Young RedHawks team anxious to launch new season
Talented freshmen group to see plenty of non-conference action
By MIKE SMITH
Travis Steele's Miami RedHawks open their 2023 season Monday with an 8 p.m. tilt at Evansville.
The same two teams opened last season, with the Purple Aces pulling out a 78-74 victory.
Openers are typically interesting, almost regardless of opponent. However, especially in these days of player movement, most fans are anxious to see new talent. Of course, last year, Miami fans were getting their first look at the RedHawks under new Head Coach Travis Steele. That alone would have generated significant curiosity. However, MU also underwent significant roster changes.
Among the 2022-23 newcomers was center Anderson Mirambeaux who played very little (5.5 mpg) and barely moved the scoring needle with an average of 1.5 ppg. over the previous season at Cleveland State. It came as a pleasant surprise then when . . .
. . . Mirambeaux (listed at 6-8, 305) played 31 minutes and scored a game-high 27 points against Evansville. He also had a team-high eight rebounds, two assists and knocked down 8 of 10 free throws.
For his part, Steele was less surprised than many fans. He had seen Mirambeaux's hard work between seasons and also saw glimpses of untapped offensive skills. Over the season, Mirambeaux played in all 32 games, averaged 25.4 minutes, 14. 3 ppg, 5.7 rpb and 2.6 assists per game. The latter was another area Steele felt was a Mirambeaux strength.
The then-junior connected on 53.7 percent from the floor and 76.7 percent at the line. Beyond that, he gave the RedHawks a strong presence inside that enhanced both MU's offense and defense.
So ... who might be among the 2023-24 surprises? Game One might not be provide an answer. However, that and the many non-conference games to follow are certainly ripe for clues.
One somewhat surprising development since last year is the departure of Morgan Safford. The senior transferred into Miami's program last year and was a solid veteran presence. He ultimately finished second among RedHawks in scoring (15.4 ppg) and first in rebounds (5.9 rpg).
Fans can still see his name in Miami box scores at least twice this year, since it recently was announced on X (Twitter) that Safford will play at Kent State this season.
On the flip side, the RedHawks have picked up a former Northern Illinois Huskie. Forward Darweshi Hunter (6-5, 200) averaged 9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg last year, hitting 46.5 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from beyond the arc and 79.5 percent at the charity stripe. He tallied 15 and nine points in two appearances against MU in 2022-23. Hunter played high school ball at nearby Princeton High School (Cincinnati, OH).
Although Steele was unavailable for last Monday's media presser, Associate Head Coach Rob Summers stepped in and provided some insight about this year's team. Here are some notes and observations from that meeting.
-- Summers expects incoming freshmen to see action during a non-conference schedule that will help the team mesh and newcomers show their skills. "Those . . . freshmen are going to play. They're going to play some big numbers for us. They're going to have bad games; they're going to have great games."
-- With point guard and leading scorer Mekhi Lairy departed, the preseason will be important in exploring who can step into that role. One of the possibilities is freshman Mekhi Cooper (6-0, 155).
"Mekhi played AAU basketball for Flight National. Mekhi is electric with the ball. He has a ton of creativity with the ball in his hands. He can score the ball at all three levels, and he has an ability to pressure the ball full court," Steele said while introducing his new freshmen class last November.
Another option could be freshman Evan Ipsaro (6-0, 195). Ipsaro attended relatively close Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, where he was coached by Scott Ruthsatz. "Ipsaro played AAU basketball for one of the top AAU programs in the country, Indiana Elite, on the 3SSB circuit. The first thing that comes to mind with Evan is toughness," said Steele. "He is a competitor and a winner. He is a terrific passer and really makes his teammates better."
Ipsaro averaged 21.7 PPG, 7.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, and 2.3 steals per game (SPG) his junior season and holds the school record for free-throw percentage at 91.2 percent. He was named to the all-state team voted by coaches and made the Sweet 16 all-tournament team.
Among other incoming freshmen, Kotecki is a 6-9 forward from Chicago. Elan Elmer (6-7, 190, fwd) is from Covington, Ky. and played at Robert A. Taft. According to Steele, freshman Reece Potter (7-0, 210) can play inside or out, is very mobile and has a "terrific skill set."
"The freshmen have been getting better every day," Summers said. Combined with some young transfer talent," he observed, "The new guys are looking great right now."
-- Guard Bradley Dean (6-2, 170) and Bryce Bultman have Division II experience. "Those two (transfers) will definitely add a lot to our offense," Summers said. "From being a former Division II basketball coach myself, I've seen a lot of good basketball at Division II."
-- Mirambeaux may not be immediately available, but "he'll be in our rotation sooner rather than later." Julian Lewis, meanwhile, averaged 22.5 minutes per game, 5.8 ppg and 3.3 rpg in 2022-23
-- Although just sophomores, Ryan Mabry and Jaquel Morris are expected to be part of the foundation for this year's squad. Mabry was named to the All-MAC Freshman Team, while Morris was starting to make an impact inside down the stretch of last year's campaign. That helped take some of the load/pressure off of Mirambeaux. "They were thrown into the fire as freshmen," Summers said. "They're the vets now. We're looking for huge, huge years from them."
One of the early opportunities to get some outside competition came back in August when Miami played in a tournament in Puerto Rico. The RedHawks went 3-0. against a group of All-Stars from the Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN). Potter led the RedHawks with an average of 15 points per game and added 5.3 rebounds each game. Ipsaro facilitated a team-high four assists per contest and Jaquel Morris pulled down six rebounds per game to lead Miami.
CLICK HERE FOR VIEW OF ACTION
-- Asked about what has been emphasized for this season, Summers identified defense.
"Coach Steele has always been one who is a defensive-minded coach. This off-season, we've really been on our guys about being prepared defensively."
-- At the same time, Summers feels the new parts will eventually be "great pieces" to help the offense.
-- Tipping off for real is an exciting time for coaches and players. "They get tired of going at each other every day," Summers said. "It's here now, so we're very excited . . . The energy is just flying through the roof right now."
-- While building on cohesion and exploring talent will be key to the non-conference schedule, Summers feels good about the eventual product. "I think you're going to see a product on the court that's really going to reflect what MAC basketball and Miami basketball is about."
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.