Miami Hurricanes Basketball: The Week That Changed Miami Basketball

Jan 25, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) dunks the ball as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) looks on during the second half at BankUnited Center. Miami won 80-69. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) dunks the ball as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) looks on during the second half at BankUnited Center. Miami won 80-69. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

What makes a college basketball program elite?

Is it five-star commits? Is it wins and losses or an avid fan base? Is it an expectation of greatness?

The past seven days for the Miami Hurricanes encompassed all of those characteristics and more and despite the program having individual dips into the realm of elite programs over the past decade, they now look ready to fully dive in.

Last Monday, five-star commit Dewan Huell was named to the McDonald’s All-American Game, making him the first Cane to play in the legendary high school all-star game since Darius Rice did so all the way back in 2000. To get some context on how rare it is for a Miami Hurricane to wear those famous golden arches, only three players before Huell had ever been named to the game.

Miami never gets guys like that, or at least in the past they haven’t. Those guys are supposed to go to Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky, not Miami, but the Canes have entered a new era.

Just a few days later in the early hours of the morning, the Hurricanes picked up another commitment for their stacked 2016 class in Australian guard Dejan Vasiljevic. The star from down-under was one of the most highly sought-after international players and yet it was the Hurricanes and Coach Jim Larranaga that got him.

What made his commitment even more astonishing is the players he will enter Coral Gables with in the fall later this year. A McDonald’s All-American in Huell, a Top 30 player in Bruce Brown and a product from legendary Oak Hill in Rodney Miller. Adding a player that dominated the FIBA U-17 Championships including 29 points against a United States team full of five-star recruits is just the icing on the cake.

The recruiting aspect is always important, especially in today’s era of one-and-done’s, but what matters most is the current product on the court. Following a two-game losing streak, the 2015-16 Miami squad traveled up to frigid Chestnut Hill to take on the lowly Boston College Eagles. After a sloppy first half, Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan carried the Canes to a 67-53 win, improving to 14-3 on the season, but for many Miami fans and probably the team as well, the performance still wasn’t good enough. Of course getting victories in the ACC is what matters most, but for fans, experts and the team alike, the performance was not the quality of what Miami basketball now represents.

The same could be said for their next game against Wake Forest. The Hurricanes held a four-point lead at halftime and needed a big-time second half performance from its’ stars to beat the Demon Deacons 77-63 in front of a pretty sparse BankUnited Center crowd. Once again, the performance was not good enough despite the win, but even more telling was the genuine surprise and shock from Coach Larranaga of the empty seats that were present that afternoon. In the past, nothing would be made of the crowds. Yeah, getting a crowd for the Duke’s or North Carolina’s or an in-state rival were to be expected, but for the “average” game, it didn’t really matter. Now this basketball program is on a different level.

Seats were sold out for the entire season earlier this year, the first time that feat had been accomplished in Miami athletics history. Think about that for a second. Think about all those great Miami football teams and baseball teams that have brought back national championships. Not one of them sold out their seats like the Miami basketball program did this season.

A few days later, the Miami Hurricanes welcomed in the Duke Blue Devils for a game that was featured on ESPN’s Big Monday. For as rare as that is, the Canes came into the game as four-point favorites, something I imagine is even more rare than the Miami basketball team on ESPN. Fans and experts both felt the game should be an easy win for the Canes and as it turned out in front of an electric BankUnited Center crowd, it was.

After the game, this Miami team and this Miami program received praise from one of the leaders in not just college basketball, but for the sport of basketball in general, Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“They’re terrific and Jim [Larranaga] is one of the best coaches in the country,” Coach K said of the Canes. “They’re as respected as anybody in the league, and throughout the country, I think, because they’re that good. People respect talent and certainly they respect Jim. He knows what to do with the talent.”

That talent that Krzyzewski spoke of easily handled the Blue Devils in a game that was controlled by the Hurricanes for all 40 minutes. In years past a Miami win over Duke would result in a court-storming or a referendum that the program was on the way up, but that’s no longer the case.

“I know you guys don’t believe this, but I’m telling you – to me, in the ACC, you have 15 very good teams you have to battle,” Coach Larranaga said. “You have to battle…you have to play 18 games and every game counts as one. You beat Duke and that counts as just one.”

While it is easy to expect the coach to come out with the vanilla statement that every game counts the same, in this case that was the truth. After the game even the players like Angel Rodriguez pointed to the fact that this game had little relative meaning to what this team now sets its eyes on at the start of the season.

“I like playing the powerhouses, that’s what we come to the ACC for,” Rodriguez said after the game. “But at the end of the day, our goal is bigger than just beating Duke. Our goal is to win every single game we can and to have a chance to put ourselves in a position to win an ACC title.”

Beating Duke is nice, but that no longer defines a season for this Miami program and that is a sign of change. This Miami program is no longer about one win, it is about adding star-studded recruits, getting big crowds at every game and expecting great performances night in, night out. It is about ACC regular season titles and ACC Tournament titles and hopefully, a national championship.

What makes a college basketball program elite?

Well, I’m not sure it’s just one thing, but whatever it is, the Miami Hurricanes now have it.