The rest of Miami basketball’s next wave has arrived on campus.
Transfer guard Miles Wilson and three freshmen — point guard Chris Lykes, wing Lonnie Walker and forward Deng Gak — enrolled and began summer classes Monday. They are able to participate in summer workouts, well in advance of UM’s October official practices.
Walker, a five-star recruit who garnered McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American honors, is arguably UM’s most ballyhooed recruit ever. ESPN rated the 6-foot-4, 192-pound shooting guard No. 12 among all players nationally and the second-best at his position.
Lykes (5-7, 160) was a four-star prospect rated 46th nationally and 12th among point guards. Gak (6-10, 195) was 92nd overall and the 16th-best power forward. Forward Sam Waardenburg (6-9, 205), currently competing for New Zealand at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, is a 2017 recruit who enrolled in January and redshirted. He is not rated by ESPN, but considered a four-star-level prospect.
Wilson, a Mount St. Mary’s transfer, is the only newcomer who will not play this season. He will sit out to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
ESPN considers the freshmen class — including Waardenburg — the 10th-best in the country. That is Miami’s highest ESPN ranking ever. Ahead of the Hurricanes in year’s ESPN top 10 is Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, UCLA, Texas, Louisville, Missouri, Alabama and Florida State.
Miami is 13th in Scout’s rankings, ninth in 247Sports’ and 14th in Rivals’.
A couple notes from the Canes hoops side of things …
Five-star signee Lonnie Walker — arguably the most heralded basketball recruit Miami has ever had, at least in this millennium — is making an impression among a star-studded group at the McDonald’s All-American Game practices. Reports from camp say Walker “shot the lights out” and showed his usual length and athleticism.
A highlight tape:
What they said:
Lonnie Walker just put on a show in a scrimmage where the three UK commits were beaten badly. Lost 21-8 in about a five minute stretch.
Walker also spoke to USA Today about his McDonald’s All-American experience, which culminates with the game (7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN).
Last Saturday, Walker scored 22 points to lead Reading (Pa.) High to its first state title, a crowning achievement “for a program steeped in history and rooted deep into the heart of a troubled community,” PennLive.com wrote. Walker will always be a hero in Reading for that, and this: Rather than join an elite private school or prep program, Walker stayed at his public school and lifted the group that surrounded him growing up.
* Walker wasn’t the only Miami signee honored this week. Chris Lykes, the 5-foot-7 point guard from Gonzaga (D.C.), was named a USA Today third-team All-American.
* A tweet Tuesday from longtime Boston-area reporter Mark Blaudschun said UM associate head coach Chris Caputo, who has worked under Jim Larranaga his entire professional career, interviewed for the UMass job. To clarify, a source told The Post, that interview took place last week, before Pat Kelsey accepted and then backed out of the job. UMass did reach out to Caputo again, but hadn’t made a decision as of Tuesday afternoon.
Caputo, 36, is a 2002 graduate of Westfield (Mass.) State, located about 30 miles south of Amherst. He joined Larranaga’s staff at George Mason after college.
If he pulls that off in a college game, he’ll reach legendary status.
Lykes’ height could hamper his college potential, but ESPN’s scouting report paints a different picture. The website compared Lykes to Muggsy Bogues — a 5-3 point guard who left Wake Forest as the ACC’s career leader in assists and steals.
“Here is a vote for Chris being more like Bogues than a mere spark off the bench,” ESPN wrote. “This deft QB knows pace, has abundant skill and will riddle ACC defenses.”
If Lykes is a combination of Bogues and Webb, he’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
The best recruiting class in Miami history just got better.
Well, sort of.
ESPN boosted its ratings for each of the Hurricanes’ three high school signees in 2017. That moved Miami’s class up to No. 7 nationally, its highest-ever ranking by the outlet.
Shooting guard Lonnie Walker, a McDonald’s All-American, jumped one spot to No. 18 on ESPN’s list. Point guard Chris Lykes (No. 46) moved up seven. Power forward Deng Gak (No. 92) climbed two places.
UM also has New Zealand forward Sam Waardenburg, who is already on campus. He is considered a four-star talent who could have cracked the rankings, but ESPN includes only North American high school players in its top 100.
ESPN’s take on the class:
The Hurricanes were already in good shape with a pair of ESPN 100 products on board in Chris Lykes and Deng Gak while they simultaneously built their pipeline into the Australia and New Zealand corner of the world with a commitment from Samuel Waardenburg, who is expected to join the team at mid-year. But a commitment from five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker punctuated Jim Larranaga’s best recruiting class yet. Wardenburg was one of the biggest International standouts from last summer’s Adidas Nations event and is a skilled 6-foot-9 forward who specializes in shooting the 3 and spacing the floor. Lykes may be just 5-foot-6, but he is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country with the ball in his hands and certainly won’t be bad for season ticket sales. Gak is an undeniable talent, yet more of a long-term option, who should grow into an impact player down the road. Walker is the gem as he is a big guard who can make shots in bunches from behind the 3-point line and is an athletic playmaker in the open floor.
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.”
Lykes, listed at 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, is ESPN’s 11th-best point guard and 52nd player in the 2017 class. The website’s scouting report called him “a constant threat on the offensive end of the floor” who “can go wherever he wants with the ball.”
Like five-star guard and fellow future Hurricane Lonnie Walker, Lykes is on the preseason watch list for the Naismith National High School Player of the Year award.
A name to watch for 2018: five-star prospect Moses Brown. A 7-foot, 225-pound center, Brown told Rivals this week that Miami is among several top programs recruiting him. Brown, listed by Rivals as the 17th-best player in the 2018 class (ESPN has him 19th), plays at Larranaga’s alma mater: Archbishop Molloy High in Queens, N.Y. The Hurricanes do not yet have a commit for 2018.
Two more connections that could help the Hurricanes next recruiting cycle: Ontario-born five-star forward Simi Shittu plays at the same school (Vermont Academy) as Hurricanes freshman standout Bruce Brown. Shittu (6-8, 210) is ESPN’s fourth-rated player for 2018. Washington, D.C. shooting guard Prentiss Hubb (ESPN’s 53rd-best player) plays for the same high school (Gonzaga) as Lykes.
For 2019, UM remains highly interested in the top two local players: Davie-University School standouts Vernon Carey Jr. and Balsa Koprivica. We wrote a little about Carey (ESPN’s fifth-best prospect for 2019) and Koprivica (11th) here.
Second-year assistant coach Adam Fisher,who like Walker hails from the suburbs northeast of Philadelphia, discovered him early, identified him as a must-get for Miami, and kept in daily contact. On Walker’s official visit last month, Hurricanes players made him feel at home. Liz Larranaga, Jim’s wife, bonded with Walker’s mother.
One of the unsung heroes: a group of UM boosters who let the team use their private jet. That allowed Miami to send four coaches to Reading, Pa. multiple times — without taxing their recruiting budget, or causing schedule conflicts during a hectic period where recruiting collides with the start of the season. Instead of one or two coaches showing up, Jim Larranaga and all three assistants — Fisher, Chris Caputo and Jamal Brunt — were a large and regular presence.
“We rolled four-deep,” Larranaga said by phone Wednesday, hours after Walker signed his letter of intent. “I think that made an impression on Lonnie and his family.”
Speaking of impressions: the Hurricanes turned heads nationally by signing a top-10 recruiting class last year for the first time, and they might do it again. After signing Walker, ESPN’s No. 19 overall player and the fourth-best shooting guard, Miami moved to No. 9 in 247Sports’ rankings, and No. 11 in Scout’s. Rivals rated UM’s class No. 17 before Walker’s commitment. ESPN had it No. 22.
Late Tuesday, Walker called the Hurricanes to say he chose them over Arizona, Kentucky, Syracuse and hometown Villanova, the defending national champions. Is there a measure of satisfaction in beating those blue-bloods for blue-chippers?
“All coaches are such competitors, and we all battle so hard in the recruiting arena to find the right guys for our programs,” Larranaga said. “He would have fit in anywhere. But I think he felt most comfortable with us, our players, coaches, the university. That’s what’s very satisfying, knowing we have a player who really did his research and felt like we were the right place for him.”
What type of player is Walker? Recruiting analysts tab him as an attacking wing, who uses his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to score in great numbers.
“The first thing I noticed about Lonnie was his speed in the open court,” Larranga said. “I kidded him one time on the phone, I was watching the Olympics and I was watching Usain Bolt win the 100-meter dash. I told him he reminds me of Usain Bolt when he gets in the open court. He doesn’t run — he glides. He can finish with a dunk in traffic because of his speed and acceleration and elevation. But he’s also a very good three-point shooter and he shoots a good percentage from three.
“To add a player of Lonnie’s caliber continues to elevate our program and our ability to compete with the best teams in the country. If you watched that Kansas-Duke game last night, they’ve got a lot of great players. We want to be able to compete with them and the first thing you have to do is compete in recruiting.”
On his official visit, Walker was quickly at ease with fellow Philly-area recruits Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton, fellow alumni of Team Final AAU. He got on board with 2016 five-star recruits Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell, who told him he could be a part of something special. He liked the potential Miami’s other signees, like top-100 recruits Chris Lykes and Deng Gak. His family — including an uncle that paid his own way, to satisfy NCAA rules — had coaches answer their questions about academics and basketball.
“It was a great team effort,” Larranaga said. “Sometimes things just click. That weekend went according to script. We wanted to make sure we touched every base. … There were so many things we had to show them to make sure it was a good fit for him.”
It appears Miami will have a balanced roster returning next year, with two elite-level recruiting classes backing up veterans like point guard Newton, junior forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. and center Ebuka Izundu. Even if the forces that afflict rosters across the country — transfers and early NBA draft declarations — surface at UM, the Hurricanes should be well-positioned.
“Very, very pleased with my coaching staff and the direction we’re going in,” Larranaga said. “But recruiting is like breathing. You’ve got to do it every day, and you’ve got to do it a lot.”
With an instantly memorable picture edit, Lonnie Walker announced his commitment to Miami.
Walker, a five-star shooting guard rated one of the 20 best players in the 2017 recruiting class, posted an illustration of himself and UM coach Jim Larranaga as boxers, saying he’s “officially a Cane.” ESPN reported he signed his letter of intent.
The image, a composite of famous Muhammad Ali photos, could be a nod to Larranaga’s “Ali shuffle” dance during the 2013 NCAA tournament. There’s a chance Larranaga did that dance Wednesday morning.
His commitment gives Miami another blue-chip player for next season. Last Wednesday, the Hurricanes signed D.C.-based point guard Chris Lykes (No. 52 in ESPN’s top 100) and Australian power forward Deng Gak (No. 93). New Zealand forward Sam Waardenburg will arrive in January.
Last year, the Hurricanes signed two five-star players, guard Bruce Brown and power forward Dewan Huell, along with top-100 center Rodney Miller and Australian guard DJ Vasiljevic.
Next year’s team will graduate Reed, a wing,and forward Kamari Murphy. It will have Newton, a senior in his second year as a starter, running the point. Brown returns at two-guard, with shooters Vasiljevic and senior Rashad Muhammad coming off the bench. Versatile junior Anthony Lawrence Jr. would likely be the starting small forward, with Huell and two-year starter Ebuka Izundu, a junior,at center, and sophomore Rodney Miller and redshirt junior transfer Michael Gilmore in the mix.
Larranaga, whose program lost three scholarships in the last three years because of NCAA violations a previous coaching staff committed, has put together a roster with balance. Next season, UM will have its full allotment of 13 scholarships. Lykes will get to learn from Newton, Walker from Brown, Waardenburg from Lawrence, and Gak from Huell and Izundu. UM should have toughness and balance on the perimeter, and length and athleticism inside.
That’s the stuff that puts coaches — and fans — in a dancing mood.
The Hurricanes, who opened this year with a 92-43 win over Western Carolina, visit North Florida on Wednesday.
The Hurricanes, hardly a basketball blue-blood, turned heads last year by signing a class of elite talent.
Jim Larranaga and his staff have a chance to do it again.
Five-star wing Lonnie Walker, who plans to sign Wednesday, has narrowed his choices to Miami and Arizona, according to 247Sports.
Walker, 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, is the No. 19 player in the nation according to ESPN, and the fourth-best shooting guard.
Arizona would lock up the top-ranked 2017 recruiting class if it landed him. Last week, UM’s recruiting class was rated as high as 14th, per Rivals.
Wednesday is the last day of the early signing period. Two top-100 players, D.C.-area point guard Chris Lykes and Australian power forward Deng Gak, signed with UM last Wednesday. Forward Sam Waardenburg,from New Zealand, will arrive on campus in January. Lykes and Gak will enroll next summer.
In its scouting report, ESPN praised Walker for his athleticism, playmaking and scoring, saying he puts “relentless pressure” on defenses with his slash-and-score game. Those were reasons he was also a top target of Kentucky, Syracuse and Villanova, which is located about an hour southeast of his Pennsylvania hometown (Reading).
He visited all those schools, but saw Miami first. He told Rivals he hung out with junior point guard Ja’Quan Newton, who played for his AAU squad, Team Final.
“I liked the environment,” Walker said. “I meshed with the players, I meshed with the coaches really well and it was a great, great, great visit.”
DraftExpress’ scouting report praised him for his “outstanding physical tools” and said he has “a world of talent,” though his consistency and intensity can improve (DX also has an interview with Walker, who talks about his life off the court. He likes Animal Planet.)
In Coral Gables, he could join a program on the rise.
Miami, which is coming off its second Sweet 16 appearance in the last four years, last year beat out Indiana for five-star guard BruceBrown, and Florida State and South Carolina for five-star forward Dewan Huell. They joined four-star center Rodney Miller and Australian guard DJ Vasiljevic to give Miami arguably its most talented recruiting class ever. It was rated in the top 10 of most recruiting services.
A year after signing their highest-rated recruiting class in recent memory, the Hurricanes will bring in at least two top-100 prospects in 2017.
Point guard Chris Lykes and big man Deng Gak signed letters of intent on Wednesday, the first day of the non-football early signing period.
They are two of three players who publicly pledged to UM. Forward Sam Waardenburg, a 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward from New Zealand, is the other. He will arrive on campus in January, while Lykes and Gak will enroll next summer.
UM’s basketball recruiting class was rated 14th nationally per Rivals, 15th per 247Sports and 25th per Scout. It was not among ESPN’s top 10.
ESPN rates Lykes (5-7, 150) as the 11th-best point guard in the 2017 class, and No. 52 overall. Despite his size, ESPN wrote last August, he is an “explosive” player who can shoot and pass, and has the handle to “go wherever he wants with the ball.” He needs to work on being a “vocal leader” as well as his on-ball defending.
Gak (6-10, 200) projects as a power forward or center. ESPN rated him 16th among power forwards and No. 92 overall. Though he needs to get stronger and play more aggressive, per ESPN, he is “loaded with upside and natural talent.” Gak, who is of Sudanese descent, arrived in the U.S. from Australia in 2015. “Like most international players,” ESPN wrote, Gak may take some time “adjusting to the speed and physicality of the American game.”
Lykes plays at Bowie (Md.) Gonzaga College High. Last June, he committed to Miami over George Washington, Richmond and Villanova.
Gak, from Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy, had offers from Duke, Kansas, UConn, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Providence, Seton Hall and SMU when he chose UM last month.
Miami opens its season at 7 p.m. Friday against Western Carolina (ESPN3.com).