WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As UM embarks on its NCAA Tournament adventure Friday, you hear four names, deservedly so, credited most: Jim Larranaga, Shane Larkin, Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji. You hear about slumping Reggie Johnson. But others, inside and outside the UM family, also deserve acknowledgement to varying degrees, players say.
That group includes a role player that everyone with the program vastly underestimated, an ex-Kangaroo, one of the Heat’s Big Three, a former NCAA Tournament MVP, the former head coach and a key staffer who recently left for Arizona State.
Giving credit where it’s due:
### Start with quintessential role players Julian Gamble and Trey McKinney-Jones, roommates who have watched more than 100 movies together when they’re not working on their games.
“Those guys don’t have huge egos,” Larranaga said Monday. “They’re not all about me, me, me. They’re more: What can I do to help? They listen a lot more than other guys.”
Gamble’s defense, toughness and overall production (6.6 points, 4.9 rebounds) have been invaluable. Frankly, UM coaches never saw this coming from a player who averaged no more than four points or four rebounds in his first three seasons and missed last season with a torn ACL – an injury he now says “was the best thing that happened to me” because “it made me so much stronger as a player and person.”
Said Kadji: “When I came here, Julian was a decent player, but we never expected THIS. Soon [after] he went in the starting lineup, that’s when we went on our 14-game streak. With his effort, he just elevates everyone’s game during practice and games. He doesn’t get tired.”
Once largely anonymous, Gamble has heard ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Seth Greenberg call him UM’s “unsung hero” and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski call him “the most underrated player in the ACC.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams approached Gamble after Sunday’s game and said, as Gamble recalled: “I am really proud of you. You’ve gone through a lot. To be here and come out on top the way you have, it really says a lot about you. You’re an inspiration to a lot of people.’”
Among other ACC schools, only North Carolina State made him an offer. “Never had interest from Duke or Wake Forest,” the Durham, N.C. native said. “It was a little bit of motivation. I pride myself on being an enforcer, protecting the rim and being relentless.”
McKinney Jones, who picked UM over Wisconsin when he decided to transfer from Missouri-Kansas City three years ago, forged his signature Hurricanes moment Sunday with 20 points. Beyond his three-point shooting, Krzyzewski has raved about his physical defense on the perimeter.
He went under-the-radar out of high school because he focused on track, twice winning the Wisconsin state championship in the triple jump.
“You look at the last five minutes of games – his shooting percentages and what he’s been able to contribute have been amazing,” Larranaga said. “He’s one of those steady Eddie types, doesn’t seek attention.”
### Heat center Chris Bosh and former Arizona guard Miles Simon: Johnson credits Bosh and Simon (the 1997 NCAA Tournament MVP) for giving players the jolt they needed, with summer speeches that still resonate.
Bosh’s was delivered in 2011, and Larranaga calls it “the best five-minute talk I’ve ever heard.” Bosh was playing in a pickup game with UM players, “and I remember guarding him and thinking I did so well,” Kadji said last week.
“But we then had a meeting in the weight room, the whole team, and Bosh just called us out. Told us we didn’t play hard. He felt like we couldn’t improve because our team wasn’t playing hard at all. I took it personally, because I was guarding him. That was a wake-up call.”
Larranaga said Bosh “talked about how disappointed he was that he didn't play better” in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Dallas, and said, 'You can't compete at the highest level of college basketball with the effort that you're giving.' It was just music to my ears because that was the message we were trying to deliver."
Bosh appreciates that players mentioned that speech in recent weeks: “I am just happy to see them successful.”
Bosh’s memory of that day? “A 36-year-old man with a belly who didn’t play college basketball was working out with us, and he got an offensive rebound and put back. There was no way he was supposed to do that. Please!
“I felt they needed to be more competitive. I didn’t want them to have that feeling of regret when you don’t work as hard as you could and come up short. I told them that. I said, ‘If you want to take a day off, don’t.”
As for Simon – whose NBA career totaled just five games – he told UM players last summer that they weren’t tough enough. “That stuck with us,” Johnson said. “He told Durand and me and we took that to heart. We got the guys together and stayed in town during the summer to work out in the weight room. Now, I feel we’re one of the most physical teams.”
### There are others who deserve mention, too: Guard Rion Brown… Assistant coaches Chris Caputo, Eric Konkol and Michael Huger, who have been key in player development… Former strength and conditioning coach Jim Krumpos – whom Kadji called the under-the-radar person most worthy of credit for UM’s season – before he left for Arizona State last month. “He did an unbelievable job with us – we really look like grown men now,” Kadji said. “I lost 22 pounds, Julian [16 pounds].” His successor, Sean Muldoon, has carried on his program….
And finally, give some credit to Missouri and former UM coach Frank Haith, who left behind the nucleus of this team two years ago, excluding Larkin. “I love those guys and am very happy for them,” Haith texted. “Jim has done a tremendous job with them. Pulling hard for The U.”
### Besides looking at Sebastian Vollmer, Eric Winston and other tackles (including considering a trade for Kansas City's Branden Albert), the Dolphins also are open to upgrading at right guard, and Jets free agent Brandon Moore (ranked fourth among all guards by Pro Football Focus) is on their radar, along with Bears free agent Lance Louis. Joe Philbin said incumbent right guard John Jerry “has to do a better job of staying on his feet" and managing his weight.
(Wednesday morning update: Winston is visiting the Dolphins today.)
### Quick hits from Philbin: He said Daniel Thomas has to “play more consistently, eliminate the fumbles and mental errors”; is “excited” about safety Kelcie McCray, who missed all last year with a foot injury after impressing in minicamps; loves new receiver Brandon Gibson ("runs routes effectively,... moves the chains" and “played a little bigger than he is" at 6-0"); and said cornerback Dmitri Patterson is “athletic and fairly instinctive” but needs to evaluate him more. Patterson could end up starting.
### Jets coach Rex Ryan said of the Dolphins on Tuesday: "No question, they've added a lot of talent to their team. I'm kind of happy to see Jake Long leave, though." He isn't pleased about losing Dustin Keller to Miami: "If Dustin's healthy, he's a weapon. He's got wide receiver skills in a tight end's body.".... The 49ers signed former Dolphins receiver Marlon Moore on Tuesday.
### UM’s Duke Johnson has added seven pounds (to 192) and Al Golden said Tuesday: “We have to increase his touches." But "you have to be careful because you can overload him with the skill set he has.” Johnson averaged 11.5 carries and 16 touches per game last season.
### For more Dolphins and Canes notes from Tuesday evening, please see our last post.
### One official with another team said the Heat expressed frustration with Mario Chalmers’ inconsistency earlier this season, but that has changed. He has been very good during this win streak (79 assists, 33 turnovers). And this shows his value: Not only is Miami 17-1 when he scores in double figures, but he is shooting 46 percent in Heat wins, 29 percent in losses.