Buried in scouting, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he hasn’t had a chance to watch Miami play much this season.
But Donovan has respect for what Miami has accomplished this season. The Hurricanes jumped up to No. 3 in this week’s AP men’s basketball poll, receiving 17 first-place votes for their highest ranking in school history. Florida dropped to No. 7 following a loss to Arkansas last week. But both Miami (19-3, 10-0 ACC) and Florida (19-3, 9-1 SEC) are leading their respective conferences in mid-February, showing the Sunshine State has to more to offer than just football.
“(Miami) probably (has) a lot of older guys, somewhat similar to we’ve got some older guys,” Donovan said. “But they’ve done a great job. I think it’s very good for basketball in the state of Florida. what they’re doing. They’ve had an exceptional year.”
There are ties to the Florida-Miami program. Like Donovan, Miami coach Jim Larranaga was a former Providence standout. The two coached head-to-head against each other on a big stage, with Donovan’s Gators knocking off Larranaga’s George Mason Patriots in the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis. The Gators went on to beat UCLA for their first of back-to-back national titles.
Another tie-in is Miami fifth-year senior Kenny Kadji, who began his career at UF before transferring. Kadji had most of his sophomore season wiped out due to back problems. Following his sophomore year in 2009-10, Kadji opted to transfer. Donovan could not guarantee Kadji a starting position behind an all-senior starting frontline of Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin.
At Miami, the 23-year-old Kadji has blossomed. Kadji is averaging 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range.
“Kenny probably needed to grow, mature,” Donovan said. “I think his experience here probably helped him become who he has become as a player. It’s never been a talent issue with Kenny. He’s always been very, very talented, very gifted.
“I think for him a fresh start was probably the best thing for him and a good thing for him … when he’s focused and he’s working hard, the sky is the limit for him as a player.”
Donovan said given his relationship with Larranaga, he would be open to playing Miami again in the regular season. The two schools last played a home-and-home series during the 2004-05, 05-06 seasons. Florida last played Miami in the second round of the 2009 NIT Tournament, a game the Gators won 74-60 at the O’Connell Center.
“The hardest thing for us right now is we’ve gone to the 18-game (SEC) schedule,” Donovan said. “We’ve got the SEC-Big East Challenge, it’s a home-and-home situation. But I’m never opposed to playing them. It would be a great game.”