Lar­rañaga hope­ful for Walker’s re­turn

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - SPORTS - By Christy Cabr­era Chiri­nos Staff writer ccabr­era@sun­sen­

CORAL GABLES — It didn’t take long for Lon­nie Walker to make an im­pres­sion af­ter his ar­rival in Coral Gables.

On the morn­ing of the Hur­ri­canes’ first men’s bas­ket­ball sum­mer work­out, Walker — a 6-foot-4 guard widely con­sid­ered one of the top prospects in the na­tion — knocked on his team­mates’ doors, mak­ing sure they were ready to head to the gym with him to be­gin work­ing with Jim Lar­rañaga and his staff.

Dur­ing the fourth of those work­outs, though, Walker tore the menis­cus in his right knee. The fresh­man had surgery last week, but Lar­rañaga said Mon­day the Hur­ri­canes are op­ti­mistic they’ll have Walker back in time for Mi­ami’s sea­son opener against Gard­ner-Webb on Nov. 10.

“Each in­di­vid­ual is dif­fer­ent,” Lar­rañaga said. “Right now, we’re plan­ning on him be­ing avail­able by Game 1. But I kind of like to be op­ti­mistic when it comes to things like that.”

One rea­son for Lar­ranaga’s op­ti­mism? The fact for­mer Hur­ri­canes star Davon Reed suf­fered a sim­i­lar in­jury dur­ing off­sea­son train­ing in 2014 and bounced back rel­a­tively quickly.

Reed, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the sec­ond round of last month’s NBA draft, tore the menis­cus in his left knee in Septem­ber. Ini­tially, doc­tors ex­pected he would miss four to six months.

He played again in De­cem­ber that year, his re­cov­ery giv­ing Lar­rañaga hope Walker will be as lucky.

“[Reed] worked so hard and his re­hab went so well, with no set­backs and the doc­tors cleared him,” Lar­rañaga said. “He prac­ticed and played that early in De­cem­ber. We’ll just have to wait and see how Lon­nie pro­gresses.”

A quick re­turn would, no doubt, be a boost for the Hur­ri­canes, who are ex­pected to be a forced in the ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence this sea­son.

Mi­ami re­turns seven play­ers from a team that went 21-12 last year and ad­vanced to the NCAA Tour­na­ment for the sec­ond straight year. To that, the Hur­ri­canes added one of their most dec­o­rated re­cruit­ing classes in pro­gram his­tory, with Walker’s sign­ing one of the high­lights.

Walker, who hails from Read­ing, Penn., was both a McDon­ald’s and Jor­dan Brand Clas­sic All-Amer­i­can as a se­nior. He was rated the No. 12 prospect in the na­tion by ESPN and is widely con­sid­ered a prospect in next year’s NBA draft, some­thing even Lar­rañaga al­luded to on Mon­day.

He av­er­aged 18.4 points to help lead Read­ing High to its first Pennsylvania state cham­pi­onship, and his skill set, Lar­rañaga says, will make it eas­ier for him to tran­si­tion to the col­lege game once he’s healthy.

“He was at prac­tice to­day. He was watch­ing. He’s see­ing ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on, and he’s a very bright young man,” Lar­rañaga said. “He has a lot of lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, so he un­der­stands the im­por­tance of him be­ing there. Out of sight is out of mind, and he doesn’t want to be out of sight. He wants to be there. He wants to be work­ing. He’s re­hab­bing right there while we’re prac­tic­ing, so he gets a chance to ob­serve and to work on his own on the things he needs to be do­ing. He’ll be be­hind, but not so far be­hind. … He’ll be fine.”

Re­cruit­ing a pri­or­ity

Also Mon­day, Lar­rañaga said he and his staff are hop­ing to build on Mi­ami’s re­cent re­cruit­ing suc­cess in the com­ing weeks, es­pe­cially with the Hur­ri­canes likely to lose Walker and Bruce Brown to the NBA and with guard Ja’Quan New­ton set to grad­u­ate. Though Mi­ami does not have any play­ers com­mit­ted to their 2018 class, their last class in­cluded Walker, point guard Chris Lykes and for­ward Deng Gak, a haul that earned the Hur­ri­canes the No. 14 re­cruit­ing class in the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to Ri­

That suc­cess with top­notch play­ers, com­bined with Mi­ami’s play in re­cent sea­sons as well as the de­vel­op­ment of sev­eral NBA prospects in­clud­ing Reed, Shel­don Mac and Shane Larkin, Lar­rañaga said, has more top-flight re­cruits con­sid­er­ing the Hur­ri­canes.

“We’re look­ing down the road to the Class of 2018 and ’19 to hope­fully con­tinue with the suc­cess we’ve en­joyed so far in the re­cruit­ing arena,” Lar­rañaga said. “My staff, Chris Ca­puto, Ja­mal Brunt and Adam Fisher are very, very busy right now get­ting us in­volved with some of the top play­ers in the coun­try. … Ev­ery bas­ket­ball pro­gram in the ACC has the op­por­tu­nity to re­cruit top-50, top-100 cal­iber play­ers.”

Big men im­prov­ing

Lar­rañaga also noted he’s seen progress in the de­vel­op­ment of Mi­ami’s trio of sopho­more big men, cen­ters Ebuka Izundu and Rod­ney Miller and for­ward De­wan Huell, a for­mer McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­can.

Huell, he said, has been in­vited to the Adi­das Na­tions event in Au­gust and has lead the team in scor­ing dur­ing sev­eral prac­tices of late.

“We’re go­ing to need him, Buka and Rod­ney Miller to re­ally man that in­te­rior for us,” Lar­rañaga said. “Last year, those guys were all very young and very in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Now, I feel like they’re vet­er­ans. I see the im­prove­ment and it’s sig­nif­i­cant.”


Jim Lar­rañaga be­lieves Lon­nie Walker will be avail­able for the Hur­ri­canes’ opener against Gard­ner-Webb on Nov. 10.

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