Hurricanes, coach Larranaga face rebuilding job after winning 1st outright league hoops title
MIAMI – With the season about to tip off, reigning Atlantic Coast Conference basketball champion Miami again leads the league, this time in lack of experience.
The Hurricanes are the only ACC team with no returning starters. They return 13 percent of their points from 2012-13, 14 percent of their rebounds and 1 percent of their assists, all league lows.
The team that went 29-7 a year ago and reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament was led by five seniors and sophomore Shane Larkin, now with the Dallas Mavericks.
That leaves 2013 Associated Press coach of the year Jim Larranaga with perhaps the biggest rebuilding job of his long career. He said this season's players are talented but face a steep learning curve.
"It's going to take them some time," Larranaga said. "We have to be very, very patient with them. Some kids learn faster than others. Hopefully once they all learn what we're teaching, we can develop into a very fine team."
Here are five things to know about the Hurricanes:
LARRANAGA'S ABILITY TO REBUILD: The media picked the Hurricanes to finish 12th in the ACC, which has expanded to 15 teams. But while the program has been hit with heavy turnover, the 64-year-old Larranaga is a comfortable constant. He received a three-year extension during the offseason and is now under contract until 2022. Larranaga is 49-20 in two years at Miami and has a career record of 519-354. While the players have changed this season, his approach hasn't. "He's the same Coach L," senior forward Erik Swoope said. "The philosophies, mentality, drive and success are the same."
LARKIN REPLACEMENTS: The Hurricanes' No. 0 is gone to the NBA after finishing sixth last season in voting for the John R. Wooden Award. Three players are competing to succeed him at point guard — Garrius Adams, a versatile 6-6 senior whose career has been curtailed by injuries, and freshmen Manu Lecomte and Deandre Burnett. Former Kansas State starting point guard Angel Rodriguez will sit out the season as a transfer.
BROWN THE NEW LEADER: Rion Brown, the son of former Georgia Tech player Tico Brown, is the only returning player who was part of the rotation last season. The 6-foot-6 Brown averaged 6.4 points per game, and he scored 21 points with five 3s in a victory over Illinois that sent Miami to the round of 16. Miami will also count on scoring from 7-foot sophomore Tonye Jekiri, a Nigerian who has bulked up from 215 pounds year ago to nearly 240 now.
HOME CROWDS: Last season's run to the Hurricanes' first outright league basketball title was a box office hit. A succession of sellout crowds transformed Miami's traditionally sleepy gym into a raucous environment. But the program has perennially been overshadowed by college football and South Florida's four professional sports teams, and Miami usually ranks last in the ACC in attendance. In the past, Larranaga has cultivated student support by dispatching his players to dormitories to distribute pizza and chicken wings. This season will test his salesmanship.
THE WAIT FOR AN NCAA RULING IS OVER: The Hurricanes will lose one basketball scholarship in each of the next three seasons as a result of NCAA sanctions stemming from allegations by former booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro. The announcement last week lifted a cloud of uncertainty that had hung over the basketball and football programs for more than two years. Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith, who preceded Larranaga at Miami, will miss the first five games of the Tigers' season because of his role in the scandal.