CORAL GABLES – While most Hurricane fans had a few days of angst as they waited to see if Al Golden would stay at Miami or leave for Penn State, if they followed social media or listened to Hurricanes’ recruits, their worries would’ve been eased.
“The kids I talked to, I don’t know if was Al Golden sending a message,” recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said. “But all the high-profile kids said, ‘He ain’t going nowhere.’”
Golden made his recommitment to Miami with a press release on Jan. 5, saying, “There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami. While I am flattered that our progress at the U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position. We are eager to welcome our student-athletes back to campus next week and visit with prospective student-athletes and their families beginning Jan. 15.”
While the $4.5 million per year it offered is hard to pass up, Penn State would’ve been Golden’s third rebuild. That’s exhausting. He would’ve been looking at one bowl trip in five years. That’s a hard road to travel.
“He owes it to himself to be on the other side of the bridge, and in two years, he will be,” Blustein said. “He had two years of climbing out of the closet and going into living rooms and talking to people about the sanctions. That stuff is over.”
That’s because Golden is bringing in a 2014 class that will be a top ten group. According to several recruiting sites, nine players are four-star while one – Chad Thomas – is a five-star defensive end from Miami’s Booker T. Washington.
Seven players have joined the team as early enrollees – Miami Central tailback Joseph Yearby and offensive tackle Trevor Darling; Palm Beach Central offensive tackle Kc McDermott; Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou; Winter Park defensive end Trent Harris; Albany (Ga.) linebacker Juwon Young; and Raleigh (N.C.) Leesville Road receiver Braxton Berrios. He has juco help from Huertelou and 330-pound defensive tackle Michael Wyche.
Defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins swayed during the 48-72 hours while Golden flirted with the Nittany Lions, according to Matt Shodell from Canesport, but he soon recommitted. Three players decommitted from Miami – Hialeah Champagnat defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, Booker T. Washington cornerback Nigel Bethel and Deerfield Beach running back Brandon Powell. Their choices seemed to have nothing to do with Golden’s.
They may recommit, but Blustein and Shodell said that may be too late.
“They look at it like dating – either commit to be a Miami Hurricane or not,” Blustein said. “If that’s the case, they’re like, ‘We’re moving on.’ We’ll get somebody else.' They want guys who want to come here.”
Shodell added, “Nobody’s irreplaceable.”
Miami – which played with 76 scholarships in 2013 instead of the normal allotment of 85, according to the school – hoped it could roll over a portion of those losses to fulfill the nine-scholarship penalty. But the Hurricanes recently got word that the NCAA wouldn’t waver, according to a CBS Sportsline report, so UM's roster will be at 82 scholarships over the next three years.
Blustein called it a “minor hurdle.”
“They’re having a great recruiting year,” he said. “And I think they’ll close with a few more kids.”
New Defense Jolts Canes
Jim Larrañaga may be 64, but he’s no old dog. The Miami coach still can learn new tricks. He not only can try doing something differently, but playing someone differently.
Six weeks ago, Larrañaga didn’t like the way his team was playing man-to-man defense.
He thought a match-up zone defense could work better, so he called an old coaching friend of his, Ralph Willard. Now living in Naples, Willard drove over and spent the day with Larrañaga, his staff and his players.
Guard Rion Brown remembers installing the defense just before the team traveled to California for the Wooden Legacy.
After a 71-63 loss to George Washington on Nov. 28, Miami hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 70 points in the last nine games. In those contests, the Hurricanes have given up an average of 54 points, including 49 to No. 2 Syracuse and 57 to North Carolina.
“It was like, ‘Whoa, we can win with this,’" Brown said.
Forward Erik Swoope added, “Coach Larrañaga’s philosophy is man-to-man. We started this as a supplement to our man-to-man defense."
“Now it’s our bread and butter.”
For the first time in his 40 years of coaching, Larrañaga said he used zone in a game for the entire 40 minutes.
“What we did notice in our man-to-man defense was that we weren’t helping each other,” he said. “But we did a better job of that with our match-up zone. We created it as a secondary defense. Now it’s our primary defense.”
“It’s all about winning and preparing your team to be the best you can be.”
By having the 6-6 Brown, Garrius Adams and Davon Reed on top, teams are having trouble making entry passes. Balls are being tipped or deflected.
As a result, Miami is in the top 15 in the country in points allowed and the top 30 in points allowed per possession.
“Coach L is big on statistics, so once we had some success with it, he implemented it,” Swoope said.
In Miami’s fourth win in a row over North Carolina – and second straight in Chapel Hill – Swoope made a huge contribution with a career-high 14 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 25 minutes. The senior didn’t play much last year and hasn’t started since he was a sophomore.
“It’s almost been a reward for all his years of hard work,” Brown said. “I was happy for him as I was beating North Carolina. It was well-deserved.”
Larrañaga, who said he made a decision that Swoope would get more playing time against North Carolina, said he’s been a perfect teammate by being the hardest worker on the team. “I’m going to have to find a way to get him on the court more,” he said. “He’s absolutely the best team-player you could ask for.”
An undersized power forward at 6-5, Swoope put himself in position to play more by losing 20 pounds in the offseason by rowing and swimming. He’s considered the fastest and strongest player on the team.
“I told coach I’d be willing to do anything to play, whether that’s guarding the point guard or the center,” Swoope said. “I’m faster than the smallest guy and stronger than the biggest guy.”
Miami’s season resembles Swoope. Neither he nor the Hurricanes were expected to do much in 2013-14.
The victory over UNC was just one ACC win – but it was a huge one.
“It means you’re in rare air,” Larrañaga said of the four straight over the Tar Heels.