There’s a lot Jim Larranaga doesn’t know about his team. He knows his probable starting lineup (point guard Ja’Quan Newton, two-guard Davon Reed, small forward Anthony Lawrence Jr., four-man Kamari Murphy and center Ebuka Izundu) and has faith a talented freshman class will contribute early.
What that means in terms of wins and losses? Unknown.
That was reflected in the Hurricanes’ standing in the preseason ACC poll, conducted Wednesday at the league’s annual media days. Miami, which made the Sweet 16 last year and graduated three players critical to that run (point guard Angel Rodriguez, leading scorer Sheldon McClellan and center Tonye Jekiri), was picked to finish ninth.
Few of the multitude of online NBA mock drafts include Sheldon McClellan.DraftExpress has him going in the second round (No. 59 overall) to the Sacramento Kings, but that’s about it.
But McClellan, who is ranked 69th among draft prospects (12th among shooting guards) by ESPN’s Chad Ford, remains hopeful he’ll hear his name called Thursday, when the NBA draft is held in Chicago.
He has worked out for a dozen NBA teams, including the Chicago Bulls (48th), Detroit Pistons (49th), Indiana Pacers (50th), Boston Celtics (51st, 58th) and Brooklyn Nets (55th), all of whom have picks at the end of the second round.
It is less likely his former Miami teammates, point guard Angel Rodriguez and center Tonye Jekiri, are taken. They, too, have worked out for NBA teams.
Miami’s most recent NBA draft pick was Shane Larkin, who went 18th overall to the Atlanta Hawks in 2014. Nineteen Hurricanes have been drafted, 11 since the rebirth of the program in 1985 and 10 since the NBA adopted a two-round format in 1989.
McClellan, who turns 24 on Dec. 21, always had high-level athleticism but greatly improved his shooting in 141 collegiate games. He averaged 16.3 points and shot 40.6 percent from three-point range as a senior, often calmly making contested shots. He was also the 11th-most efficient offensive player in the nation among players with 20 percent or more possessions used, per KenPom.com. That will help his case for NBA employment. However, he will need to improve his defense to find steady work.
Scouting reports on McClellan echo similar positives and negatives. ESPN’s touts him as an “athletic guard [and] explosive leaper” with an “NBA body” who can “score in a variety of ways.” The negatives: average size, “already 23 years old,” not an elite defender, needs to add strength. NBA.com likes his shooting and experience in the pick-and-roll game, among other qualities, but knocked his defensive effort, shot selection and playmaking.
Thornton, 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, started 20 games and averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists in 26 minutes per game as a freshman, but split amid apparent disagreement with Duke coaches on his role in the program. He was rated 17th nationally and third among point guards in the 2015 class by ESPN.
So what are the chances Miami lands him? Not great, if he’s deciding solely on what he publicly said was his reason for leaving Duke.
In a school press release announcing his transfer, Thornton said he wanted to play closer to his home (Chatsworth, California). That seems to bode well for USC and Washington, two of the schools in Thornton’s final four. The other, Kansas, is the most prestigious program on his list. He has already visited those three schools.
He will sit out a year regardless of which Division I program he chooses; he would also lose a year of eligibility if he chose UM because of an ACC rule regarding in-conference transfers. However, a player of Thornton’s caliber likely believes he wouldn’t need more than two years to make a case for the NBA Draft. He would be a redshirt junior in 2017-18.
Miami believes Thornton will make his decision based on what’s best for his basketball career, rather than location.
It can tout its ball-screen offense, which is popular with active guards like Thornton, and Jim Larranaga‘s success in integrating transfers (several key players on the 2013 and 2016 Sweet 16 teams started their careers elsewhere). At Miami — after sitting out a year — Thornton could play alongside Ja’Quan Newton, who would be a senior in 2017. He could also take over the point that year if Newton raises his game and becomes an early NBA Draft entrant, an outside possibility but one that wouldn’t necessarily surprise UM coaches.
The Hurricanes can also point to Shane Larkin, whom they developed from a three-star recruit to a first-round pick in two college seasons. Thornton has similar athleticism, and was much more highly rated as a prep star.
The Hurricanes will give Newtonthe first crack at running the point this season, but he’s more of a slasher and scorer than the graduated Angel Rodriguez, a true point. There’s no real backup behind Newton; signees Dejan Vasiljevic and Bruce Brown, both two-guards, and forwards Davon Reed and Anthony Lawrence Jr. have ball-handling ability.
“We’re not done recruiting,” he said last Thursday, before the DejanVasiljevicsigning was made official. “We have 10 scholarship players and three open spots [two, after Wednesday]. That’s a third of our team.”
Looking to avoid roster imbalance and pleased with a top-10 recruiting class that includes McDonald’s All-American forward Dewan Huell, top-50 guard Bruce Brown and top-100 center Rodney Miller, Larranaga said UM is looking at transfers – there were reportedly about 700 available — and doesn’t want to bring in another freshman “unless he’s a superstar.
“We only have two seniors, two juniors and two sophomores returning. We have a lot of openings. And to project us right now is impossible.”
— Asked who will take over for graduating point guard Angel Rodriguez, Larranaga cracked, “Are you available?”
As of now, the plan is to turn it over to Ja’Quan Newton, but Larranaga said he needs to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio. Newton averaged 10.5 points per game, but had a 1:1 ratio. “He needs to improve that to 2:1 or 3:1,” Larranaga said. Other candidates: Vasiljevic, Brown and 6-7 forward Anthony Lawrence Jr., who handled the ball in high school (and put up a 2:1 ratio in 12 minutes per game as a freshman last year).
— Shooting guard Rashad Muhammad is a bit of a mystery. The former San Jose State leading scorer arrived at Miami rail-thin and with questionable defensive ability.
Larranaga: “He’s a terrific three-point shooter. He also has some terrific layups. But he came in here weighing 157 pounds. He’s now up to 170. We’re hoping we can get him up to 180 or 185 by next season.”
Asked if Muhammad is ready to take over for Sheldon McClellan as Miami’s top option, Larranaga said “he can really shoot the ball” but needs to improve his defense and rebounding: “When [McClellan] became a defender is when we became a much better basketball team.”
— Larranaga – and many recruiting analysts – are high on freshman combo guard Bruce Brown, who will arrive at UM after a year of prep at Vermont Academy. He’s 19, has a college-ready frame (6-4, 200) and plays a physical style.
Larranaga described Brown as “a combination of [former Hurricane] DurandScott, Sheldon McClellan and [Villanova leading scorer] JoshHart. That’s the type of body type, athlete. You see how high Sheldon McClellan can jump. I don’t know if Bruce can jump quite that high, but it’s close. He’s in the ballpark. Durand Scott was great at driving to the basket and making some very creative layups. I would say Bruce Brown has that same skillset. Josh Hart can guard multiple positions – he can guard a two, a three, a four, and I think Bruce Brown will be able to do the same thing.
“Will he be able to do it as a freshman? We hope so. We think so. But you don’t know that until you actually get him in a college environment” where the game is more nuanced and highly scouted (not to mention faster and much more skilled).
Larranaga said most transfers — “and in James’ case” in particular — “they come into college expecting a lot. … He’s a good kid. He was a very nice contributor for two years and I’m sure he’ll be a very good player at his next stop.” Palmer, from Washington, D.C., told CBS Sports he will visit Nebraska, Temple, Washington, California and Cincinnati.
— Huell suggested in recent interviews he considers himself a one-and-done candidate. That doesn’t worry Larranaga.
“I really like senior leadership. But more than that, I like really good players,” he said. “Dewan is a very talented young man.”
As a Virginia assistant in the early 1980s, Larranaga coached 7-4 Ralph Sampson, whom he said could have been the first player chosen after his freshman, sophomore or junior seasons. He went No. 1 overall after his senior year. “This is a different generation now,” Larranaga said.
“If Dewan wants to be one-and-done, what he has to understand – what everybody has to understand – it’s about your development.”
Larranaga wouldn’t reveal much of what he thinks about Huell, who is pegged by recruiting analysts as a spring-loaded 6-9 four-man who brings high-energy defense and a developing offensive game. “We haven’t put him through a practice yet,” Larranaga said.
— What does Larranaga want to see from forwards Kamari Murphy and Ebuka Izundu, who will play the 4 and 5?
“I want them to gain 15 pounds,” he said. “’Buka, 20.”
Murphy (6-8, 218) may not get there – and is strong, anyway — but Izundu (6-10, 210) might. Since Miami doesn’t have much bulk in the middle, both will need both to be more stout to make up for the loss of Jekiri (7-0, 250). Izundu, who arrived at 201 pounds, is on a similar curve as Jekiri. “He could be 230 next year. If he is, he will be a major factor,” Larranaga said.
— Miller, whom Larranaga said is 7-foot and 250 pounds, though recruiting websites list him an inch shorter and between 10 and 20 pounds lighter, will be the largest player on the roster. Asked if he’ll be relied on earlier, Larranaga said he couldn’t answer that, but noted that big men normally lag behind guards in strength and conditioning and skill development.
— Miami’s only commit for 2017 is 6-6 three-star D.J.Russell, from Jacksonville-Ribault. He committed in July 2013. UM has some 25 offers out, according to VerbalCommits.
Though the No. 1 player on ESPN’s list of top available college basketball transfers will reportedly not pick Miami, the No. 2 player might.
Shooting guard Canyon Barry, son of former Hurricanes great and Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, told at least two national reporters he was considering his dad’s alma mater.
CBS Sports reported Barry, 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, is also considering California, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Mississippi and Northwestern.
UM’s interest level in Barry is unclear, but the Hurricanes did lose sophomore guard James Palmer to transfer and could use another scorer. Former San Jose State transfer Rashad Muhammad is expected to start in place of the graduated Sheldon McClellan.
A graduate transfer from Charleston, Barry is eligible immediately. He has faced Miami three times in his career. He averaged 19.7 points in his final season before missing the second half with a shoulder injury.
One of the best players in the nation currently without a team, former Delaware guard Kory Holden, is reportedly considering Miami as one of his transfer destinations.
Holden, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound sophomore who would have two years of eligibility remaining following a redshirt year, averaged 17.7 points last year and was a second-team all CAA selection.
ESPN ranked Holden as the No. 1 available transfer in college basketball.
Delaware’s school bio describes Holden, a lefty, as an “excellent distributor” and an “outstanding driver who is adept at getting to the basket.” He is from Salisbury, Md., which means he is likely to be recruited by Miami assistant Jamal Brunt, a Baltimore native.
Scout.com, which reported Holden’s interest in Miami, said he is also considering South Carolina, Arizona, La Salle and Virginia Tech. A website that covers Maryland said Holden told them he is also considering the Terrapins.
Miami had one scholarship open before sophomore guard James Palmer asked for his release on Monday.
Incidentally, the No. 2 player on ESPN’s “best transfers” list is 6-6, 205-pound guard Canyon Barry, son of former Hurricanes great and Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry. The younger Barry, a graduate transfer from Charleston, has faced Miami three times in his career (and played against Holden in the CAA). He averaged 19.7 points in his final season before missing the second half with a shoulder injury.
Huell on TV: Get a look at Hurricanes signee Dewan Huell at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Huell will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, held annually in Chicago. Huell, a 6-9, 220-pound power forward from Miami Norland High, is the fourth Hurricane to play in the game, long considered the premier showcase for prep recruits.
Tonight is the Night. McDonald's All American Game tonight @9 on ESPN! Watch the show tonight, will be amazing pic.twitter.com/ar2HhZG6cv
Miami’s recruiting class, which includes Huell, guards Bruce Brown and Dejan Vasiljevic and center Rodney Miller, is the first consensus top-10 recruiting class of the “website era” (early 2000s to present). It is considered among the most heralded group in program history.
When he’s calling a basketball game, he flips a tiny hourglass constantly while calling the action. The sand runs out every 90 seconds. Every time he flips it, he repeats the score.
Why? A broadcaster repeating the score is vital to your understanding of the game. You might hear that Sheldon McClellan missed a long two off the back rim and Tonye Jekiri grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Now that you know the Hurricanes are up 29-24 with 5:38 to go in the first half, or whatever the case may be, you picture the game in much richer detail.
Zagacki’s little buddy helps him lay all it out for you. The great ones know all the tricks.
A UM source confirmed reports that wing James Palmer, who will be a junior, will transfer from the team.
Palmer, a 6-foot-5, 202-pound native of Washington, D.C., was a reserve swingman in his two seasons at UM.
Last season he averaged 11.9 minutes, ninth-highest on the team, and put up 3.5 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. He shot 36.4 percent from the field, lowest among UM’s regulars, and 27.7 percent from three-point range.
Palmer, who was 17 when he arrived on campus in July 2014, was in line for a redshirt season as a freshman. But his summer performance and a preseason knee injury to Davon Reed caused Miami to suit him up. Palmer played in all 38 games, avearging 13.3 minutes, 3.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists. He also shot 41.3 percent from the field and 36.5 from deep.
Palmer was a four-star recruit and rated No.98 nationally in the 2014 class by Scout.com. He was the top-rated player in D.C. according to multiple recruiting websites.
News of his transfer, which ESPN first reported, is not stunning given the fact Miami is likely to start eligible transfer Rashad Muhammad at shooting guard and adds highly regarded recruit Bruce Brown and international standout Dejan Vasiljevic. Reed, who will be a senior, is the likely starter at small forward.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No matter how far the Hurricanes go next year, they will look a lot different in getting there.
Guard Davon Reed and forward Kamari Murphy are the returning starters the squad that lost Thursday in the Sweet 16, and while it appears Ja’Quan Newton will be ready to take over at the point, Miami has question marks up and down a roster that should remain near the front of the pack in the ACC.
About two weeks from now, Miami will be back at work with those three assuming leadership roles, instead of guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan and center Tonye Jekiri as program bedrocks. Reed and Murphy showed plenty of maturity as juniors. Newton’s case is a little different, given that he was suspended for the final three games of the regular season for a violation of team rules.
“I have a lot of faith in Davon and Kamari,” associate head coach Chris Caputo said. “I hope that Ja’Quan can look at his year and feel that he had a very good year, but there are so many things he’ll have to do to put himself in a position to be considered one of the good players in the [ACC]. You’ve got to go perform, and do it not just as the sixth man.”
That will take some introspection on his part, and he won’t be alone in that self-analysis. Caputo brought up the example of McClellan, who transferred from Texas and sat out the 2013-14 season. Soon after arriving, he opened up to the coaching staff about his perceived shortcomings as a player. He continued to listen as he worked. He is now considered a potential NBA draft pick.
“I think everybody’s going to look at themselves now and think about how they can improve,” Caputo said. “It’s attitudes. It’s strength. It’s development in their offensive game and defensive abilities. I’m not a big believer in, ‘Hey we have these guys back, let’s pencil them in for these type of performances’ because it’s a year later. Everybody’s got to look at themselves collectively.”
Miami’s opening-night lineup will likely include Newton, a junior-to-be, at point guard and Reed at small forward. Whether Murphy plays power forward or center depends on matchups and the development of other players, but he will start.
Unlike the year following Miami’s last Sweet 16 run, when Jim Larranaga used zone defense and slowed things down on offense, he has more talent. There is a top-10 recruiting class on the way that includes highly regarded forward Dewan Huell and guard Bruce Brown. For that reason, a drastic a drop-off is unlikely.
“I think that’s fair to say,” Caputo said. “Hopefully the guys we have coming can have an appreciation for what we’re doing and assimilate quickly. Hopefully the returning guys will have learned from their experiences. Some of the success we enjoyed, they know what went into it.”
How they’ll play will be interesting. Miami’s heaviest returning players — before any offseason weight-room work — are about 220 pounds. No one is shorter than 6-foot-2. There is little bulk in the middle and lots of size on the wings.
Also keep in mind: Miami has one open scholarship and could use it on a ready-to-play graduate transfer.
Another thing: what will the ACC look like, with everyone now able to test the NBA Draft waters and return to school if they’re too chilly? Fascinating offseason ahead.
Going position-by-position on the Canes, plenty of questions pop up:
Point guard: Newton (6-2, 180) dominates on the ball, gets into the lane and can score, but can he raise his teammates’ games if he’s having an off night? Can he be a leader? Regardless, he’ll play major minutes, and Miami will need him. Who is his backup? UM doesn’t have a true point guard. Brown (6-4, 200) is a combo guard and has a college-ready frame, but can he run an offense? Can Dejan Vasiljevic (6-2, 195), who is a scorer and a shooter now but projects as a future point guard? Would Miami run a forward here, like Reed (6-6, 205), who did it as a freshman?
Shooting guard: The rail-thin Rashad Muhammad (6-6, 160) was a two-time leading scorer for San Jose State and is a shooter. Is there more to his game, like defensive ability? James Palmer (6-5, 202) is beloved by his teammates — several say he is the funniest guy on the team — but he wasn’t able to earn consistent minutes as a sophomore. He’s still young for his class, having arrived on campus as a 17-year-old, and could make a leap. He’ll have to hold off Brown, an aggressive defender and scorer, and Vasiljevic, who has been a standout player in international tournaments.
Small forward: Reed seems like the starter here, unless he’s playing elsewhere. Anthony Lawrence Jr. (6-7, 210) could be Miami’s swiss-army knife, able to play and guard 1-through-4. Palmer can play here, too. The Hurricanes’ wings are largely interchangeable. It would be no surprise to see Muhammad here if Brown is in the game as a rugged 2-guard.
Power forward: Murphy is a natural 4, but there’s no Jekiri at the 5. The scouting report on Huell (6-9, 220) is that he’s a high-energy rebounder and shot blocker who can drive, has a feel in the post and can finish at the rim. He’s talented enough to play early and NBA scouts will be watching him plenty. Can he play here and Murphy plays the five, giving Miami a pair of springy big men? Would Lawrence bulk up and play here? If Miami can’t get a ready-made starter at this or another position, is there a big-bodied transfer out there who can provide defense and fouls off the bench?
A thought from Murphy:
“I’m not satisfied. I will say I’m grateful to be on this team, though. We had a great year. Our goal was not to get to the Sweet 16 and lose, so I’m definitely not satisfied with that. We have a lot of guys leaving and a lot of new guys coming in. My job is to preach the same principles to the new guys so we can have the same kind of team next year.”
Center: The weight room needs to be the summer home for Ebuka Izundu (6-10, 210). If he puts on about 20 pounds, he appears be a starter — with a Jekiri-like development curve but much more offensive game. Miami has a more traditional big man in freshman Rodney Miller, who is listed at 6-11 and various weights up to 250, but ESPN’s scouting report of him criticized him for his lack of conditioning and “motor.” Good news: Miami’s coaching staff has proven it can help players improve their physical and mental strength.
Caputo, talking about the importance of strength gains, brought up Izundu as an example.“He can be a very good player in this program,” Caputo said. “He’s got to get stronger. He can’t be the weight he is today and give us the opportunity to beat teams like we played tonight. But he’s got some abilities, and he knows physically where he needs to be. Our freshmen will be in that same boat.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After being part of one of the most successful eras in program history, all four of the Hurricanes’ seniors will likely play professional ball, and three will get prime chances to work out in front of NBA scouts.
“That’s great for them,” Caputo said. “They invite the best seniors. Every NBA team will be there.”
Caputo said he believed guard Sheldon McClellan will be invited to the NBA’s scouting combine in Chicago in May. On his draft stock: “We hear everything from late first [round] to early second,” Caputo said.
He added that he expected forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, a native of Madrid, Spain, will play in Europe.
“We owe a lot to those guys,” Caputo said. “They had great careers for us.”
The PIT, held April 13-16 in Portsmouth, Va., is an invite-only, four-day, 12-game showcase for 64 seniors. It is attended by representatives from every NBA team and international scouts. According to the showcase’s website, former Miami star Rick Barry, Earl‘The Pearl” Monroe, Dave Cowens, John Stockton and Scottie Pippen are among the players who have starred there in the tournament’s 63 years. More recently: 2015 NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler played there.
Guess who else landed invites to the PIT? A young Jim Larranaga, after his senior year at Providence in 1971, as well as recent Hurricanes Rion Brown, Durand Scott, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson.