The Hurricanes are looking for another successful season following their first Elite Eight appearances, but it will be a new cast leading the way.
Transfers Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier along with four freshmen give the Hurricanes six new players of the 13-man roster heading into the season, which begins with an exhibition game on Oct. 30 and regular-season opener on Nov. 7 against Lafayette.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” head coach. Jim Larranaga said. “Norchad and Nijel have fit in beautifully as well as our four freshmen. It’s been a very smooth transition for me and my coaching staff. Quite honestly we’re going to miss the leadership we got from Charlie Moore, Kam McGusty and Sam Waardenburg. They were great pieces to a very complicated puzzle, which is basketball. You’ve got to find the right players to do the right things.”
Pack arrived from Kansas State where he was an All-Big 12 first-team performer last season averaging over 17 points a game.
“I think I fit in pretty good,” Pack said. ” The whole team is pretty easy to work with. First day in I felt like I had been a part of the team for a while. Practices have been very competitive. I’m bringing competitiveness and older leadership to the team.”
With a number of newcomers, many of whom have different playing styles than the players who departed, the staff is looking at running different offensive sets.
“We’re experimenting with a new offense and seeing if that’s going to be a primary or secondary or just maybe special situations,” Larranaga said. “Experimenting is just that—trial and error—and right now is probably more errors than trials.”
NEWS & NOTES
• This year’s team could feature more post-ups and block entry passes for the frontcourt players. “Norchad is very comfortable with his back to the basket and around the basket so we’ve got to create opportunities for him,” Larranaga said. “Jordan Miller and Anthony Walker also have developed their inside game so we’ve got to allow them to do what they do really, really well.”
• Larranaga noted Omier’s energy level, which helped him be on of the top rebounders in the country last season. “His energy level is off the charts,” Larranaga said. “What I’ve explained to him is that personality is really, really good and great if you then set the example of how hard you’re going to play. I told him you have all of this energy, you’re a tremendous athlete and jumping ability and strength, but if you only put in a token effort in practice, that’s not the message that we want for you to send to your teammates. When you’re capable of dominating a practice and do it and do it at the defensive end of the floor because at 6-7 you’re guarding to be guarding guys 6-11, 7-feet and you’re letting guys like Favor (Aire) catch the ball in the post and score over you, that’s not really what we’re going to expect of you and it’s not what’s going to win for us. He has to demonstrate leadership and high energy in practice every single day. I think that’s going to be a really challenge for him this year because at this level in the ACC with the caliber of players and height, weight and athletic ability it’s different than the league he played in. It’s going to be a really challenge for him .”
• SF Jordan Miller has a very good all-around game on both ends of the floor, making him an asset in many ways and someone who should log heavy minutes this season. One of the areas of Miller’s game Larranaga pointed out was his turnover ratio as he had 40 assists with 31 turnovers. “He asked me if he gets a defensive rebound, are you comfortable with me pushing the ball on the fast break and I turned that around and asked him if he would make a good play or turn the ball over?,” Larranaga said. “He said, ‘No I’ll make a good decision.” And I said, ‘Then yeah, do it. I want you to be comfortable and confident in doing what you’re good at.’ We put the ball in his hands a lot more now and he’s really been playing at a very high level.”
• Omier has been impressed with Miller: “Jordan Miller is a really good player. He played in the ACC last year and I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a really good rebounder, which I love to do and I can do. He’s been playing in this league so I look up to him a lot. He’s someone I strive to learn something new from every day.”
• PG Bensley Joseph and SG Wooga Poplar are back for their second seasons after having key roles off the bench last year. “Bensley Joseph and Wooga made a lot of progress during their freshman year and that continues to progress,” Larranaga said.
• Larranaga is looking for leaders to emerge with this year’s group and delivered a message to a group of Pack, Joseph, Wong, Miller, Omier and Anthony Walker recently: “For us to be the kind of team we would like to be, all of you need to exercise some leadership qualities.” Larranaga added, “I am expecting those six to be the leaders of the team right from the opening jump.”
• The incoming freshman class of SF Christian WatsonPF AJ CaseyPF Danilo Jovanovich and C Favor Aire all stand at least 6-foot-7. “They’re very tall, they’re athletic and they fit very well with what we’re trying to do, but they’re very young and inexperienced,” Larranaga said. “We’re trying to help them.” Larranaga added, “Our freshmen are really an intriguing group. Christian Watson is 6-7, athletic and I love what he is capable of doing when he can do it consistently well. Favor Aire is 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan and he does some things that are very, very good and what we need. Those two guys have a very high ceiling and they’re on the first floor and we’ve got to get them to the penthouse. They’re not there yet. Danilo Jovanovich is a unique kind of guy. I would compare him very favorably to Sam Waardenburg, but Sam as a freshman or sophomore where you can see the potential, but he needs to grow into a role. We don’t have a position for him. I’m not sure if he’s a 3, 4 or 5. He’s getting bigger and stronger, gaining weight. We recruited him at 185 pounds as a 3-man and now he’s like 220. He’s growing and we’re trying to figure out where we can play him where he can be hugely successful. Of the freshmen AJ Casey played in Chicago, a great high school program, he’s 6-8, athletic, he’s got a pro body. To me he looks like a young Paul George, 6-8, can shoot it a little bit, but all of that being said, none of the freshmen are consistent. They’re consistently inconsistent. So we’ve got to wait on them. I wouldn’t put any high expectations on a freshman this year, but next year when they grow into leadership roles I can see all of them being highly successful.”
• SG Harlond Beverly (back) continues to be brought along slowly. “He’s basically missed a year-and-a-half of basketball,” Larranaga said. “He’s just getting back in shape. There was a time where he was over 215 pounds at one point and that’s overweight for him. We need him to be in the best shape of his life becuse he’s still dealing with the recovery from back surgery. There’s going to be times he feels great and there’s time when his back is sore. Sam Johnson is a tremendous trainer and he’s going to have to monitor that and provide the coaching staff and me with the right amount of information so we don’t push him to the point where he doesn’t re-injure himself. He’s making some good progress right now.”
• Miami received a verbal commitment from Napa (Calif.) Prolific Prep four-star center Michael Nwoko on Thursday. Nwoko also took official visits to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Providence. He is the first commitment in the 2023 class. The early signing period is Nov. 9-16. “Recruiting is really about sales and trying to convince young men your program is what they’re looking for,” Larranaga said. “Almost every recruit wants to know if you’re going to win. ‘Are you any good? I want to get to the NCAA tournament, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and win a national championship.’ When you say we’ve done that in that we’ve been to the Sweet 16 three times, the Elite Eight last year and now our goal is to keep pushing forward.”
Christopher Stock has covered the Miami Hurricanes since 2003 and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] and on Twitter @InsideTheU.