CORAL GABLES – Since he has arrived at the University of Miami, Jim Larrañaga hasn’t been able to run the up-tempo, high-pressure style that worked so well for him at George Mason.
If Larrañaga gets more players like Ja’Quan Newton, he’ll be to play how he likes.
Newton showed a variety of skills this past weekend for Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti in the Culligan City of Palms Classic Basketball Tournament at Bishop Verot High. The 41st year of the Classic featured 11 of the top-50 high school teams in the country, according to Clark Francis, editor and publisher of Hoop Scoop.
Seven ACC commitments played in the tournament as well as nearly 50 players set to attend Division I schools. A total of 77 past and present NBA players have competed in the event.
“I know that when I go against the other top ranked guys, it is a chance for me to improve my profile,” Newton said. “I try to always compete hard and play hard and be the best that I can be.
“I think when I can help my team look good, that just gives everybody confidence. If I try to do it myself, then my team isn’t going to have confidence and make shots. I try to get the players involved. I am the leader of the team, so if I am not a ball hog, then they won’t be a ball hog. They follow me, so if I pass the basketball, they will do the same.”
Newton has been recruited by Larrañaga and his staff since he was a sophomore. Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said if Newton stays injury free, he’ll likely finish as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“When he’s engaged in a game, he can be a special player,” Arrigale said. “He can do a lot of different things out there. He’s a great playmaker, a little too unselfish at times, but I’d rather have that than to be a so-called pig. But he is a good finisher.”
With flexible hips and long legs, the 6-3, 180-pounder plays tall. Larrañaga better watch out, because Al Golden may want to turn him into a cornerback or safety.
Newton joked that he’s played some football but that basketball is his focus now. He’s a four-star recruit whom Rivals calls a tough combo guard who lives and dies by his ability to attack off the dribble.
“Likes to play physical and has a tremendous feel for changing speeds and using hesitations to put defenders on edge,” Rivals reporter Eric Bossi wrote. “A bit of a streak shooter and can struggle defensively with quick point guards. Doesn't back down from a big moment.”
Francis likes Newton’s Philly toughness and said he is a borderline McDonald’s All-American who could help his cause with voters in this tournament.
“If you want to beat Duke and Carolina, you have to have guys like that,” Francis said. “I really like him, he’s got a scorer’s mentality. What he does best is slash to the basket, shoot the three and make good passes in transition. He really helped himself in the summer and came up big in big games.”
While Francis doesn’t think Newton needs to be a point guard, that’s what Newton is preparing to play. With Miami returning Manu Lecomte next season and bringing in transfer Angel Rodriguez from Kansas State, along with Newton, the Hurricanes will have suddenly have plenty of depth at the point.
“Ja’Quan is a multi-purpose guard who play both the one and two and be very effective at both,” Larrañaga said. “Ja’Quan is an outstanding scorer and will add a lot to our offensive arsenal next season.”
With Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) coming in as transfers, Newton said Larrañaga told him the Hurricanes will have one of the best backcourts in the country next season, which could help them become one of the best teams in the country.
Next season can’t get here soon enough. On Dec. 22, Miami did beat La Salle 71-58 in a battle of 2013 Sweet 16 teams. However, that made the Hurricanes just 7-5. They’ll play Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 30 and Norfolk State on Feb. 1. Other than that, it’s all ACC games from here on out. Wins will be hard to come by. Miami lost at home to Virginia Tech earlier this season in its conference season-opener.
“I watch them a lot whether it is online or on television,” Newton said. “I can see some holes that they have right now because of all the guys they lost last year.”
Helping Newton’s transition to Miami will be that he played AAU ball together with freshman Davon Reed, who is averaging nine points and has made 18 three-pointers.
“We are really close,” Newton said. “I already know his game and know what he can do, so that will be good to play together again. When I started to look at Miami hard, I did think about how I know some guys there like Davon, so that is nice. Now we text all the time.”
Newton joins a class that will include guard James Palmer and forwards Ivan Cruz Uceda, a junior college transfer, and Omar Sherman besides the previously mentioned transfers. The Hurricanes also will have redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett, who many feel would’ve been the team’s top scorer this year before suffering a season-ending injury before the regular season started.
While Newton is the only top-100 player in the bunch, Francis said Larrañaga and his staff have a good idea for talent, as well as taking undersized and undervalued players and making them better.
“Jim Larrañaga reminded me of something I wrote in 1995,” Francis said. “I wrote that if I’m an NBA general manager, I’d trade Scottie Pippin and make sure I get Kevin Garnett, because when Michael Jordan retires, the Bulls still will have Kevin Garnett because he’ll be the best player in the NBA. Jim brought that up because his son is an assistant with the Boston Celtics, and he said Kevin Garnett might not be the best player in the NBA but he’s the hardest worker. He was the heart and soul of that team.
“Sometimes, we’re too busy anointing guys, that’s one of the big problems in our business. We shouldn’t be deciding what players are best. The players should be deciding that.”
Canes Stock Up On Defenders
The Hurricanes now are up to 15 commits on the defensive side of the ball after New Jersey defensive back Kiy Hester switched from Rutgers and defensive back Marques Gayot, from Lake Worth, Fla., switched from Louisville. The Hurricanes also got a visit from Immokalee’s J.C. Jackson, who was a Florida commit but now is wavering.
Eight of Miami’s commits are defensive linemen, the Hurricanes’ most glaring need as they head into 2014.