After posting a 16-18 record in Jack Owens' first year as head coach, the Miami RedHawks are focused on one word as they ready for the upcoming season: growth.
"I feel like our chemistry and growth are key," sophomore guard Nike Sibande said. "We were young last year, everyone coming together in our first year playing together. This year, everyone felt each other out some more and knows each other, picked each other's brains. Everyone knows what everybody can do more."
Sibande, the 2018 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year, returns along with the rest of last season's starting five.
Overall, eight players come back from Owens' first season, and that doesn't include senior guard Abdoulaye Harouna or sophomore guard Milos Jovic, who both redshirted last year.
All 10 of those players, excluding junior forward Bam Bowman and sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, remained healthy throughout fall camp, allowing them to build upon their chemistry and performance from last season.
Owens already sees growth in the returnees.
"There's not just one guy I can single out," Owens said. "I can talk about each and every guy. Those guys are definitely bringing it each and every day, and we're excited about their progress."
The team also includes five newcomers:
- Freshman guard Mekhi Lairy
- Freshman guard Myja White
- Freshman forward Eli McNamara
- Redshirt senior forward Alex Abrams (graduate transfer from Cal Poly)
- Sophomore guard Benjamin Litteken (walk-on)
The returning key contributors and talented additions have generated a buzz that hasn't been seen since the program's last winning season in 2010-2011. Preseason polls predicted Miami to finish second in the MAC East.
But for senior guard Darrian Ringo, it's not about focusing on the RedHawks' possible postseason placement. It's about focusing on constant improvement, which he called "very important."
"My expectations for the team are just to come here every day and compete," Ringo said, "try to get better every day and just take it one day at a time. I feel like if we win the day and just focus on that one day, then we'll be good."
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They got off to a good start with a 84-53 exhibition victory over Taylor University at Millett Hall last night.
Their offensive energy and defensive effort stood out, as the offense put up 25 fast-break points (compared to three for Taylor), while the defense caused 25 turnovers.
Jovic paced the team in points with 13, while Ringo tallied team-highs in assists (4) and steals (5). McNamara corralled a game-high 10 rebounds.
Sibande missed the game for undisclosed, non-injury reasons. Bowman and Coleman-Lands both missed with right foot injuries and are expected to be out for the first week of the season.
Owens declined to comment after the game.
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, the win over Taylor -- a Division II team -- doesn't count towards the regular season.
Miami's first chance to showcase its growth comes on Saturday, when the RedHawks travel to Indianapolis to take on Butler. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Network.
*The Miami Student was denied media access to all freshmen before their first official game, per Owens' policy.