University of Miami

UM basketball opens regular season vowing not to take any opponents lightly

Sheldon McClellan, left, Ja'Quan Newton, Kamari Murphy and James Palmer share a laugh during UM basketball media day at BankUnited Center on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015.
Sheldon McClellan, left, Ja'Quan Newton, Kamari Murphy and James Palmer share a laugh during UM basketball media day at BankUnited Center on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. adiaz@miamiherald.com

University of Miami starting guard Sheldon McClellan was asked Monday if he was familiar with Friday’s season-opening opponent.

“What’s the name of the school?” he sheepishly replied, drawing a chuckle. “I forgot.”

In his defense, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley is a new school that was founded in 2013 and went into full operation this year. It is the merger of the University of Texas-Brownville and University of Texas-Pan American. Their team nickname is Los Vaqueros (the Cowboys).

Reminded of the name of the team, McClellan got more serious. Although UTRGV is hardly a household name, and it is ranked No. 337 of 351 teams by college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the Hurricanes (picked 21 by Pomeroy) know better than to overlook Los Vaqueros.

They don’t want to make the same mistake they made last year.

Last year we played a lot of teams on paper, meaning that we looked at the teams on paper and knew instantly if we were going to win or not, which cost us some games and caused us to go to NIT.

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The Hurricanes opened last season 8-0, beat then-No. 8 Florida in Gainesville, entered the AP poll at No. 15, and beat Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They picked up a few huge conference wins — a 90-74 road victory at then-No. 4 Duke and a road win over Syracuse in front of 31,000 fans at the Carrier Dome.

But, they overlooked two opponents in particular, and paid a steep price. They lost 68-55 to Green Bay and, even more humiliating, 72-44 at home to Eastern Kentucky.

Miami finished the season 25-13 (10-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and did not get selected for the NCAA Tournament. Surely those two losses were a factor. The Canes settled for the NIT, and reached the final.

“Don’t play teams on paper,” McClellan said about the team’s mentality heading into Friday night’s home game. “Last year we played a lot of teams on paper, meaning that we looked at the teams on paper and knew instantly if we were going to win or not, which cost us some games and caused us to go to NIT. This year, we don’t even want to look at the paper, just take each game one by one and not take anyone for granted.”

UM returns five starters from the 2014-15 season — McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Tonye Jekiri, Davon Reed and Ivan Cruz Uceda. Sophomores Ja’Quan Newton and James Palmer are back, and the team will get a huge energy and defensive boost from Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, whom McClellan describes as “a junkyard dog.”

The Hurricane women’s team also opens at home Friday, at 11 a.m. against Wright State in front of thousands of Miami-Dade schoolchildren. Coach Katie Meier doesn’t mind the early start.

She explained: “At first, you go, ‘Oh my gosh, 11 a.m.,’ but it’s going to be screaming kids and we’re an energy team, an emotion team. I’ll let my players know there are people in the audience looking for a hero, and I think we’ll be inspired.”

The Canes must be awake for Wright State, a team that went 25-9 last year, lost in overtime in the Horizon League conference championship game, and features redshirt senior guard Kim Demmings, the league preseason Player of the Year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. ESPN.com named her “a player to go out of your way to watch.”

“Demmings can score like you’ve not seen,” Meier said. “You’ll have Bay-Bay flashbacks [referring to former UM star Riquna Williams]. She can really score the basketball, like dropping 30 would not be a surprise. This is not a soft opening game by any stretch of the imagination. This is a 20-win, postseason team, and opening up in an odd situation, 11 a.m., so it’s going to be tough.”

UM men vs. University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Where: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables.

TV, radio: ESPN3; WQAM (560 AM), WVUM (90.5 FM).

UM women vs. Wright State

When: 11 a.m. Friday.

Where: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables.

TV, radio: ESPN3; WVUM (90.5 FM).

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