DALLAS — Jim Larranaga, 68, is plenty familiar with Willis Reed. The Bronx native used to watch New York Knicks games at Madison Square Garden during Reed’s heyday, and knows all about the big man’s heroics during the 1970 NBA Finals.
Bruce Brown, 21, wants to give his coach flashbacks.
Brown, out since Jan. 30 with a stress fracture in his left foot, reaffirmed on Wednesday his desire to play in the NCAA Tournament, should Miami advance beyond this weekend. Before the Hurricanes left for Dallas on Tuesday, Larranaga shared the news that doctors had cleared Brown to resume practicing. He will not play, but he will be in uniform when UM (22-9) faces Loyola-Chicago (28-5) in Thursday’s first-round game (3:10 p.m., truTV).
His latest step “felt great,” Brown said. “I’m out of the boot. I still have to use the boot a little bit, but I can finally walk” without it.
“The foot has healed beautifully,” Larranaga said. “The doctors have cleared him, but he’s not in basketball shape. He’s going to have to rehab and get himself in great shape before he ever steps out on the court. Unless we’re able to advance into April … you know, chances are he’s not going to play.”
Brown, whose recent activities include weightlifting, stationary biking and swimming, had no illusions he’d be able to handle his usual workload — nearly 34 minutes a night — if he were to return.
“I could probably give them 15,” he said. “I don’t think I ever get out of shape, but running up and down, I’d need a few more breaks than usual.”
Does he feel he can help if Miami makes it out of Dallas?
“Definitely,” he said. “We’ll see how my foot’s feeling and how the coaches are feeling. But I feel good.”
Judging by his practice performance — or lack thereof — Brown has a long way to go. He didn’t use his injured foot much at Miami’s open practice Wednesday. He moved gingerly as he dribbed and shot, and sat down as teammates ran through offensive sets.
At the end of practice, Miami players, one by one, attempted to hit from halfcourt. When it was his turn, Brown hopped on his right foot before heaving the ball toward the basket.
Reed, hobbled by a torn thigh muscle during the 1970 NBA Finals, made a dramatic return in Game 7. He entered midway during pregame warmups, defended Lakers star Wilt Chamberlain and served as inspiration as the Knicks won their first title in 24 years.
Larranaga said Brown is an inspiration whether he plays or not.
“Bruce has tremendous personality and energy,” he said. “If you’ll notice him during the game at timeouts, he’s the one getting up and talking to his teammates about what’s going on. Yeah, he’ll tell someone, ‘Hey, you’ve got to block that guy out, that guy is a heck of an offensive rebounder,’ or ‘Hey, don’t dribble so much, there’s open men, you’ve got to hit the open man.’
“He uplifts us in a huge way without even dribbling a ball or shooting it or telling people what to do. He’s kind of just there bringing that energy off the court and helping us to see it.”
Pineapple express: It took until March, but someone finally asked Lonnie Walker about his unique hairstyle, which can be described as a flat top with a crown of stiff dreadlocks, one of which always seems to fall earthward.
A reporter from USA Today described Walker’s coiffure as looking “like artwork, like sculpture.” Walker smiled. “How long did it take to get that way,” the reporter inquired, “and what kind of response do you get on the court and walking around campus for that matter?”
“I kind of get that question at least twice a day,” Walker said. “You know, people are truly surprised with how different it is. I kind of let it grow up by itself. It’s its own person at this point because ever since my freshman year, it was a regular flat top, then going into my junior year, it was still a flat top, then senior year, it just became its own — people have been calling it a pineapple. And the student section definitely has a fun way of telling me what [it’s called].”
At the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, a few reporters from North Carolina described it as looking like asparagus, or a box of McDonald’s french fries.
“It’s my thing,” Walker said. “It defines who I am, just being a different person and a different kid. All I can say is it’s pleasing that other people are truly delighted to look at my hair consistently.”
View from downtown: Sophomore 3-point specialist DJ Vasiljevic hoisted shots at practice, hoping to get comfortable in an unfamiliar barn. He wanted to learn if the rim was forgiving. He hoped to find a few spots on the floor where arena lights wouldn’t distract him.
The verdict: nice rims, good lighting.
Among ACC road venues, Vasiljevic likes to shoot at Virginia and Virginia Tech. “They’re soft,” he said of the iron, “and I like the type of arenas, the atmosphere.” Most difficult rim? “Gotta be Duke. It’s not so much that it’s stiff. But the fans and the lighting make an impact.” The best anywhere in the world? “When we [Australia] were in Dubai for the Under-17 World Championship,” he said. “That rim was like a Virginia Tech rim.”