Coach Jim Larrañaga and seniors Rion Brown and Erik Swoope talked to the media Friday prior to the first practice of the 2013-14 season.
Quotes are below.
What is going to be the biggest challenge in camp this year?
“Learning a whole new way of looking at the game of basketball. We have so many new players. Everybody comes from a different background. Learning the game from their high school or AAU coach and now they come to the University of Miami and they’re looking at an entirely different way of teaching and learning. It’s going to take them some time. We have to be very, very patient with them. Some kids learn faster than others. Hopefully, once they all learn what we’re teaching, we can develop into a very fine team.”
What was the transformation for Tonye Jekiri this offseason?
“When Tonye was a freshman, the very first thing you noticed was he’s got size and speed, but he didn’t have the bulk or the strength to battle against the bigger, stronger guys on our team. When he was going against Reggie, Kenny, Julian, and Raphael, they pushed him around. He has worked very, very hard at gaining strength and gaining weight. I believe he is very close to 240 pounds now. Last year he was about 215. He’s just much stronger, much more confident. He worked very hard on his shooting, so much so that he’s developed tendinitis in his shoulder from shooting too much, which I’ve never heard of before. I also think he’s a much more confident player. He gained very, very valuable experience as a freshman.”
What do you think about the new scheduling for the preseason?
“With the new format we’re able to start earlier. We’re not going to have more practice days. We’re actually going to be able to spread out the practices and give the players more rest and time to recover, which I’ve always been a great believer in. You’ve heard me talking in the past about The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and the seventh habit is called sharpen your saw, which basically means rest and sharpen your skills. The way to sharpen your skills is to rest and get more energy so when you get out onto the floor you can play as hard as you possibly can. You’re not tired, you’re not soar because your muscles had plenty of time to recover. This weekend we’re going to practice today and tomorrow, take Sunday off, practice Monday and Tuesday, and take Wednesday off. If you can go hard for two days and then get a day to rest, the wear and tear on your body should not be as much. On the off days they’re really going to be off. Some guys will come in and shoot because that’s they’re natural routine, but for the most part what we really want them to do is rest. We want them to be sharp in practice because a lot of things we’re going to do are not just physical they’re mental. You don’t learn nearly as well when you’re fatigued.”
With athleticism, do you think we can scramble more with this group?
“Well, it’s certainly an option. Whether or not we utilize it, or if it’s a serious part of our defensive game plan? Only time can tell this because my evaluation will be based on performance. Can we actually execute the scramble and force turnovers or we will just give up easy shots?”
How have you dealt with a team that has lost so many from the previous year in the past?
“I try not to remember those teams. They have so much growth. The last time I had seven freshmen was when Luke Hancock was a freshman at George Mason and he was considered the worst recruit of the class.”
Has anybody surprised you since you have recruited them?
“No. I have only seen half or less of our workouts. It’s one of the great things about having a staff with you for a long time. I have the upmost confidence in them. They know exactly what I want done. Even when I’m not here, I’m very confident that work is being done by the coaches and by the players.”
Is Angel Rodriguez similar in a lot of ways to Shane Larkin?
“Yes, but I should let everybody know that when Angel contacted us and made the decision to transfer here, in one of our very first conversations, Angel shared with me, that he was struggling with injuries that he sustained during his two years in college. One was a wrist injury, and one was a very serious tendinitis in his knee. When we had him visit with our trainer Wes Brown, Wes felt that it was so severe that he took him to our team doctors. They did x-rays and MRI’s, and eventually shut him down the entire summer. When Angel and I talked about him for this upcoming year, the discussion was, ‘There is no sense applying for the waiver to help you be eligible when you’re not physically going to be fit enough.’ He told me at that time, he would much prefer to just sit out the year anyway, learn the new system and be 100%, or close to 100%, for his last two years. We were waiting to decide whether or not to apply for the waiver to see how he was feeling. I spoke to him the other day. We both agreed that we weren’t going to apply for the waiver, so he’s definitely going to red shirt this year with Sheldon McClellan and be available next season and the following year.”
How is Manu Lecomte?
“Adorable. He’s going to have to be really aware of all the girls who are going to be interested in him. He is a very good-looking man, smart and articulate. He has a very mature way of approaching basketball and his schoolwork. I have been very impressed with him as a person. From what I hear, from talking to the other guys, they are very impressed with him as a point guard. You’ll see him a lot during the season, either as a starter or someone coming in off the bench. He is going to earn a lot of playing time.”
Plan with the point guard?
“The plan is to spend the next three weeks trying to figure out who might start, who might back that person up, and who would give us the depth we need to get the point guard position. But, right now if you would ask me, I would say Manu, Deandre, and Garrius will all share that responsibility either as a starter or a sub.”
Talk about Deandre Burnett
“His best position is really the two-guard spots because he’s got an act for putting the ball in the basket. He still has a lot to learn. The ACC is far different from high school and prep school. He is working on his assortment of shots, moves, and when to shoot, when not too. That’s a part of the learning process that a problem that freshmen have is, at this point in the season, he wants to show how good he is. He tries to do things, but his most important responsibility is to learn what we’re trying to do. You kind of have to balance that. Should I really try to score or should I just stay with the offense? But right now, you just stay with the offense, so he learns the offense and once he knows that he’s comfortable and confident, he knows what to do, then he can be a little bit more aggressive. But if all you’re doing is attacking, and you can’t stay with the offense, we are losing. You’ll probably be sitting on the sidelines and watching someone who is a little bit more patient.”
Is there a disadvantage of having a red shirt in football in Cornelius Elder?
“I’m very pleased that Al Golden and the football program allow Elder to even consider basketball after the football season is over. Elder joined us for a few workouts this summer. He got hurt after the third one, so he didn’t get to do much more than that. But Coach Golden and I have spoken about him and Al has said that he’s a great kid, great athlete, and great energy, really demonstrates a lot of qualities that will be successful in football. They definitely correlate to the basketball court.”
Will Elder help you when he comes if he comes in January?
“Yeah, I hope so.”
How is recruiting going?
“Well, I certainly think that winning the ACC regular season and tournament, getting to the NCAA tournament, the sweet 16, opened up the eyes of many high school coaches, AAU coaches, and high school prospects. We’ve been involved with some of the top players in the country, top 100 caliber guys, and we feel that we are going to have a really solid group of recruited players. Remember we graduated our top six scorers from last year, but we also have now five scholarship seniors, a six-men senior class with Justin Heller. We have a lot of holes to fill next year.”
What do you think about Rion Brown?
“I don’t know if you have noticed how much Rion’s body has changed from early in his career, but he’s now a man. If you look at him, he’s older, stronger, and very athletic and he shoots the three well. He’s a father. He has a son so he has matured very well throughout his college career. And very simply, in my mind, this is going to be the best year of his college career.”
Is Brown going to be a high scorer like VT's Erick Green?
“No, first of all I’m not that kind of coach that wants a guy taking that many shots because I think balance is the key to success offensively. If you have one guy, and he ends up having a bad night, you lose. Where as if you have good balance, it feels like I have a great opportunity or I could get a hot hand for a big night. You saw last year where having Brown come in off the bench, whether it be Georgia Tech, our first game, or a conference game where he scored 20 points or the NCAA tournament where he came in off the bench and basically won the Illinois game for us with his three-point-shooting ability. But we want to have balance. We like to have five guys with double figures. I think the guys that were looking for immediately to take on a scoring load will be Brown, Adams, and Tonye Jekiri. Those three guys have a lot of experience in terms of comparing them to the other guys on the team.”
How would you describe Garrius?
“I would he’s a jack-of-all-trades. He can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, and he can pass the basketball. My major concern for him is just keeping him healthy because he has sustained a lot of injuries throughout the course of his career.”
Erik Swoope and Rion Brown
Rion Brown on being the only rotation member back for the Canes:
“I feel a responsibility to step it up a little bit more, take more responsibility for the team, and how we play in the games.”
Brown on challenges after losing six of seven rotation members:
“It’s really about how fast the young guys learn. It took us a while when Coach L first got here until you saw the results really start happening. The faster those young guys learn, the faster we start to mesh and bond a little bit more, the better we’ll be.”
Brown on changes he made himself during the offseason:
“I would just say that I worked on every aspect of my game. I mean there’s probably nothing I left out. I’m trying to be more versatile, be able to score different ways. On defense, I’m getting a little quicker, getting stronger, be able to guard bigger guys every once in a while. I just worked on any and every thing I could think of.”
Brown on summer practices:
“I’d say it went really well. All of the freshmen definitely came in with the right mindset. That’s actually kind of surprising. You always feel like you’re going to have those one or two that you’re going to have to sit down and talk to like ‘Hey, this is how it goes…’ But, they all came here ready to work, going to the gym everyday and every night, even together. That’s great to see, knowing that we’re not going to have to get on them too much.”
Erik Swoope on the 2013-14 team:
“It’s been a big learning curve. We have so many new guys. With Rion being the only one of the rotation guys still around, I think he understands, as he’s said, it’s a big task to get everyone on board, to understand, to be successful like we were last year. I noticed in summer practice, the guys are gravitating towards him very quickly. What Coach L teaches us, it’s really influenced some of the seniors and mainly Rion. I think we’re definitely on the right track.”
Swoope on helping newcomers understand what Coach L wants:
“Especially our last few workouts, we’re working on the offense a little bit and helping guys understand what reads to make. In high school, you’ll be that superstar and the biggest transition is finding out what you’re actually really good at at the highest level.”
Brown on Angel Rodriguez:
“He’s actually been playing the last couple weeks. I’d definitely say his leadership on the court. He’s not really comfortable with what to do just yet. You can tell on the court when a guys a natural born leader. That’s what you need you’re point guard to be. That’s the main thing I feel.”
Brown on the center position for this season:
“I know offensively, Tonye’s been tremendous. He looks like a totally different person and we’re definitely going to need that post scoring threat with guys like Julian and Reggie leaving. Julian almost averaged double digits, Reggie almost averaged double digits, so now we got one guy who just needs to average double digits. Tonye is stepping into that role. Raphael looks like the hulk. He’s a big guy, pure diesel and he’s getting ready to guard those bigger guys and become a defensive stopper for us.”
Brown on Garrius Adams:
“He’s great, just like the old Garrius. He’s back 100 percent. He’s healthy, more confident. I can definitely see him getting back to his old ways or even better.”
Brown on biggest challenge for team:
“I’d say the biggest challenge for us is the learning curve, getting those guys to really understand what Coach L wants. The faster we do that, the better we’ll be. It’ll be less teaching, more playing and understanding.”
Brown on maintaining high expectations during a rebuilding year:
“We don’t really pay attention to the media. We just come in and try and do exactly what Coach L tells us to do, which is work hard, improve our games as much as possible, and we know that the rest will take care of itself.”
Swoope on his role this year:
“I understand that it’s going to change. Over the summer, I lost 17 pounds, put on muscle. My lifting numbers are insane. I’ve understood that for us to be successful just like we were last year, the senior leadership is key. Some of the guys made transitions. Some of them stepped up in times where we really needed them. I understand that, no, I’ve not always been a big scorer or rebounder or anything like that, but going into this year we do have so many young guys that I know my role is going to change and I’m just trying to do everything that I can to help us out.”
Swoope on his fractured nose:
“I fractured it about two weeks ago. I had a minor surgery a couple of days ago. I should be good to go in the next couple of days.”
Brown on Tonye Jekiri:
“I’m going to let that be a surprise for y’all. I’m telling you he does not even look like the same person. He’s been hitting the gym just like those young guys everyday, every night.”
Swoope on Tonye Jekiri:
“It just a confidence thing. Last year with so many seniors being around, he just had a respect for them and their games, where this year he understands, ‘I am the big man. For us to be successful, I have to be a threat.’ He’s making that transition very quickly.
Swoope on Jekiri’s sophomore transition being similar to Larkin’s sophomore transition:
“Shane learned quickly that we needed a point guard to really set the table. He was younger, but his leadership was still valued just as much as the seniors’ where it’s going to be the same for Tonye this year.”
Swoope on the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 team:
“Our athleticisms is, if you ask me, ten times what it was last year. I know we’re not as big, but I’ve seen in practice the new guys, the program that we’ve instilled last year, the guys’ athleticism, their speed, and their quickness is outstanding. To be honest, there’s going to be some fun games to watch.”
Swoope on Manu Lecomte:
“He’s looking good. He’s learning. He’s young. He needs to lift a little bit more. He’s picking up on our offense and the tendencies it will take to be successful in the ACC. He’s picking up on them very quickly.”
Swoope on what he learned when he was a newcomer:
“I would say it is important from my experience as a young guy to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes when the young guys come in, they feel like they know everything there is to know about basketball. But, these guys are very inquisitive. They want to know what’s going on. They want to learn, meet with the coaches, watch films, and so on and so forth.”
Swoope on how improved athleticism will affect team this year:
“It will affect different things like full court press. We only did it for split seconds in the games in the spring to surprise them. That might become a key for our defense.”
Brown on Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame joining the ACC:
“I would probably say I’m looking forward to playing at Syracuse the most. I’ve never been to New York. I hear about it and see it on TV. I definitely want to get down there and be able to have that experience. Of course you know their gym is always packed. They play in the dome. I’m looking forward to that.
Swoope on Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame joining the ACC:
“Same thing. I’m excited to see all three of them. They’re new to the ACC and if you ask me, I want to let them know what the ACC is all about.”
Swoope on James Kelly:
“He reminds me a lot of DeQuan Jones. He’s very, very athletic, has a lot of different capabilities. He has to understand in the floor of the offense where he can be most useful.”
Swoope on whether Coach L is entering this year differently as ACC Champions versus last year:
“No. He’s the same Coach L. Hasn’t changed a bit. The philosophies are the same just newer guys. His mentality, his drive, and his success are the same.”
Brown on the Schwartz Center for Academic Excellence:
“I’m definitely proud that we have something that we can brag about a little bit. It’s nice to be able to go study and just see a new place on campus especially before heading out.”
Swoope on the Schwartz Center for Academic Excellence and the new Hall of Fame:
“It’s nice to know that we’ve had some success. You only get gifts and things like that if you’re taking care of business. We’re fortunate to have new things like that. We’ve been looking at the same buildings for so long and they’ve been talking about updating and it’s nice at least for our final year and for the new guys to enjoy some of the success that the previous guys have had.”