Basketball: Jim Larranaga encouraged by Miami Hurricanes’ summer progress

 

Asked for a summer “State of the Union address,” Jim Larranaga opened with this:

“I think we’ve had a productive summer with our veterans being here almost the entire summer, and the freshmen joining them in the month July. I think the progress I’ve seen in the weight room, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Jim Larranaga talks with reporters on Aug. 1, 2016. (Matt Porter)

Jim Larranaga talks with reporters on Aug. 1, 2016. (Matt Porter)

He’s encouraged by how they’re playing in front of the basket, “where the game is won.” They’re working on ball skills. If he was rolling out a starting lineup tomorrow … well, he’s glad he doesn’t have to answer that question.

Larranaga gave reporters an update on his team, with summer workouts in full swing and the start of the season more than three months away:

* Replacing guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan and center Tonye Jekiri won’t be easy, but Larranaga will lean on veterans Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy, and hope Ja’Quan Newton continues to develop into a point guard. “Our success in the last several years has been based on our ability to put experienced players out on the court who have learned what it takes to win at this level,” Larranaga said. “Ja’Quan, Davon and Kamari are our most experienced players and you can add Anthony Lawrence as another player to that group we feel we can definitely count on.”

* Newton, who shined as a sixth man last year, has a full plate. He needs to improve his outside shooting, cut down on his turnovers, and involve his teammates. The leadership is perhaps his biggest challenge. “I’m seeing it at times,” Larranaga said. “Not as often, not as consistent as we’d like it. … It’s easier when you’re the sixth man. You just come in and play as hard as you can, as well as you can, which he did very, very well.”

* With regard to pushing Newton’s development, Larranaga said freshman Dejan “D.J.” Vasiljevic “has made his presence known, almost from day one. … I very much like the way they’ve supported each other.” Vasiljevic can play on or off the ball, but profiles as a point guard. There’s a good chance he could be Newton’s backup.

* He wasn’t asked about him Monday, but Larranaga has been laudatory of freshman Bruce Brown, who has been a tough competitor in practices. Expect Brown to have a major role as an aggressive 2-man.

* The versatile Lawerence will play the 3, where he will be a large, ball-handling guard, and the 4, where he will guard post players and rebound. “In a sense, he’s got to be able to play all five positions,” Larranaga said, praising him for being strong and crafty enough to guard bigger men. “He’s capable of doing it physically, but it’s a major challenge for any player mentally.” Larranaga said some of Lawrence’s freshman inconsistency to being asked to train at multiple positions.

* Larranaga has “high expectations” for center Ebuka Izundu, who “has a great deal of potential, but he hasn’t realized that potential under game conditions yet.” Larranaga has raved about the 6-10 lefty’s athleticism and offensive gifts.

* Without an experienced center like Jekiri, Larranaga will use a variety of players depending on matchups. Izundu, Murphy, Lawrence, plus freshmen Dewan Huell and Rodney Miller can play there.  “Dewan is not as strong as Anthony is right now, but is working toward that,” Larranaga said. “We have to figure out when those two guys are in the game together, who guards the 4 and who guards the 5. We’re going to constantly be quizzing ourselves as to how do we match up properly defensively and how do we utilize their skills offensively”

* Larranaga mentioned that UM will use “an offense we have not used before.” No details, of course.

* Guard Rashad Muhammad is now (6-foot-6 and) 180 pounds, Larranaga said, after arriving from San Jose State two years ago at 157 pounds. Larranaga said Muhammad “can shoot” (37.8 percent on threes at SJSU, but consistently sinking deep threes in practice), but cautioned that games are different than practices. It seems that at worst, Muhammad will be a shooter coming off the bench.

* A key for Murphy, a skilled defender and rebounder, is foul shooting. Improving his 55.8 percent clip at the line will help keep him on the court at the end of games.

* With the July recruiting period over, Larranaga and his wife, Liz, will try to get a vacation to Sarasota, where they have a home (Dick Vitale is a neighbor). He swims, he rides his bike – and watches “a lot of video there,” he said. “It’s been my type of vacation for 45 years.”

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