Jim Larranaga: FBI college hoops scandal has grabbed ‘a lot of very innocent people’; Lonnie Walker draft status

Jim Larranaga (Getty Images)
Jim Larranaga (Getty Images)

[Brown turns pro, will not hire agent]

In a Sunday morning radio interview with Hurricanes broadcaster Joe Zagacki, Jim Larranaga made his first comments in several months on the college basketball pay-for-play scandal that ensnared Miami and multiple other big-name programs, saying the situation has affected “a lot of very innocent people.”

Larranaga denied any wrongdoing in the days after the Sept. 26 release of Department of Justice report of a federal sting that exposed a tangled web of shoe company executives, coaches, street agents and high-level recruits.

Miami was revealed to be ‘University-7’ in the federal report. Larranaga later stated he was ‘Coach-3,’ who in the report was said to have known about other men engaging in a bidding war for a high-level recruit.

UM was not named in subsequent reporting by Yahoo, which last month published FBI documents implicating a host of top programs and players, including NCAA Tournament participants Alabama, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Texas.

The college basketball season has reached the Final Four, with the full extent of the investigation and any subsequent sanctions unknown to Miami and any other program involved.

“The distractions, they’re always going to be there,” Larranaga told Zagacki on WQAM’s Hurricanes Weekly show. “We don’t know how long this thing will last. It has now grabbed a lot of people, and brought a lot of very innocent people into the circle. Hopefully one day soon it will all be over with. But in the meantime, my staff and I are preparing for next season already.”

ESPN reported up to three dozen Division I programs could face NCAA penalties. Yahoo estimated as many as 50. It’s fair to wonder if this year’s champion will wind up vacating its title — or, far more importantly, if this will spur the NCAA to meaningfully address the relationship between the unpaid athletes who compete under its banner, the clandestine market that pays them, and the reason that market exists in the first place.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York dropped federal charges against Jonathan Brad Augustine, the former director of the Orlando-based 1Family travel team. He was accused of conspiring with other men, including a former Adidas executive, to pay high school players to sign with Louisville and Miami. One of the players was five-star wing Nassir Little, who later signed with North Carolina. Larranaga and Little’s family said they did nothing wrong.

 

Larranaga, 68, did not comment on the situation during Miami’s 22-12 season, which ended with a March 15 loss to Loyola-Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Zagacki said Larranaga “should be commended” for keeping his concentration on his team, “not knowing how hard it was or could have been, you couldn’t tell by the job you did during the year.”

“I appreciate your thoughtful comments,” Larranaga told Zagacki. “I think you know, I’m a very sensitive person. I’m very, very protective of my reputation and the reputation of our basketball program at Miami. When the big story, the scandal, broke back in September, I was more shocked than anybody, and did not feel that we should have ever been included in any of this. But because we were, we had to deal with it. But even though I was, I didn’t think this had anything to do with my players. So we tried to keep everything away from the team, and allow them to focus and become the best team they could possibly become.

“Bruce Brown’s quote early in the year said it best. When he was asked about me and how I was handling it, he said, ‘I think Coach L likes to be about the players. … He smiles most when he’s with us. And that is so very true.”

Asked about his roster entering next season — which may not include Brown, a sophomore who announced last week he will test the NBA Draft waters, or another NBA prospect, freshman Lonnie Walker — Larranaga said his belief is college teams have the most success when they are “old,” or laden with veteran players.

“We might try to do it with some transfers,” he said, “but we also have to open our options to signing high school players, guys that might stay three or four years.”

Walker’s father, Lonnie Walker III, told his hometown Reading (Pa.) Eagle his son was “50-50” on returning to Miami for another year. Larranaga said last week Walker had yet to make up his mind. Walker, who told the Post after UM’s final game he planned to take time off, was unavailable for comment.

In a top 100 ranking of NBA draft prospects released last Tuesday, ESPN rated Walker 15th. Brown was 29th.

Underclassmen have until May 16 to declare for the draft — and if they do not hire an agent, June 11 to withdraw and return to school.

The NBA combine is May 16-20. The draft is June 21.

SPRING FOOTBALL  2018 

[Recruiting: Sean Taylor’s cousin decommits from Miami]
[Saturday notes: QB mobility, RB change, OL absent, DE ‘problem]
[A look at Miami’s expected depth chart through three practices]
[7 talking points with Blake James, incl. UM-FIU at Marlins Park]
[Video: The most interesting quotes from UM spring practice]
[UM Sports HOF ceremony date; Mark Richt spring speaking tour]

[Porter’s Day 2 recap, video chat]
[Watch N’Kosi Perry, Miami QBs throw at practice]
[Jackson hoping to prove he’s no one-hit wonder]
[DL believes it still has talent to excel]

[Rosier: If UM isn’t ‘dominating ACC, something’s wrong]
[Perry stepping up as a leader, teammate says]
[Lingard a ‘freak,’ two other freshmen stand out]
[Early observations from Miami practice]
[10 important storylines to follow]

Miami Hurricanes’ Bruce Brown declares for NBA draft, will not hire agent

Bruce Brown (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

[Watch: N’Kosi Perry, other Miami QBs throwing Thursday]

Bruce Brown is testing the waters.

UM said Thursday that Brown, the sophomore guard, has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent. That would allow him to participate in the pre-draft process, including the NBA combine, but return to school if he wants.

In an Instagram post, Brown was excited to share the news.

“Been waiting or this my whole life!!!” he wrote. “I’m declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft.”

He did not say that he was going sans agent.

Brown, 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, missed the final 12 games of the season because of a foot injury. A stress fracture of his fifth metatarsal on his left foot kept him in a walking boot from Feb. 1, when he had surgery, to March 13. He was in uniform and warmed up with his teammates before UM’s 64-62 loss to Loyola-Chicago last Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas.

The NBA combine is May 16-20 in Chicago. Brown would almost certainly be invited to that. The dateline for a early entrant to withdraw from the draft is June 11. The NBA Draft is June 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

NBADraft.net projects Brown, a Boston native and former five-star recruit, as the No. 55 overall player available. He was projected as a potential lottery pick before the season, in which he averaged 11.4 points and led UM with 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists. His shooting percentages dipped, a worry for scouts. Brown’s 3-point shooting regressed from 34.7 percent as a freshman to 26.7. His field goal rate sank from 45.9 to 41.5. He also made 62.9 percent of his free throws, compared to 74.4 percent in his first season. His rebounding (5.6 to 7.1) and assists (3.2 to 4.0) rose, however.

He posted one of the best debut seasons in UM history in 2016-17, setting school reords for in points (391), field goals made (134) and minutes played (1,053) by a freshman. He scored a Miami freshman single-game record 30 points in a win over over No. 9 North Carolina and 25 of his team’s 55 points in a win over No. 10 Duke.

His triple-double in Miami’s 2017-18 season opener against Gardner-Webb (10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) was the second triple-double in his career, the third in program history and the 31st in ACC history. He is the sixth player in conference history with two career triple-doubles.

Lonnie Walker yet to make NBA draft call, Jim Larranaga says

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 08: Lonnie Walker IV #4 of the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes reacts in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the quarterfinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 8, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

[Rosier: If UM isn’t ‘dominating ACC, something’s wrong]
[Perry stepping up as a leader, teammate says]
[Lingard a ‘freak,’ two other freshmen stand out]
[Early observations from Miami practice]
[10 important storylines to follow]

Lonnie Walker hasn’t made a decision on the NBA draft, coach Jim Larranaga said Tuesday on 560 WQAM.

“I don’t know what Lonnie will decide,” he said. “I feel certain he feels this was a positive year for him emotionally and in basketball…if he does decide to go, we certainly wish him the best.”

Walker is seen as a potential lottery pick, most recently mock-drafted 14th overall by ESPN. There’s “no question in my mind,” Larranaga said, “that Lonnie can play in the NBA.”

Is now the right time?

“I don’t know if any of those kids” who are drafted in the first round and wind up in the G League “regret that,” Larranaga said.

“Everybody’s got an opinion. He’s going to get a lot of opinions. … If he’s back next year, I’m going to be thrilled to have the opportunity to coach him again. If not, some NBA coach” will think the same thing.

* On how the season ended: “You certainly second-guess yourself and everything you did, offensively and defensively. Maybe it’ll help you next season.” He said he has talked to Newton about getting his degree in May, underclassmen, and NBA-ready guys — including Walker. He was not asked about sophomore Bruce Brown, another player who will have a stay-or-go choice to make.

* After Walker hit a pair of free throws, Larranaga had decided to foul and keep Loyola from attempting a 3. Only problem: Walker missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

* “It was one of those games — we finished 8-2 in games decided by five points or less,” Larranaga said. Boston College and Loyola were the losses. It was “pretty hard to take” a buzzer-beater to end the season, but he credited Loyola for reaching the Sweet 16. He said he personally regrets that he couldn’t do enough to get Miami past Loyola and to the next round.

* Reflecting on the wild tournament so far, Larranaga called it “unreal, unbelievable” that Virginia lost and Nevada came from 22 points down to beat Cincinnati. “Great drama,” he said. “That’s what this is. It’s the greatest sporting event.”

* Larranaga, 68, joked that he wouldn’t be around in 20 years. However: “If I am, I hope I get to recruit and coach guys like I had on the 2017-18 team.”

Hard to predict what 2018-19 Miami Hurricanes will look like

Lonnie Walker could take his high-flying game to the pros. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Teammates not blaming Walker for loss
Heartbreak for Hurricanes on last-second shot

DALLAS — Chris Lykes wanted a memento of his first NCAA Tournament experience. In a somber locker room after Miami fell to Loyola on a last-second shot, Lykes noticed a few teammates pulling “March Madness” placards off the walls.  He snatched one, too.

He plans to display it where he can see it daily.

“I already know people are probably going to count us out starting now,” Lykes said, “but we’ve got a good group coming back. We’ve got some athleticism, I have a year under my belt so I’ll be more of a leader, so you can expect that from me. It starts now. I’m definitely going to be in the gym a lot. This really hurt me.”

Jim Larranaga can count on a motivated point guard entering his sophomore year.

Beyond that? He’s not so sure.

“What you see now would be great if we had everybody back next year,” Larranaga said. “If we did, I’d feel very, very strongly that we’d have a great team.

“In today’s college game, there’s no way to predict at this early stage how you’re going to look next year with the number of kids that transfer, guys that go pro, injuries, recruiting.”

[Potential losses leave UM in tough spot]

Miami (22-10) graduates one senior, guard Ja’Quan Newton. It would be overjoyed if freshman guard Lonnie Walker and sophomore Bruce Brown return instead of enter the NBA Draft. They could combine with Lykes to create one of the ACC’s most exciting backcourts. The frontcourt, featuring junior Dewan Huell and seniors Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Ebuka Izundu, would be filled with upperclassmen who can score and defend.

“One of the things my staff and I have wanted to do and haven’t been able to do is stay older, have a more experienced team. I think that plays very well into postseason. I think the older guys who have been through it normally play well. I think younger guys have it a little more challenging,” Larranaga said.

“Right now, we only have one scholarship senior. We have two guys sitting out. So if everybody would return, that would be like 11 guys. We still have two scholarships to give. But in today’s game, I have no idea. I look around our league, and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at those places, either.”

Miami’s issues run deeper than just Newton graduating and two potential NBA departures. Click here for a more detailed look.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Teammates not blaming Lonnie Walker for Miami Hurricanes’ loss

Lonnie Walker reacts after his late turnover against Loyola. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

[Hurricane heartbreak: Canes fall on buzzer-beater]

DALLAS — In this season under the microscope, Lonnie Walker made clutch plays. He sank Boston College with 2.3 seconds left. He hit an acrobatic layup to force overtime against Louisville.

The heralded freshman from Reading, Pa., one of the highest-profile recruits Miami has ever landed, had a good year. At times, he was great.

Not so in the final minute of sixth-seeded UM’s first-round 64-62 loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago. His untimely turnover, his foul while defending and his missed free throw that bounced and rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity — Walker had the ball in his hands, and the Hurricanes couldn’t hang on.

“It definitely hurts. Definitely hurts. The ball went their way. There’s no true excuse or explanation or anything to say. I didn’t knock down the final shot. Game over,” he said.

“I definitely take responsibility. That’s what comes with being a good player. I had a turnover and a foul, and I missed the free throw. Definitely a learning experience.”

Fellow freshman Chris Lykes, the Hurricanes’ point guard of the future with Ja’Quan Newton graduating, wouldn’t let Walker’s head drop.

“The kid hit a big shot,” he said of Donte Ingram’s winner. “We didn’t play that well, but down the stretch we got some stops. We can’t blame it on Lonnie’s free throw. There were so many things throughout the game we could have done better. To blame it on Lonnie’s free throw is stupid.”

Had Walker made it, however, Miami would have had more options. It would have given him another. Had he made that, the score would have been 64-61. Jim Larranaga could have called timeout, made any necessary substitutions and set up his defense to foul, putting Loyola at the free-throw line rather than giving the Ramblers a chance to hit a tying 3.

Walker’s teammates weren’t thinking that way. They were sore over the plays they made, or didn’t make.  Sophomore forward Dewan Huell, who had two costly turnovers in the final 2:10, also blamed himself for allowing 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Cameron Krutwig to back him down and score on his first two touches.

“That gave them momentum,” Huell said.

Coach Jim Larranaga didn’t think Walker’s closing stretch was the difference.

“I thought the biggest statistic that separated us is they had 19 assists,” he said. “We only had 11. They found the open man a little bit more than we did, despite the fact that we shot 51 percent from the field, better than their 47, and 44 percent from three better than their 38. And neither one of us shot well from the foul line. We shot 61 percent. They shot 44 percent.

“When I look at those numbers, I think to myself, we probably would have won the game, but we didn’t. They made the last big play.”

After the loss, Walker, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound NBA draft prospect projected by some websites as a lottery pick, wanted to escape for a few days. “I have to relax and gather myself,” he said. “I’ll just get away from the game, focus on me and my friends, get back to myself.”

He wasn’t sure when he would decide his future. “I need to speak to God, speak to my family and friends and my coaches,” he said. “We’ll make the ultimate decision after that.”

His review of the season?

“It was extraordinary,” he said. “I’m proud of myself. I’m more proud of my teammates for fighting through adversity.

“It definitely hurts seeing a shot like that go in, but I’m proud of my team and how we fought and how we played. Hats off to them, and hope they do well in the tournament.”

2018 NCAA Tournament: Heartbreak for Hurricanes on Loyola-Chicago’s first-round buzzer-beater

Loyola’s Donte Ingram celebrates after his winning 3-pointer sinks Miami in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at American Airlines Center on March 15, 2018 in Dallas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DALLAS — Tear off the final page of the script, and it would have been a wonderful tale for Miami.

It would have started like this: guard Ja’Quan Newton, the lone senior on a talented but youthful squad, overcame his troubles to hit the biggest shot of his college career: a 16-foot fallaway jumper with 39 seconds left, which broke a 60-all tie and sent Miami to the second round.

After that, however, there was much to be written.

And the central theme was Hurricane heartbreak.

A turnover and a missed free throw by Lonnie Walker, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Donte Ingram and Miami (22-10) was done, knocked out of the South regional of the NCAA Tournament. The final score: 64-62.

Loyola (29-5), the 11th seed and champion of the Missouri Valley Conference, handed the sixth-seeded Hurricanes their second first-round loss in as many seasons. Last year, Michigan State trounced Miami in Tulsa. That game was over early. This one had punches and counterpunches, ebbs and flows, and plenty of mistakes on either side.

Miami made the ones most critical.

Ja’Quan Newton (left) and Chris Lykes react after Loyola’s upset win. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Walker, a freshman guard, NBA draft prospect and most heralded recruit to sign with UM in recent memory, fouled Loyola’s Marques Townes with 26 seconds left. Townes made 1-of-2, but with the Ramblers pressing and Walker dribbling the ball up the left side, guard Lucas Williamson slapped the ball out of Walker’s hands, off his leg and out of bounds, giving possession to Loyola with 23.5 on the clock.

With 9.3 left, Walker’s foul shot hit the front of the rim, the back, then bounced on the edge four times before falling off.

“There’s no true excuse or explanation or anything to say,” he said. “I didn’t knock down the final shot. Game over.”

Freshman Sam Waardenburg, whose offensive rebound helped put Walker at the line, couldn’t get this one. Loyola’s Ben Richardson hauled it in and hit Townes, who raced up the court. He saw Ingram trailing the play, spotting up from 28 feet.

Splash. Celebration. The Ramblers, playing their first tournament game since 1985, piled on Ingram. They hugged Sister Jean Schmidt, their lovable 98-year-old team chaplain. Miami players stood in stunned silence. Ten minutes later, as a crowd of 15,802 had mostly cleared, one mid-20s fan in maroon-and-gold screamed in raspy joy, “Can you believe this?” His call echoed around the building.

College basketball fans around the country responded in the affirmative. Loyola was a trendy pick to pull an upset: a Cinderella candidate that played stifling defense, shot a high percentage and won games of significance (beating Florida on the road) and in volume (17 of 18 coming in, 10 in a row). For Miami, the answer to that fan was a quiet, painful, “No.”

Chris Lykes reacts as Loyola celebrates. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I think this is the most hurt I’ve ever been,” said freshman guard Chris Lykes, who had 10 points and six rebounds and sparked an 11-4 run early in the second half. Miami went up seven points with 15:49 left, in control after a sloppy start. Loyola led by seven six minutes in, but by halftime UM tied the game at 32 on another buzzer-beater: DJ Vasiljevic’s offensive rebound and floater.

Miami had a five-point lead with 2:46 to go, but a pair of turnovers by Dewan Huell (11 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) and a 3-pointer by MVC player of the year Clayton Custer helped tie it at 60. The Hurricanes, who average 11 turnovers, had 16.

Newton’s shot would have erased those mistakes. But there was more to be written.

“Well, it’s pretty simple,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “You know why we call it March Madness.”

The Hurricanes shot 51 percent and made 4-of-9 from distance. They outrebounded Loyola and held a 13-3 edge in second-chance points. They helped hold the Ramblers to 8-of-21 from the perimeter. Ingram hit one that will last forever.

Waardenburg wasn’t close enough to block it. Lykes thought he would get a steal before the assist was made. Newton was looking for his man, hoping to get a stop and make free throws to seal a second-round spot.

Huell, waiting for a rebound that never came, saw “the ball going through the net and the buzzer going off.”

And then?

“Tears.”

In a somber locker room, Huell looked dazed.

“Final Four,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. That’s what I thought we were capable of. Not reaching that, this [expletive] just hurts. Everybody had us losing this game and we lost the game. Damn, they were right. That’s a bad feeling.”

2018 NCAA Tournament: Miami Hurricanes want to end Loyola’s Cinderella run before it starts

UM coach Jim Larranaga. (Getty Images)
UM coach Jim Larranaga. (Getty Images)

[Update on Brown’s foot, Walker’s hair]
[At NCAAs, Parkland on Miami’s mind]
[Photos, videos: the Canes do Dallas]

DALLAS — Jim Larranaga knew someone would make the connection. When a reporter referenced his knowledge of how an 11-seed can pull off an NCAA Tournament upset, he made a playful poker face.

“I’ve heard that,” he deadpanned.

Even if Larranaga hadn’t coached the 2006 George Mason Patriots to the Final Four, the 68-year-old has been around long enough to know never to take a plucky mid-major lightly.

“My experience is the seeding doesn’t mean that much,” he said. “It’s how well you play.”

Larranaga knows his sixth-seeded Hurricanes (22-9) need to play “a very, very high level” to beat 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (28-5) in their first-round matchup on Thursday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas (3:10 p.m., truTV). That’s not lip service to an underdog, either.

“They’re actually the favorite if you read all the prognosticators,” Larranaga said. “They’re calling them the Cinderella already. And we’ve got to be sure that we understand the caliber of our opponent has earned [them] an awful lot of respect.”

The Ramblers, the champions of the Mountain Valley Conference, are darlings in Chicago. They are dancing for the first time since 1985 and hoping for their first NCAA title since 1963. They are plenty confident, having won 10 in a row and 18 of 19.

And they are good. Larranaga is a devotee of the advanced stats website KenPom.com, which rates college teams in various metrics. KenPom loves Loyola. It ranks them 40th nationally in combined offensive and defensive efficiency, and 25th in defensive efficiency. Their effective field goal percentage, a blend of shooting percentage with weight given to 3-pointers, is eighth. Those numbers are adjusted for strength of opponent, so don’t dismiss them based on Loyola’s mid-major status. Consider, too, they went to Gainesville on Dec. 6 and beat Florida — the sixth seed in the NCAA’s East region — 65-59.

The Ramblers are a skilled group of shooters, ranking 12th nationally in 3-point shooting (40 percent and 14th on 2-pointers (56.5). They also defend shots well, ranking 37th and 42nd in defense against 3s and 2s, respectively, with a mostly-man scheme.

Miami, four spots ahead of Loyola in combined efficiency, is a larger, arguably more athletic team with a couple weaknesses (free-throw shooting percentage, 66.3 percent; 324th of 351 Division I teams). UM has an above-average offense (51st) and defense (45th), and has limited its turnovers to 16.5 percent of its possessions (48th). It also defends the perimeter well (41st in 3-point shooting against).

The Canes are also relatively inexperienced; they average 1.25 years of experience (307th; 1.70 is the national average). Loyola (1.80) is 146th.

“We just go out there and play hard, and everything will take care of itself,”  said guard Ja’Quan Newton, UM’s only senior. “We’ve got full respect for the team. They’ve got good and talented guards (led by MVC player of the year Clayton Custer). They’ve got a great big man (6-9, 260-pound Cameron Krutwig). So we’re going to take advantage of the pick-and-roll and stuff like that.”

Custer, a 6-1, 185-pound junior who put up 13.4 points and shoots 44 percent from long range, isn’t buying the hype.

“I mean, we’ve definitely seen all this stuff,” he said.  “It’s hard not to see it with today’s social media and stuff like that. We have the ultimate respect for Miami, and we know they’re going to be a really, really good team. They’re one of the top teams in the ACC, so we know they’re going to be good. We’ve done a good job all year of respecting our opponents for sure, but at the same time, we have the confidence that we can go in and play against anybody and win games in this tournament.”

Coach Porter Moser seems Chicago as a city of distractions and “I love it,” he said. “There’s been more people talking about Loyola basketball than in 30-some years. And the guys are handling it because they’re high-character guys. Every practice, every film session has been locked in. And obviously the NCAA Tournament is another level of attention, which is great for them. It’s what they wanted.”

Miami hopes the buzz is short-lived.

Notebook: Bruce Brown on his injury, Lonnie Walker on his hair, DJ Vasiljevic on rims

Bruce Brown watches as Lonnie Walker (right) and teammates run through practice drills on Wednesday. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

[At NCAAs, Parkland on Miami’s mind]
[Photos, videos: the Canes do Dallas]
[A look at the state of Miami basketball]
[Loyola a trendy upset pick over UM]

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.”

Lonnie Walker’s hair was a topic of conversation in Dallas. (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

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.”

Photos, videos: Miami Hurricanes practice at 2018 NCAA Tournament in Dallas

Chris Lykes launches one at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

[At NCAAs, Parkland on Miami’s mind]

DALLAS — A collection of images, still and moving, of the Hurricanes’ practice day at AmericanAirlines Center. Follow me on Twitter @mattyports, on Instagram under the same handle and on Facebook for more content.

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Descending into Madness.

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High-percentage shot from Lonnie Walker.

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Ja’Quan Newton feeling it before practice.

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National Walkout Day: At NCAA Tournament, Miami Hurricanes have Parkland on their minds

Miami guard Lonnie Walker IV wears a “Praying for Stoneman Douglas,” T-shirt during warmups before the start of an NCAA college basketball game against Syracuse, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Coral Gables, Fla. Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz was accused of opening fire Feb. 14 at the Parkland school, killing 17 people. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

[Brown will be in uniform Thursday]
[A look at the state of Miami basketball]
[Loyola a trendy upset pick over UM]

DALLAS — At a press conference Wednesday in advance of their NCAA Tournament opening game, Miami players Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes and Ja’Quan Newton were asked for their thoughts on gun control and the issue of gun violence.

The questions came as thousands of students across the country staged school walkouts, one month after Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

National Walkout Day: Updates from Palm Beach County 

“It was definitely a difficult time for me because I have a couple of friends who had family and friends that went to that school,” Walker said. “Seeing the people upset and crying, it definitely impacts you in a personal way. Just knowing it can happen at any moment, you just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that’s the end of your life.

“Most of those kids went to that school not expecting that to be their last day living. They went to that school to get educated, be knowledgeable and look forward to their future lives, so the fact that they got their lives taken away too quickly is very sad. This national walk, we have to take this seriously because Lord knows what could happen next. It’s all about how we want to make a change.”

Lykes, also a freshman, called gun violence “a national problem that we have,” he said. “It makes me understand that your life can be taken at any moment.  … I think we do definitely need to make this an important issue worldwide. We’ve got to do something about this. We need to continue our focus towards that.”

None of the three players who spoke Wednesday are from South Florida — Walker and Newton hail from the Philadelphia area, Lykes from D.C. — but they live and go to school  there.  Newton, a senior, recalled how Miami and Syracuse wore “Praying for Douglas” t-shirts before their Feb. 17 game, three days after the shooting.

“It was an hour away from us, so it impacted us a lot,” Newton said. “It’s just something that I think should be handled in a very, very calm way by the government.”

Miami (22-9), the No.  6 seed in the South region, faces No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (28-5) at approximately 3:10 p.m. Thursday (truTV).