Barry Jackson

ESPN giving love to UM’s football and basketball draft prospects

Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1), coming off a season-ending October ankle injury, entered the NFL Draft after his shortened junior season.
Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1), coming off a season-ending October ankle injury, entered the NFL Draft after his shortened junior season. adiaz@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Canes notes on a Thursday:

▪ Draft-eligible Canes players are getting increasing recognition from ESPN’s draftniks.

On the football side, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rates UM’s Mark Walton eighth among all draft-eligible running backs, R.J. McIntosh eighth among all draft-eligible defensive tackles and Chad Thomas 10th among all draft-eligible defensive ends.

“Chad Thomas, if he can round off his game, can be a pretty good pass rusher,” Kiper said. “... He’s got upside. If he’s there in the third of fourth round, Chad Thomas can be intriguing.”

Meanwhile, ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony projects Lonnie Walker 14th and Bruce Brown 23rd in his latest NBA mock draft.

UM wouldn’t be remotely surprised if both turn pro after this season.

“Walker started off the season poorly, but has been much better in ACC play, reestablishing himself as a potential lottery-caliber prospect,” Givony said. “The lack of depth at the wing position certainly helps him as well.

“His youth, strong frame, 6-foot-10½ wingspan and ability to shoot with his feet set or off the dribble make him a candidate to rise even further during the pre-draft process as teams search for upside and diamonds in the rough.”

As for Brown, Givony said: “Brown was in the midst of a disappointing sophomore season before breaking his foot and potentially ending his college career, but he has promise as an NBA prospect. He’s a willing passer, a lockdown defender and a gritty rebounder, and he has shown potential with his jump shot. There’s a significant market for players in his mold, provided that he gets healthy and is able, in the pre-draft process, to recapture some of the momentum he lost. Execs and coaches like [Minnesota’s] Tom Thibodeau might fall in love with his toughness.

▪ If you missed it, Greg Olsen last week became the 80th former Hurricanes football player to donate toward construction of the Carol Sopher Indoor Football Practice facility, which is expected to open later this summer.

Olsen contributed $100,000 — bringing the total contribution of former players to $2 million. Mark Richt contributed $1 million of that amount and Jon Beason $250,000.

Olsen played three years at Miami (2004 to 2006) before the Chicago Bears selected him in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.. He is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and in 2016 became the first tight end in league history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. 

“The University of Miami holds a special place in my heart,” Olsen said. “My wife Kara and I met as freshmen at UM and have shared many great memories together over the years. We will always be supporters of both the school as well as the football team. 

“Our goal is to contribute in making Miami a consistent force on a national level. We hope these facilities aid in our ability to attract top tier talent to the University and win championships.”

UM remains $1 million from the $24 million needed to finance the facility.

▪ We had three posts in the past week about where UM stands in 2019 recruiting at offensive skill positions and defense.

With the offensive line, Miami already has three oral commitments and its top remaining target is IMG Academy’s Dontae Lucas. Rated by Rivals as the 129th-best player in 2019 class, he told Rivals that UM is his front-runner, though FSU remains in the mix.

UM also is very much in the mix for three other four-star offensive linemen: Brunswick, Georgia-based tackle Warren McClendon, IMG Academy guard Evan Neal and Belleview-based Michael Tarquan.

▪ Former UM cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke is returning to UM as a quality control analyst. He appeared in 25 NFL games for Oakland and Pittsburgh from 2011through 2013.

Mark Richt is looking for a replacement for defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who resigned this week and has joined Alabama’s staff.

▪ Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas this coming year could become what Plantation American Heritage was during the most recent recruiting cycle: a school with a bunch of players Miami wants.

The Canes not only are pursuing four-star running back Daniel Carter, but they’re also eager to land much of Aquinas’ front seven on defense: four-star Anthony Solomon (the No. 3 linebacker, 132nd nationally), four-star inside linebacker Avery Huff, three-star outside linebacker Jahmar Brown and four-star defensive end Braylen Ingraham (148th player nationally).

Ingraham told Canesport that Miami is in the lead for him. Huff didn’t name a favorite but calls Miami “one of my top favorite schools.” Brown said Miami is “definitely in my top schools.”

Carter said Miami is “definitely” high on his list but likes Georgia and Pittsburgh, too. And Solomon told Canesport that Michigan and Miami are the “top two for me right now.”

▪ In his newly released brackets on Thursday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Miami as an eighth seed in the Midwest bracket of the NCAA Tournament (and thus one of the 32 highest seeds) and matching up against No. 9 TCU, with the winner playing — in all likelihood — No. 1 seed Xavier.

UM (8-7 in the ACC) should be in the tournament if it wins two of its last three games (home to Boston College, at North Carolina, home to Virginia Tech), or wins one of its last three but then wins at least one game in the ACC tournament.

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