The 2018-19 University of Miami men’s basketball team will look very different from the one that lost to Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament last month.
Ja’Quan Newton is graduating. Lonnie Walker IV is gone to the NBA after his freshman year. Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell both declared for the NBA Draft, as well, though they are not hiring agents, so they could return to the UM if they test the waters and discover going pro is not the best choice. They have until June 11 to decide without jeopardizing their college eligibility.
Despite losing as many as four key players, UM coach Jim Larrañaga refuses to panic.
“Our program is in a very good place right now,” he said Thursday. “We’ve been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, we’ve got a very good group of players returning. I like the makeup and the balance of the team right now. My staff is continuing to recruit.”
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He said he’d like to recruit one high school player, one transfer, on fifth-year player, or maybe even a junior college player. The 2018-19 roster won’t be known until the summer.
The players coming back include rising sophomore Chris Lykes, rising seniors Ebuka Izundu an Anthony Lawrence, DJ Vasiljevic, Rodney Miller, Sam Waardenberg, and Deng Gak and Miles Wilson, both of whom sat out this season. Wilson is a transfer from Mount St. Mary’s. Gak is a redshirt freshman.
“With Lonnie leaving, we need a high-octane scorer,” Larrañaga said. “Lonnie made a lot of big shots, game-winning shots, game-tying shots, so we’ll keep our eyes and ears open for a player we think can kind of jump in there and fill that role.”
The coach, sitting beside Walker at a press conference, expressed mixed feelings about Walker’s departure.
“I’m very, very happy and excited, but also sad to see him go,” he said. “From the first chance I had a chance to meet him, he is an extremely gifted young man, just a great guy. We’re going to miss him, but we’ll follow his career and know he’ll be hugely successful at the next level.”
Walker said he took a week after Miami’s NCAA Tournament loss to weigh his options. He consulted with his family and the UM coaching staff.
“By far, it’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had, besides deciding what college I wanted to go to,” said Walker, who averaged a team-high 11.5 points. “It wasn’t just on the basketball side of things. Coach L, Chris Lykes, my teammates, I love these guys. I love Coach L. To say those words in such little time really speaks volumes on how this team is and how the assistant coaches and coaches are. For me to leave, it was really hard because of how much I love these guys and how close we got, our bond and how strong we became. I knew if I was to come another year, it would be another one of the best times in my life.”