Miami now stocked with freshmen, transfers

It’s only been 186 days since the Canes’ magical season came to a sudden end. But somehow, Miami has grown nearly unrecognizable after falling to the Golden Eagles of Marquette in the NCAA Sweet 16.

Shane Larkin has left for the NBA (he was a first-round draft pick for the Dallas Mavericks), and Durand Scott and Julian Gamble are trying their luck in Europe (Spain and France, respectively). Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson and Trey McKinney Jones have graduated, so Miami now features a roster with five freshman and four transfers.

The most intriguing transfer case is Donnavan Kirk, who came to Miami in 2009, transferred to – and graduated from – DePaul. Kirk has now come back to Miami for his master’s. He is joined by fellow transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State), Sheldon McClellan (Texas) and James Kelly (Owens Community College).

One of the few familiar faces on the Hurricanes is senior guard Rion Brown, who knows that the success of this upcoming season will largely depend on his leadership and ability to help incoming players transition to the college level.

“I’d say it’s moreso going to be how fast the young guys learn,” Brown said at Miami’s opening media day Friday. “You know, it took us a while when coach [Jim Larranaga] first got here, as you can see the results didn’t really start happening until the next year. So the faster those young guys learn, and the faster we start to mesh and bond a little bit more, the better we’ll be.”

So far, Brown has been impressed with their demeanor.

“All the freshmen, they definitely came here with the right mindset,” Brown said. “That actually kind of surprised me. You always feel like you’re going to have those one or two that you’re going to have to sit down and talk to, ‘Hey this is how it goes.’ But they all came here ready to work. They were in the gym every day, every night, even together.”

Likewise, sophomore Tonye Jekiri has put in a lot of work to become a bigger factor at the center position.

“It’s mainly just a confidence thing for him,” senior Erik Swoope said of his 7-foot teammate. “Last year with so many seniors being around, he just had a respect for them and their games, where this year he understands ‘I am the big man and for us to be successful I have to be a threat.’ And he’s making that transition very quickly.”

But while the younger players continue to make big strides, there is still a degree of uncertainty in the Coral Gables air.

“Last year at this time, I was confident that we had the talent and experience, the skills to compete for a national championship and ACC championship,” Larranaga said Friday. “Going into this season, there are a lot of unknowns. I just don’t know my team well enough, because we have so many new faces.”

A huge question mark for the Hurricanes is the point guard position. Rodriguez will sit out the year due to a wrist injury and tendinitis in his knee. McClellan will redshirt as well.

“The plan is to spend the next three weeks trying to figure out who might start, who might back that person up, and who would give us the depth we need at the point guard position,” Larranaga said. “But right now if you’d ask me, I would say Manu [Lecomte], Deandre [Burnett] and Garrius [Adams] will all share that responsibility, either as a starter or as a sub.”

With a tough ACC schedule ahead and massive personnel turnover, the Hurricanes have their work cut out for them as they plan to defend their ACC regular season and tournament championships. But Miami’s confidence remains high despite potentially lower expectations.

Swoope looks forward to facing conference newcomers Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame.

“I’m excited to see all three of them,” he said. “They’re new to the ACC and if you ask me, I want to let them know what the ACC is all about.”