Miami has some retooling to do in its backcourt before going into next season, and coach Jim Larranaga addressed that need Wednesday by signing a combination shooting/point guard, Dejan Vasiljevic, to a national letter-of-intent.
Vasiljevic is a 6-foot-2 guard from Melbourne, Australia, who has the experience of playing in the FIBA World Championships, where he averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game in the 2015 U-19 World Championships.
In the 2014 FIBA U-18 Oceania Championships the year before, Vasiljevic posted averages of 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
“DJ is a tough, hard-nosed defender with a unique set of offensive skills which allows him to fill up the basket from deep range,” Larranaga said in a statement released by the university. “He has a high basketball IQ and a great feel for the game.”
The international experience — he also played in the U-17 Championships in 2014 and was all-tournament in the U-16s in 2013 — could help Visiljevic fill an immediate at point guard for the Hurricanes next season.
The Hurricanes, who lost to eventual national champion Villanova in an NCAA regional semifinal game, lose two-year starting point guard Angel Rodriguez, their No. 2 scorer and leading assist man in for the past season. His likely successor is Ja’Quan Newton, who was a valuable contributor off the bench when he averaged 10.5 points a game.
But there are questions not only about depth but Newton’s ability to take on the No. 1 role as well.
Larranaga addressed the issue last week at a final press briefing.
“It’s going to be challenge,” he said, “and the challenge really is going to be when we turn the reins over to Ja’Quan, which right now is the plan, he’s going to need to really work at completing a well-rounded game.”
Larranaga doesn’t question Newton’s ability to score or distribute the ball to his teammates. He was second on the team in assists to Rodriguez with 76. But he also had 66 turnovers, an average of over two a game in 22 minutes of playing time. That’s an assist-to-turnover ratio of about 1:1.
“If he’s really going to be the kind of point guard to lead our team, he needs to improve that to 2:1 or 3:1,” Larranaga said. “That would make him an outstanding point guard, but also make us a very good team.”
The other options at the point, the coach said, are Anthony Lawrence, a versatile 6-7 forward who can be effective from the perimeter and also was used inside at times this season because of Miami’s lack of depth there.
Lawrence, who played the position in high school, had twice as many assists (27) as turnovers (13) in averaging 12 minutes an appearance in 33 games. Incoming freshman Bruce Brown, another combo guard, also could get a look.
But it all comes back to Newton.
“Right now,” Larranaga said, “we are hoping and anticipating that Ja’Quan will step into that role.”