Even with veteran departures, Miami men’s basketball’s future is bright

Head coach Jim Larrañaga watches on during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon
Head coach Jim Larrañaga watches on during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Head coach Jim Larrañaga watches on during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Last season was one of the most successful seasons in Miami men’s basketball program history. After going 26-11 in the regular season and 14-6 in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play, the team advanced the farthest it ever had in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament by making it to the Elite Eight.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but it adds fuel to the fire,” senior forward Jordan Miller said to the ACC Network at ACC Tipoff.

A big reason for the success was the veteran players on the squad, including Miller. Point guard Charlie Moore, small forward Kameron McGusty and center Sam Waardenburg were three of the team’s five starters, and each player was critical to Miami’s success. Moore led the team in assists, McGusty led in points and Waardenburg led in blocks.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, the trio is no longer a part of the team.

“We’re going to miss the leadership that we got from [those players]. They were terrific pieces to a very complicated puzzle, which is basketball,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said to reports at a recent media availability. “You got to find the right players to do the right things.”

Larrañaga and Miami’s coaching staff have been trying to “find the right players” by adding highly rated transfers and a plethora of freshmen with potential to the squad for the upcoming season. Here is a further look into the six new additions to the team:

Nijel Pack

As one of the most coveted transfer players in the nation, point guard Nijel Pack chose Miami. The Indianapolis native is an offensive threat after averaging 17.4 points per game at Kansas State last season. The sophomore made 45.5% of his shots and 43.6% of his three-point attempts, proving himself as one of the most efficient shooters in the nation.

He needs to prove himself more as a playmaker after posting only 2.2 assists per game last season, given that he is expected to replace Moore as Miami’s starting point guard. Pack will space the floor by commanding a lot of defensive attention and freeing other teammates on the floor. He is a legitimate All-ACC candidate after being named to the All-Big 12 First Team last season.

Norchad Omier

Another transfer from this past offseason, sophomore forward Norchad Omier will immediately impact the squad. Omier is an explosive athlete and will provide some highlights for fans throughout the season.

The Nicaraguan is only 6-foot-7, but it never seems to matter when he is on the court. Omier dominated his opponents when he played for Arkansas State, scoring 17.9 points per game while grabbing more than 12 boards per game. His 63.2% field goal percentage was eighth-best in the country last season, and he was the second-shortest among the top 10 in that category.

The pick-and-roll possibilities with Omier’s strength and bounce can be challenging for defenders to deal with.

AJ Casey

At 6-foot-9 and 213 pounds, AJ Casey is proficient in every aspect of the game. The freshman forward averaged 19 points, ten rebounds, five assists and three blocks per game for Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago last season.

Casey’s defensive paint presence and strong post-game are immediately among the best on the team, and under the mentorship of the veteran Miller, will only improve.

Christian Watson

As a true three-level scorer, freshman Christian Watson fits into Larrañaga’s five-out offense like a glove. The Washington D.C. native was a four-star recruit and was ranked as the No. 92 national recruit by ESPN.

Watson shows strength around the rim, the ability to create his own space for a shot and high-level playmaking for someone listed at 6-foot-7. He averaged 17 points and four assists per game in his final season for St. John’s College High School.

Favour Aire

Freshman Favour Aire arrives as the tallest player on the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-11 Nigerian attended Bishop McNamara High School in Maryland, where he established himself as the fourth-best recruit in the state, according to ESPN.

Aire is a blocking and rebounding machine, averaging 13.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in his senior season. His defensive potential is off the charts, which is heavily needed for Miami after losing Waardenburg.

Jakai Robinson

After redshirting last season, freshman guard Jakai Robinson will be making his debut this season.

In his Rock Creek Christian Academy career, the Ossining, N.Y. native was known for his sweet lefty three-point touch, shooting 44% from three. The three-pointers he shoots aren’t just catch-and-shoot. He is not afraid to pull up from anywhere on the floor and uses the pick-and-roll a lot to free up space for his shot.

Danilo Jovanovich

The freshman forward comes from Whitnall High School, which was the school that Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro attended. Jovanovich even played with Herro’s brother.

Jovanovich is an effective and efficient shooter. He shot an astounding 70% from the field in his final year at Whitnall, scoring 28.7 points per game. At 6-foot-8, Jovanovich can develop into a premier wing player in the ACC.

The first opportunity to showcase the new talent will come on Oct. 30, when Miami opens its season against the IUP in an exhibition game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.