Just one day before their ACC-opener against Pitt, Miami was forced to practice without seven of their players, including star guard Chris Lykes.
Ahead of Tuesday’s practice, head coach Jim Larrañaga spoke on his injury-ridden team.
“Well, pretty simply, yesterday and again today we will not have Chris Lykes, Kam McGusty, Rodney Miller, Sam Waardenburg, Earl Timberlake, and today Deng Gak will be out. Oh, and Matt Cross. Those guys did not practice yesterday and will not practice today.”
The team will have to deal with all of these recent injuries as well as the season-ending injury to Sam Waardenburg, a 6-foot-10 redshirt senior forward.
“In all likelihood, we’ll have six scholarship players and Willie Herenton, our walk on, available for play tomorrow. We’re going to have to change our warmup because we don’t have enough guys to do even two-line layups,” Larrañaga said.
Although he will not practice today, Gak still may play against Pitt. The 6-foot-11 redshirt junior forward has only scored eight total points this season, but his height and length could still pose a problem for Pitt.
“We won’t know until later tomorrow afternoon if any of them are available,” said Larrañaga. “I have my fingers crossed that Deng Gak will be available. He did actually practice a little yesterday, but his knees are bothering him today. We can’t afford for him to practice today and those knees get worse, so he’s gonna sit out today and hopefully that additional rest will prepare him to at least be functional tomorrow and at least contribute some minutes.”
Gak also spoke with the media before practice, saying that his team will be ready despite all of the injuries.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “One of the biggest things Coach L emphasizes to us is his philosophy, which is attitude, commitment, and class. As long as we have the right attitude about things that happen on our team such as injuries, we’re good. It’s next man up with us. We have people ready to play.”
According to Larrañaga, incoming transfer Elijah Olaniyi, who is still awaiting an eligibility waiver from the NCAA, will likely start against Pitt and play a large role if granted eligibility before the game.
“I told him I’m very very hopeful, I have my fingers crossed,” Larrañaga said about his conversation with Olaniyi. “I hear rumors that transfers, that all transfers in men’s and women’s basketball are going to be eligible starting at five o’clock tomorrow. So in all likelihood he will be in uniform, he will be in the starting lineup, and he will play as many minutes as he can possibly play. It’s very conceivable he could play all 40 minutes tomorrow.”
If the rumors that Larrañaga is hearing are true, Pitt will also head into the game with some good news. Guard Nike Sibande will look to make his debut in the blue and gold after sitting out the first few games waiting for his eligibility to be granted. For now, both teams will head into conference play not knowing whether or not their wishes will be granted.
With Lykes and McGusty out tomorrow night, Miami will turn to Isaiah Wong to lead the team offensively. Through four games, Wong has averaged 35.25 minutes, 17 points, and 6.25 assists per game. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard will be tasked with defending Pitt’s strong guards and carrying the scoring load for the Hurricanes.