College basketball practice just got under way last week, but the University of Miami men’s and women’s programs have been in the national spotlight for months.
The Hurricanes were at the epicenter of the Name, Image and Likeness surge during the offseason as both teams landed highly publicized transfers.
Social media sensations Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who have 4 million TikTok followers and over $1 million in sponsorships, left Fresno State and signed with UM. Former Kansas State guard Nijel Pack, whose $800,000 NIL deal with Miami-based LifeWallet made national headlines, chose UM over Ohio State and Purdue.
UM also added Arkansas State transfer Norchad Omier, the first Nicaraguan to play Division I college basketball.
The new players, UM head coaches Jim Larranaga and Katie Meier, and assistant coach Kotie Kimble met with the media on Friday and made one thing abundantly clear: Their minds are on basketball and returning to March Madness, not on endorsement deals.
Larranaga’s team reached the Elite Eight last season for the first time in school history. Meier’s team made it to the ACC Championship game and the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to eventual champion and top seed South Carolina.
Here are some topics they addressed heading into the upcoming season:
The Cavinder Twins
They are well-known for their TikTok videos, but Haley Cavinder reminded fans: “We were basketball players before TikTokers. I think people forget that.”
The identical 5-6 twin guards have been gym rats since they were little girls growing up in Arizona.
They combined to average 34.2 points per game in their three seasons at Fresno State and developed a huge social media following during the pandemic. Haley was the Mountain West Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2020-21 and made an all-conference as a freshman and a junior. Hanna was all-conference as a freshman.
Their father, Tom, played at Nova Southeastern from 1992-94, their grandparents live in Naples and their older sister in St. Petersburg, so when they were looking for a more competitive program to transfer to, Miami came to mind.
Once they met Meier, they were sold.
“I love her honesty,” Hanna said. “Right when we got on campus, I could see the relationship she has with her players and that’s something you can’t fake. It’s undeniable, so it was hard to say no.”
Meier has been impressed by the twins’ work ethic and competitive nature.
“The number one thing they bring is they never get outworked,” Meier said. “I want people to understand that they are determined workers. Basketball is a very serious thing in their lives. They don’t back down from any challenge. They are bold in the sense that they are trying to blend in with a team that’s really talented. They’re going to find a way to win and that has elevated our whole team.”
Pack, an All-Big 12 first-team guard, was one of the most sought-after players in the transfer portal. He averaged 17.4 points per game as a sophomore and will be counted on to replace Charlie Moore at point guard, along with Bensley Joseph.
“The city of Miami is a beautiful place, but Coach L was the deciding factor,” Pack said. “I knew I had to pick a coach that could help me get to my dreams. I got a good look at UM in the NCAA Tournament and their style of play fit, and I could see myself in this program.”
He said he loved “how fast they played, how free they played and how really, really happy” the Hurricanes seemed during March Madness.
“Even Coach L’s enjoyment in the locker room after the games was really fun to watch,” Pack said. “It’s something I wanted to be part of. I want to see Coach L doing his little dances, too.”
Larranaga’s experience was also key.
“He’s had every different type of player, put multiple players in the league and has the wisdom to get us to the next level and that’s what makes everybody respect him so much,” Pack said.
His boundless energy, positive spirit and infectious smile are Omier’s most immediate contributions to the Hurricanes. Larranaga said he hopes Omier will become a reliable low-post presence but making the transition from mid-major to the ACC will require maximum effort.
Omier, a 6-7 forward and Sun Belt Player of the Year, chose UM over Georgetown, Florida State and Texas Tech. Miami’s large Hispanic community was a big factor.
“The large Nicaraguan community in Miami was a big influence on my decision to come here,” said Omier, who attended one year at Miami Prep High before going to Arkansas State. “Ever since I was in high school the local Nicaraguans were supporting me, sending me texts, attending my games. A lot of them said they’re going to come root for me at UM, so that makes me very happy that I can represent my country at the highest level.”
Nicaragua is known for boxing and baseball, but Omier aims to add basketball to the list.
“Kids in my country play mainly baseball and boxing, but basketball is growing now and I think I had a big influence on that,” he said. “Now many kids want to play basketball, kids write to me saying, ‘Thanks for being the first.’ ”
Destiny Harden broke down in tears when asked about her remarkable comeback from injury to ACC tournament star last season. Her 15-0 solo run in the closing minutes sealed an upset win over fourth-ranked Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinal.
“One thing people missed last year is that we started the season without Des and she is the heart and soul of this program,” Meier said. “Des is everybody’s favorite teammate. She is going to get in the muck with you, roll up her sleeves, bring her lunch pail and hard hat and she’s a real positive communicator. The frustrations she had personally, if she would have shared that with the team it would have deflated us. She was the brave soldier that wanted the best for Miami, so she acted like it wasn’t that devastating, but it was. Nobody deserved that moment more than Des.”
The men’s season tips-off with an Oct. 30 home exhibition against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The women open Nov. 7 against Maryland Eastern.