Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/6/12
Dont get Reggie Johnson started when it comes to the perceptions about Miamis place in ACC basketball. The Hurricanes' senior forward is fine with Duke and North Carolina serving as the darlings of the conference. He just wishes some other ACC teams would get some respect, too; primarily his Hurricanes. The thing is, and Johnson is smart enough to acknowledge this, too, is that you must win to get noticed, and Miami has fallen a just short of that in recent years. This season, however, could be very different. Were Miami, man, he said. If our jerseys said North Carolina across the chests wed be a top-10 team right now, thats how I feel. If it said North Carolina or Duke right here wed be a top-10 team. But were Miami. Those teams have great traditions as far as going to the tournament and making noise. I feel like we can compete with those guys. Miami may do more than compete with them. The Hurricanes have the components to soar to the top of the ACC -- if several factors go their way. UNC is small and lacks depth inside and will start a freshman at point guard, so the Tar Heels could be a work in progress all season. Duke has perimeter shooting issues and not much legitimate interior depth. North Carolina State, which was picked by the media to win the ACC, hasnt done so since 1989, and if unpredictable junior C.J. Leslie is its leader, the Wolfpack cant be seen as a runaway lock. That leaves the door open for a possible surprise team to pass them all. Maryland has nice parts and Florida State won the conference tournament last March. But Miami is more experienced and deeper than either, and really, may be the most experienced team in the ACC. Add in the fact that its second-year coach, Jim Larranaga, is the only coach in the ACC not named Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams to lead a team to a Final Four (George Mason in 2006), and you have the makings of a possible ACC champion. The key is Johnson. A 6-foot-10 load north of 300 pounds for most of his career, hes playing just below 290 now and is moving quicker than ever. Less pressure on his knees could mean Johnson plays a full season, which wasnt the case last winter. He averaged 10 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but those numbers will be significantly higher if hes healthy. Im moving fine, I am moving so much better, Johnson said. I am flowing better, and its making us smoother. Senior guard Durand Scott (12.3 points per game for his career) said his fellow classmate has never been more impressive than since he lost the weight. Reggie has always been very good, Scott said. He has great hands, a soft touch and feel, but now his footwork is much better and we run a smooth offense with him on the floor. Were a lot better now. Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, the son of Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, has considerable potential and should build off a quality freshman campaign from last winter. Then theres 6-10 senior forward Kenny Kadji, who averaged just below 12 points and more than five rebounds per contest last season. Kadji may have the most pro potential of anyone on the roster, and, when ticking, he and Johnson are quite a tandem, which means Miami can be quite a team. If we play to our strengths, then all of those guys complement each other in a very positive manner, Larranaga said. We can be very good. Johnson speaks glowingly about his teammates. He believes in them, and he has faith in Larranaga, whom the players took a while buying into. But thats no longer an issue. And if the Hurricanes fulfill Johnsons vision, getting national respect wont be, either.
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