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Recruits Brighten Canes’ Future

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:34am
  • Miami coach Jim Larranaga (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
     Miami coach Jim Larranaga (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
By: Miami Insider

CORAL GABLES – With Miami bringing in a top-25 recruiting class in basketball, it isn’t a stretch to say the Hurricanes will reverse their fortunes next season.

In fact, the players Miami will have on the court next season not only will give the program a facelift but give it a legitimate shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament.

Miami’s three freshmen recruits will include 6-2 guard Ja’Quan Newton, 6-4 guard James Palmer and 6-8 forward Omar Sherman.

Newton plays at Neumann-Goretti High in Philadelphia, which regularly churns out Division I players. He also played AAU ball for Team Final, the same squad as future Miami teammate Davon Reed.

Palmer is considered an excellent three-point shooter. Sherman, a 220-pound power forward, has been ranked among the top-100 players in the country, as is Newton.

They’re a big reason Miami’s class is ranked No. 23 by scout.com.

A fourth recruit, junior college forward Ivan Uceda, will give Miami a fourth player who can play next season who has college experience. The others are transfers Sheldon McClellan (Texas), Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and freshman Deandre Burnett, who injured his wrist just before the start of the regular season. He’ll be redshirted.

It would surprise few people if these four players started next year at this time for Miami. If they do, the Hurricanes suddenly become the deep and experienced team coach Jim Larrañaga always wanted so he can play an up-tempo, high-pressure style.

Uceda is a 6-10, 240-pound forward originally from Madrid, Spain. He’s eligible for two seasons at Miami after two years at Harcum College, a junior college in Pennsylvania. Last year, he set the school record for rebounds in a season. Uceda also was recruited by Marquette, Ohio State, Penn State and Villanova.

So, as bad as this season looks like it’ll be – and it got worse when dual-sport athlete Corn Elder likely won’t play this season after suffering an injury in football – the future looks really bright.

We’ve seen how Larrañaga is when he has talent.

Let’s see what he’s like when he can play the way he wants to play.

Golden Must Decide On Defense

In the next week or so, Al Golden will face one of the biggest decisions in his coaching life.

He must decide whether to keep Mark D’Onofrio as his defensive coordinator.

The two have a 25-year relationship going back to their days as Penn State teammates. With Golden being a tight end and D’Onofrio a linebacker, the two banged shoulder pads with each other for three years in practice.

D’Onofrio was Golden’s DC at Temple. He gave up being the Owls’ next coach to join Golden at Miami. Golden’s son A.J. is a similar same age as D’Onofrio’s sons Jack and Thomas. Their wives grew up in towns (Marlboro, N.J.; Lock Haven, Pa.) that aren’t far from each other.

In other words, this isn’t just about coach and coordinator. It’s about family.

But in Coral Gables, it’s about producing and making an appearance in that elusive ACC title game. The 48-30 loss to Duke was crushing for the Canes in terms of its Coastal Division impact. After beating Virginia, Miami now must become Cavaliers’ cheerleaders. Wins by Virginia over Virginia Tech and North Carolina over Duke are the only way the Hurricanes can reach the ACC championship game and have a rematch with Florida State.

The defensive numbers have looked ugly since Miami started playing ACC games in October.

Miami gave up 401 yards and 30 points to Georgia Tech, 500 yards and 23 points to North Carolina, 361 yards and 21 points to Wake Forest, 517 yards and 41 points to Florida State, 549 yards and 42 points to Virginia Tech, 543 yards and 48 points to Duke and 483 yards and 26 points to Virginia.

The average is 33 points and 479 yards.

Not good, not good at all. And that comes off a season when the Hurricanes’ D was the worst in school history.

The defeat in Durham, N.C., even had Miami players expressing their frustration in social media while they nursed injuries.

“OMG, This is embarrassing,” wide receiver Phillip Dorsett tweeted.

“This is embarrassing,” running back Duke Johnson chimed in unison.

Golden said he hasn’t paid attention to the talk shows and message boards calling for D’Onofrio’s ouster.

“I know Mark is working his tail off to get it fixed,” he said. “The defensive staff is working their tails off to get it fixed. The players want to improve. There’s no question. We were getting takeaways better early in the season, we were getting more pressure on the quarterback early in the season. … There’s no question we have to do a better job, but it starts with me. I’m responsible for it.”

In another quote, Golden also took the blame. After the loss, he said every part of the Miami program would be evaluated.

“There’s enough blame to go around in this game,” he said. “The buck stops with me. I have to get it fixed.”

This isn’t just coach speak. There’s a lot of truth to his words.

Miami’s offense has put the defense in some bad spots this year by having short possessions while defenders make bad decisions, lose receivers on third down and can’t get off the field. In five games this season, the Hurricanes’ defense has been on the field for 12 more minutes than its foes. No wonder players are injured and worn out.

Gary Ferman, Canesport editor, said the problems are multiple and complicated.

“They need to recruit more impact players and develop players faster,” he said. “I think they need to put more redshirts on their recruits so they’re better before their junior and senior seasons. I think they need to do a better job of preparing for games so they’re not being victimized by so many mental errors.

“All these things need to be addressed before figuring out whether the scheme they’re using is good enough.”

Those problems, Ferman said, go way beyond one person. That’s why he doesn’t think D’Onofrio should be replaced to appease the masses.

But will he be? “Man, there’s no way to predict that,” Ferman said.

Working in D’Onofrio’s favor is that Golden said he and his staff still are building the program and that it won’t get where he wants it to be until the Hurricanes are three-deep at every position and there’s no dropoff when a starter is replaced.

“And we’re not there yet,” he said.

Helping his cause a bit is that D’Onofrio is considered one of the nation’s better recruiters. According to 247Sports rankings, D’Onofrio is ranked 25th in the ACC and 124th in the country. That’s based on him helping to bring in one four-star player and two, three-star players.

The feeling is here is that Golden will keep D’Onofrio.

As good as Miami’s recruiting has gone while the Hurricanes were under the cloud of looming NCAA sanctions, it should be that much better now they have been delivered (nine lost scholarships) and they weren’t crippled by them. That should help the Hurricanes in getting those elite defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

Golden also wants to get back to what he calls “traditional recruiting,” so the Canes don’t have to bring in three fifth-year senior transfers like they did this year.

The Hurricanes need to figure out how to keep their offense on the field longer, while D’Onofrio needs to figure out how to get his players to make more plays so they aren’t out there for five-, six- and seven-minute drives.

Like they did in practices at Happy Valley, Golden and D’Onofrio need to engage. They need to keep having a candid exchange of ideas.

Golden and D’Onofrio need to come up with a defensive game plan that is more effective and is a reason why they’re winning championships. Not what’s keeping the team from them.