Notes from a chat with Jim Larranaga in the visitor’s locker room at the Watsco Center (the main press room was being used for Thursday’s graduation ceremonies):
In advance of Friday’s game against Florida Atlantic (7 p.m., ESPN3.com), Larranaga was especially wary of his young team’s focus. Players are finished with exams, and are in a stretch were they play one game in 15 days. He’s had them practice more than in past seasons, when he had more veteran teams.
Lest they think they are merely tuning up for ACC play (the opener: North Carolina State on Dec. 31), this should get their attention:
The Owls may be 3-5, but their most recent win was a 79-77 overtime upset at Ohio State. Leading scorer Adonis Filer poured in a season-high 23 and the Buckeyes turned the ball over 12 times. Larranaga said FAU, coached by former NBA guard Michael Curry, has “very good, high-major players at every position,” including guard transfers Filer (Clemson), Frank Booker (Oklahoma) and center Ronald Delph (7-0, 245), who is averaging 10.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. He originally signed with Auburn.
“The ACC is light years away,” Larranaga said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Larranaga’s take on FAU-Ohio State: “They shot great from three. And Ohio State did what we’ve been doing – they turned it over too often, and gave them uncontested layups and threes in transition.”
“We’ve already played three high-major opponents. We’re 1-2, and we turned the ball over against two of them a lot. What’s going to happen when we play in the league? If we start turning the ball over a lot, we’re going to struggle.”
For better or worse, Miami’s roster is at nine scholarship players after the recent dismissal of guard Rashad Muhammad. The rotation is currently at eight, and Larranaga would love to bump that number up.
Freshmen center Rodney Miller, listed at 7-feet and 258 pounds, is Miami’s largest player and most skilled member of its frontcourt. His conditioning is holding him back, however. Larranaga feels Miller will be able to help against teams with big centers, like FAU, but probably won’t be a factor against smaller, faster frontcourts.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to play a lot of extended minutes,” he said. “But I think he’s very capable of helping us.”
One thing that excited Larranaga: Watching his recruiting class ball out last weekend. Top-20 guard Lonnie Walker, top-60 guard Chris Lykes and top-100 forward Deng Gak each played in tournaments. Each won a championship. Each was named MVP.
Larranaga watched Walker and Lykes, while assistant Adam Fisher made the extra trip to see Gak.
“I can say I saw three for sure, four incredible dunks by the same guy Tuesday, in Reading, Pennsylvania,” Larranaga said. “They were impressive. Lonnie Walker IV. Oof. Unbelievable.”
Larranaga — who put on a t-shirt bearing the Reading High logo for the game — showed reporters a picture of Walker getting way up, reaching way back, and throwing it down.
“This is one of his dunks,” Larranaga said. “His head was on the rim by the time he finished his elevation.”
The class, he proudly noted, is currently rated No. 6 by HoopScoop and No. 7 by ESPN.
“What it says to us as a program, we believe we’ve recruited the right guys, and other people believe we’ve recruited the right guys. Now, whether they can actually produce at the level we’ve projected, we really won’t know for quite some time.
“We’re seeing what Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell and DJ [Vasiljevic] can do, but we’ve only played nine games. Wait until we’ve had to play Duke and Carolina and Virginia to really judge them. It’s a lot harder.”