The Miami Hurricanes are legitimate Final Four contenders when the 2017-18 college basketball season begins. That is, of course, if the team is healthy enough to live up to the hype.
Lonnie Walker, Jim Larranaga’s highest-rated recruit since he arrived at Miami, tore his meniscus on Tuesday and requires surgery. This is awful news for the player and the program.
The timetable for his return is speculative, ranging from the start of the season to some point in December.
This is a big deal for the Hurricanes, Walker and college basketball in general. It is also far too familiar.
We are only a year removed from the entire Harry Giles fiasco. Another highly hyped incoming freshman who saw his legs cut out from underneath him before last season even began. This resulted in an up-and-down lone season for Giles at Duke. A mostly iffy voyage that resulted in his draft stock plummeting in comparison to where experts initially slotted him before the injury.
Walker isn’t hitting the Miami campus with Giles’ national hype, though his impact is projected to be similar as to what Giles’ was supposed to be for the Blue Devils.
Ranked as the No. 12 overall recruit in ESPN’s Top 100 2017 prospects, as well as being projected as a likely first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Walker is meant to join Bruce Brown to take the Hurricanes to the next level of college basketball success.
It is a lot to ask for out of a freshman, but there has been reason to believe that Walker joining the dynamic Brown would be enough to have many choosing Miami as one of the nation’s best teams before the season tips.
Alas, a ton of this hinges on the health of Walker.
It is all conjuncture as this point, as is the fear that Miami will treat Walker’s health with the same (keyword coming) relative disregard as Duke did with Giles’.
Giles wasn’t only entering last season coming off an injury, he was mostly broken. Touted as an elite athlete at the high school and grassroots levels, the rush to get him back on the court resulted in Giles looking both flawed and unable to recapture the explosiveness he had as a more healthy teenager.
This can be attributed to the multiple injures Giles suffered, or simply not returning to form quickly enough, or — worst-case scenario — the Blue Devils rushing him back for the sake of collegiate victories. And while Duke eventually found its footing in the 2016-17 campaign after a brutal start, Giles never did — at least not in terms relative to his hype.
While I’m not saying the lack of favors Duke did Giles is what Miami will do to its own freshman star, that is the fear even if its unintentional.
Will this be Walker’s relationship with the Hurricanes? There’s no evidence to suggest anyone on Miami’s coaching staff would insert him back in the lineup in great haste and without regard for his health — though, the preseason expectations have never been this high for a Miami basketball program.
Expectations and goals change people. Subconsciously, consciously, whatever.
Ideally, Walker’s surgery goes more smoothly than a baby’s bottom and he returns to the Hurricanes soon enough that a fully healthy Miami roster gets to attempt its run at greatness in the upcoming season. Unfortunately, we do not live in a world where ideal things happen more often than not.
Projecting one program’s (we think) honest mistake onto another, or assuming Walker will simply rebound easily are both unrealistic ways to approach this injury. So, too, is re-slotting expectations for the Hurricanes without yet fully knowing Walker’s timetable for return.
Still, this is worth monitoring. After all, it isn’t every day the Miami Hurricanes are going after a Final Four run in earnest with a top 12 incoming freshman at their disposal. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, when it all plays out.
Here is to hoping Lonnie Walker’s freshman voyage goes far better than the one Harry Giles embarked on a few months ago.
Then again, you know what they say when you hope, right? Hope in one hand and (insert words not suitable for print) … see which one fills up first.
Let’s root for hope.