FBI probe clouds outlook for Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Hurricanes begin their seventh season under coach Jim Larranaga with high hopes and a sense of dread.
The roster might be the most talented in the program’s history and includes two players — sophomore Bruce Brown and freshman Lonnie Walker IV — widely projected as NBA first-round draft picks next year. But there’s also the strain and stain of an FBI investigation into college basketball that has raised questions about Larranaga’s relationship with Adidas, which has a sponsorship deal with the school.
Larranaga says he has done nothing wrong, and has spoken little with his players about the investigation since it became public in September.
“We met with our team the day that this broke in the news for three minutes,” Larranaga says. “That conversation is the last conversation we’ve had with our players. We’ve just been very, very focused on practicing and getting ready for this season.”
While the FBI crackdown on corruption in the sport clouds Miami’s outlook, here are things to know about what’s likely to happen on the court:
RETURNING: Brown became the Hurricanes’ top player last season, when they won 21 games and reached the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years. He was at his best against the best, scoring 30 and 21 points against North Carolina, and 25 against Duke. There’s room for improvement, he says. “I’ve heard I was one of the worst college basketball players to shoot off the dribble,” Brown says. “I was like, ‘That’s terrible.’ So I needed to work on that a lot.”
Returnees also include senior point guard Ja’Quan Newton, shooting guard Dejan Vasiljevic, 6-11 forward Dewan Huell and 6-10 Ebuka Izundu.
“I think this is going to be a season to remember,” says Newton, who helped the Hurricanes reach the Sweet 16 two years ago. “We’re just so deep and talented.”
NEWCOMERS: Walker IV is Miami’s most highly touted recruit under Larranaga. The 6-4 guard was Mr. Basketball in Pennsylvania and widely considered one of the nation’s top 15 prospects. He tore his meniscus this summer and was sidelined for more than two months but has joined practice. Larranaga says Walker IV and Brown might both be pros a year from now, but they say they’re focused on this season. “Bruce and I don’t talk about NBA at all,” Walker IV says. “Bruce knows he has the talent and knows what he can do next year if he wants to go to the pros, but we never talk about it. We’re worrying about this season and playing all the ACC teams and the national championship. We’re worried about at the moment.”
The freshman class also includes 6-10 Australian Deng Gak, who will be redshirted, and 5-7 guard Chris Lykes.
OUTSIDE THREAT: One of the Hurricanes’ shooting drills, named for Kevin Durant, involves trying to score 100 points in three minutes. Vasiljevic recently scored 159. “Pretty spectacular,” Larranaga says. “He missed four shots.” Vasiljevic made 51 3-pointers a year ago as a freshman while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc.
INSIDE THREAT? Izundu weighed 201 pounds when he joined the program as a freshman two years ago. The Nigerian is now listed at 231. “He has grown into a man and is playing like that in practice,” Larranaga says. “If he had the same confidence in himself that I have in him, he could be an all-league player.”
DEFENSE: The Hurricanes ranked second in the ACC in scoring defense a year ago, but that end of the court will be the biggest challenge for this season’s young team. “Our freshman and sophomore class is very talented,” Larranaga says. “I think we’re going to be able to score points. I just don’t know if we’re going to be able to stop anybody.”
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