Miami men’s basketball coach Jack Owens has no intentions of limiting expectations for the Miami RedHawks this season.
“I’m not putting a ceiling on this team,” Owens said.
Owens has good reason to be optimistic.
This year brings plenty of familiar faces on the roster, including sixth-year center Precious Ayah and fifth-year forward Dalonte Brown Sr. The pair announced their intent to return for a fifth year last Spring.
“[There’s] nowhere else I’d rather be,” Brown Sr. said. “I’m 330 rebounds away from 1000 to be second in school history, that’s something that made me come back, too.”
Last season, Brown Sr. became the 37th player in RedHawk history to pass 1,000 career points. He averaged 13.5 points per game last season and led the team with 7.4 rebounds per game.
The team also returns guards Mekhi Lairy and Dae Dae Grant. Lairy started all 23 games last year and averaged 12.8 points per game, shooting an efficient 45.5 percent from the field and 41.6% behind the 3-point line.
Lairy, a senior, is 244 points away from reaching 1,000 points in a career.
Grant spoke highly of Lairy’s development since last season.
“Khi has been working very hard on and off the court,” he said. “It’s really been showing and I’m excited for him. He has a knack and tenacity to want to win.”
Of course, Grant is no slouch himself. The junior guard led the team with 13.7 point per game last season, including a blistering 41 percent from three and 87.2 percent from the free throw line. Grant earned a Third-Team All-MAC spot for his effort.
Miami’s backcourt was a bright spot last year. Along with Grant and Lairy are redshirt junior Myja White and redshirt senior Isaiah Coleman-Lands. White usually started alongside Grant and Lairy and provided much-needed defense and shooting. He made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and often guarded the team’s best player.
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Coleman-Lands was the sixth man for the RedHawks in 2021. Though he didn’t start a game, he was fourth on the team in minutes played and was second in assists.
Brown Sr. also expects sophomore guard Bryson Tatum to be a factor on the team this season.
“I think he’s definitely gonna turn a lot of heads this year,” Brown Sr. said.
On the wing, redshirt sophomore Javin Etzler could be looking at a bigger role on the team this season. While Etzler played sparingly last year (9.9 minutes per game), Owens praised his shooting ability and IQ.
“He’s a very savvy basketball player,” Owens said. “But his ability to stretch the floor and shoot the basketball is something that helps him play with a lot of guys.”
While Ayah chose to return for another season, his playing time isn’t guaranteed. Miami rotated three centers last season: Ayah, and seniors James Beck and Eli McNamara.
Ayah started the most games out of the trio and led the team in shooting percentage, shooting 56.7 percent from the field. Beck started the least amount of games among returning centers, but was effective off the bench. He averaged 7.1 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game.
McNamara showed flashes of skill, but was the least productive of the trio. Sophomore Jackson Ames may also be in contention for minutes.
Looking ahead to the season, Owens noted a few newcomers whom he thinks will positively impact the team.
Sophomore forward Kamari Williams who transferred from Boston College, freshman guard Marr Avance and freshman forward Curtis Harrison IV are just a few.
Williams, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged just 2.6 points per game and 1.2 rebounds per game. He will likely come off the bench, but could end up starting by the end of the season.
Avance and Harrison IV are the only two members of Owens’ 2021 recruiting class. Avance is from Indianapolis, while Harrison IV is from Cincinnati.
Last season Miami went 12-11 overall and 9-8 in the MAC, recording its first winning season since 2009.
Both Brown Sr. and Grant attested the team’s recent success to newfound chemistry on and off the court.
“[In] the locker room and weight room, we talk a lot and it’s fun,” said Grant. “Everyone gels together.”
Owens agreed and said each member of the team has a wristband with the quote “do your job, play hard, no excuses.”
“Those are things we play and live by,” Owens said. “[The team is] more player led than coach led. That's the beauty of what we have now and hopefully that translates to more wins.”
Looking ahead to the season, Owens noted a few players whom he thinks will positively impact the team.
The season kicks off with an exhibition game against Capital University, followed by 11 non-conference matchups. Two games to highlight are the University of Cincinnati in Millet Hall Dec. 1 and the Clemson Tigers away Dec. 14.
The RedHawks start their 20-game Mid-American Conference (MAC) schedule against the University at Buffalo Bulls, the same team that knocked them out of the MAC Tournament Quarterfinal.
Brown Sr., Grant, and Owens all agree on one of the team’s main goals: to be one of the top teams in the league.
Catch the RedHawks in Millett Hall Saturday, Nov. 13 against Lamar University.