Barry Jackson

UM looking upstate for another neutral site football game

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes:   

▪ UM already is scheduled to play one football game in Orlando (in 2019 against the Gators), and UM athletic director Blake James said he has spoken to officials in Orlando about playing a second game there in 2023 or 2024 against an undetermined opponent.

James said UM considers Orlando’s Camping World Stadium an appealing neutral site venue. Those games can be profitable for a school, and Orlando is close enough to attract a large contingent of Canes fans.

James said he would welcome future games against the Gators besides the 2019 game but hasn’t yet broached the issue with Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin.

UM also has future season-opening neutral site games scheduled in Dallas (against LSU on Sunday night of Labor Day weekend this coming season) and Atlanta (against Alabama in 2021).

▪ UM so covets dual-threat Class of 2019 Oregon-based quarterback Michael Johnson that UM quarterbacks coach Jon Richt went to Eugene five or six consecutive Mondays to visit him, per Canesport’s Matt Shodell. Johnson says he has no favorite.

▪ UM’s list of football oral commitments for 2019 is now up to 11 after this week’s addition of Miami Northwestern linebacker Samuel Brooks.

He’s the fourth linebacker to orally commit to UM for 2019. He had 24 offers, including Florida, Auburn and Michigan.

The three-star prospect is coming off a torn meniscus and torn ACL. He appreciates that UM stood by him despite the injury. UM did the same when Waymon Steed sustained a major knee injury in high school; he redshirted as a UM freshman last season.

“When I committed coach [Manny] Diaz screamed,” Brooks told Canesport. “He was very excited, waiting on me to pull trigger. He was very happy. And I’m happy.”

▪ UM — which will play North Carolina, Wake Forest or Syracuse at 9 p.m. Thursday in an ACC men’s basketball tournament quarterfinal — says it won’t specifically advise Lonnie Walker or Bruce Brown whether to turn pro.

“We don’t encourage them to stay or go,” coach Jim Larrañaga told WQAM’s Joe Zagacki on Hurricane Hotline this week. “We give them the information to make the best decision.”

Larrañaga said Walker (a freshman) and Brown (a sophomore) “are such terrific young men. The NBA experts have projected both of them to be first-round picks. We don’t know what Bruce’s status will be now that he has sustained a [foot] injury and will not return to our team this ACC tournament, and we don’t know beyond what will happen.

“The whole key for Bruce is to get himself back to 100 percent and be ready to show the NBA scouts what he’s capable of doing. Bruce will be invited to the NBA Combine in Chicago, and at that point the NBA front-office [types] will make a determination if Bruce is ready. And Bruce has to decide if that’s what he wants.”

Larranaga said Walker “is a very interesting situation. He got off to a slow start because of the [summer] knee surgery. But now he’s our leading scorer. And he certainly has NBA talent. NBA teams would be very, very interested in him.

“But he’s also a young man that likes college, loves the University of Miami, loves what he’s learning here. The decision will be do I want to go to the NBA and try to make my progress as a rookie there or should I stay in college and try to improve at this level so I can be a better NBA player when I get there and not need so much grooming?” 

Larrañaga said even if UM loses those two players (along with senior Ja’Quan Newton), Miami will be in good shape with the other players returning, plus the infusion of two players who aren’t playing this season — center Deng Gak and transfer guard Miles Wilson.

“Deng Gak is almost 7 feet tall, very long and athletic, dunks the ball effortlessly,” Larrañaga said. “Good rebounder and shot blocker. Miles Wilson is an outstanding three-point shooter.

“We will still be in very good shape a year from now. As good a shape as we’ll be in, the league is going to be crazy. Duke had the best recruiting class in the fall in college basketball history. They signed the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 players in the country.” 

▪ Larrañaga, talking about his team on Hurricane Hotline:

“Incredible year. I’m so proud of my coaching staff and my team. [UM has] done a miraculous job of overcoming some adversity this year. When we started this year, Lonnie Walker was just getting over knee surgery.” And then Brown was injured.

“There was only a short period of time we were at full strength. I am so proud to finish 11-7. It’s our sixth season in seven seasons here to have 20 or more wins.”

Larrañaga praised the growth of Chris Lykes: “My first conversation with Chris, and my coaches followed up with hundreds of conversations, was strictly about on-ball defense and how important it was for him to become a nuisance, to get the other team’s point guard to push him off, to harass him into mistakes and turnovers. He’s worked hard on that. Against Virginia Tech, it was the best I’ve seen him play team defense. Chris is dynamic, our second-leading scorer.”

He said Dewan Huell is “one of the very best improved players in the league. He for a long time was our leading scorer. Although he’s not scoring as much recently, that’s due to the fact Bruce Brown is no longer in our lineup.”

And Larrañaga shared a neat story on freshman Sam Waardenburg.

“When the season first started, we put him in against Minnesota [in Minneapolis], and against 12,000 fans, I could see he was very, very nervous,” Larrañaga said. “Not until recently did I find out there was a very good reason he was very nervous. The largest crowd he ever played in front of in New Zealand was 70 people. It took him a little while to get comfortable. His defense, rebounding and toughness on the court have been instrumental.”