The defeated and deflated Miami Hurricanes quietly packed up their bags and trudged out of their American Airlines Center locker room Thursday afternoon after having their NCAA Tournament dreams stolen by the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers on a last-second prayer-of-a-shot by Donte Ingram.
They flew back to Miami late Thursday night, and arrived at 2 a.m. Friday.
Freshman Chris Lykes, sophomore DJ Vasiljevic and a few other players took along locker room souvenirs — NCAA and team signage — as a reminder of their abbreviated post-season run. Although it ended on a bitter note, the players were feeling nostalgic, especially considering it was the last time that group of Hurricanes will take the floor together.
Ja’Quan Newton is a senior. Freshman Lonnie Walker IV and sophomore Bruce Brown are considering leaving for the NBA. Walker has been projected as a potential lottery pick since the day he arrived on campus. His athleticism, wingspan, silky moves, quick release, shooting touch and ability to guard multiple positions make him a perfect candidate for the pros.
Brown, too, was expected to be drafted fairly high, although he missed the final six weeks of the season after foot surgery and needs to get back in game shape.
For both Brown and Walker, if they choose to leave, their final college memories will not be what they had anticipated.
Brown, a team leader and versatile guard, was in uniform and itching to play Thursday, but had to resort to cheering and coaching from the bench.
Walker, typically clutch in late-game situations, made untimely mistakes in the closing minute. He had a turnover and a missed free throw that wound up in the hands of Loyola’s Ben Richardson, and eventually in the hands of Ingram at the top of the key.
Walker said he plans to take some time off, consult with family and coaches, and then consider his options. Asked what he thinks he’ll decide, Walker said: “Lord knows, I’m not sure yet.”
Returning players have two weeks off from basketball-related activities to catch up on schoolwork, and practices resume April 2. UM coach Jim Larrañaga started individual meetings with players Friday and will continue for the next week.
He said he has no idea what his team will look like in 2018-19.
“In today’s college game, there’s no way to predict at this early stage how you’re going to look next year with the number of kids that transfer, guys that go pro, injuries, recruiting,” Larrañaga said. “What you see now [on the UM team] would be great if we had everybody back next year. If we did, I’d feel very, very strongly that we’d have a great team.”
Lykes said of the 2018-19 Hurricanes: “I already know people are probably going to count us out starting now, but we’ve got a good group coming back. We’ve got some athleticism, I have a year under my belt so I’ll be more of a leader, so you can expect that from me. It starts now. I’m definitely going to be in the gym a lot. This really hurt me.”
Larrañaga said he would prefer having a roster mix with some more experienced players, like the two UM teams that reached the Sweet 16.
“One of the things my staff and I have wanted to do and haven’t been able to do is stay older, have a more experienced team,” he said. “I think that plays very well into postseason. I think the older guys who have been through it normally play well. Younger guys have it a little more challenging.
“I look around our league and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at those places, either, because guys are going pro, guys are transferring who don’t play much, guys get injured and they’re out, could be out for the season. We saw a lot of that this year with Bruce Brown and Donte Grantham and now De’Andre Hunter. So, it’s very, very hard to predict this far in advance.”