious note, Miami players addressed Wednesday’s nationwide school walkout in protest of gun violence. “It makes me understand that your life can be taken at any moment,” said freshman Chris Lykes. “We definitely need to do make this an important issue worldwide. We’ve got to do something about this.”
Added senior Ja’Quan Newton: “It was an hour away from us, so it impacted us a lot.”
As for their opponent, Loyola-Chicago, the Missouri Valley Conference champion, Larrañaga said he understands from first-hand experience why they are considered a potential Cinderella team. Larranaga’s 2006 George Mason team was an 11 seed that went on to reach the Final Four.
“As far as I’m concerned, my experience is the seeding doesn’t mean that much,” he said. “It’s how well you play. My George Mason team happened to be an 11 seed and we beat the No. 6 seed, which was Michigan State. I think very, very clearly the success Loyola has enjoyed both in the regular season and their conference tournament is going to give them a lot of confidence. They haven’t lost in a very, very long time. They’ve won 10 in a row, 18 of their last 19, so they’re going to believe that they can win this game.
“The challenge for our Miami team is we need to play at a very, very high level to compete with them. There’s only one way for us to really earn that same kind of respect, and that’s to play great.”
The Ramblers rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense (62.2 ppg), second in fewest personal fouls per game (13.8), and they are shooting 54.9 percent over the last 16 games. They beat the University of Florida in Gainesville in early-December, a game Larranaga said he and his staff “have watched repeatedly” in the past few days.
One person who is not buying the Chicago-Loyola Cinderella storyline is Ramblers coach Porter Moser, a disciple of the late-Rick Majerus.
“It’s unfathomable to think [we’re the favorite] when you’ve got a team like Miami that finished third in one of the best conferences in the country, in the ACC,” Moser said. “They are extremely well-coached. They space the floor, Lonnie Walker is a pro. He really is a good player. They’ve got a ton of good players … they’re unbelievably athletic and long. We just don’t see length and athleticism to the level that Miami has.
“They check a lot of boxes. We’re not looking like they’re the underdog 100 percent. There’s a ton of respect from our end going into this Miami game. The Cinderella thing, I know they’re not buying into it.”