UM basketball teams start practice hoping to build off historic NCAA tournament runs

D.A. Varela/

Jim Larranaga has been dealing with a severe case of laryngitis this month, but that did not keep the University of Miami coach from securing a pair of high-profile recruits or from beginning to prepare his 2023-24 team as practice gets under way this week.

He spoke at a near whisper in his first pre-season press conference Tuesday, which was uncharacteristic for the gregarious coach coming off a historic Final Four run last spring.

“I’m really trying to save my voice right now because I have no strength, no volume; but teaching doesn’t require yelling,” he said. “I’m still out there, talking to the players, calling them over to the sideline, whispering in their ear telling them what they could have done or should have done or something they did really well.”

He said he was unable to speak due to laryngitis during one of the official recruiting visits, “so my coaches did all the talking and we got those two kids, so it just shows you my impact is not as great as some people might think and that my assistant coaches are doing an amazing job.”

Although he is not allowed to discuss recruits by name until they officially sign, he surely was referring to five-star Class of 2024 guard Jalil Bethea and four-star prospect Isaiah Johnson-Arigu, who both committed to UM in September.

Larranaga had a chance to spend time with his current team on a trip to France over summer and the new players got integrated during three games over there. He was encouraged by what he saw from Florida State University transfer Matt Cleveland and freshman Michael Nwoko.

“Matt and Michael are doing a real nice job, but they’re still in the learning process and it’s not as smooth a transition as you might think,” he said. “They are getting more and more familiar with our offense and drills.”

Cleveland said his comfort level with the Hurricanes coaching staff and the program’s success with transfers is what persuaded him to transfer from FSU.

“They had success with transfers like Norchad Omier, Nijel Pack, and before then, my freshman year, Charlie (Moore), and Kam (McGusty) and Jordan (Miller), so that was the main reason,” Cleveland said. “That, and the winning they’ve done the past few years.”

Larranaga is optimistic this team can build on the 2023 Final Four, but made no promises.

“Our league has improved dramatically, and our non-conference schedule is probably the most challenging since I’ve been here,” said Larranaga. “So, that optimism has to be tempered and then the loss of two great NBA players in Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong. It’s difficult to replace that caliber player, so we’ll have to see once we start playing.”

The UM women’s team, coming off its first Elite Eight in school history, begins practice on Saturday. Coach Katie Meier liked the athleticism and “grit” she saw from the Hurricanes during their summer trip to Europe, but she is waiting to see who steps up to replace departed Destiny Harden, Haley Cavinder and Lolo Pendande.

“In the fourth quarter last year, Destiny was such a clutch player, Haley never missed a free throw and Lolo played great defense against All-American players,” Meier said. “We have to answer that. Who’s the gamer? Who’s going to get stops for us? That’s to be determined.”

Guard Ja’Leah Williams said she is ready to pick up where Harden left off and become a team leader.

“I’m glad she was in my life, and she made a mark on me, not just on the court, but off the court,” Williams said. “I learned how to lead the team. I have to step up and take that role…the newcomers bring a lot of energy and we all feed off them. I think after the Elite Eight you can expect more wins from this team.”

The men’s team plays its first exhibition game Oct. 29 against The College of New Jersey and the women open Nov. 9 against Jacksonville.