HOUSTON — All 16 members of the Miami men’s basketball team basked in the glow of the Hurricanes’ first Final Four, savoring every last second of Friday’s practice and media sessions.

Everyone soaked it in, from stars like Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier and Jordan Miller to role players like Wooga Poplar and Bensley Joseph to key reserves such as Harlond Beverly and Anthony Walker.

And, of course, both Isaiah Wongs. The good Wong and the not-as-good Wong.

The question is: Which Wong is going to show up Saturday night against UConn?

Will it be the sensational scorer who posted 12 20-point games en route to ACC Player of the Year honors?

Or will it be the other one? The scary one. The one who scored under 10 points 7 times and shot worse than 30% 8 times?

Miami’s strength is its ability to get a 20-point game from almost any starter on a given night, but if the Hurricanes are going to beat UConn on Saturday, the right Wong will have to make an appearance.


The ACC Player of the Year award can be a canary in the coal mine for future NBA prospects, a harbinger of success if there ever was one.

The list includes some of the greats of the college game, from NC State’s David Thompson to Virginia’s Ralph Sampson to Duke’s Danny Ferry … and Christian Laettner … and Grant Hill … and Elton Brand. Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan, of course, and Maryland’s Joe Smith. Oh, yeah, and His Airness, Michael Jordan, won one for North Carolina.

So, that is to say, Wong is in good company.

And, on certain nights, bad company.

The 2022 ACC Player of the Year, Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams, had 3 games in single-figures during his illustrious campaign, and his 3-for-11 performance (including 0-for-3 from 3-point range) cost the Demon Deacons dearly in a season-ending loss last year to the Texas A&M Aggies in the NIT quarterfinals.

He also averaged 18.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the year.

The year prior, Georgia Tech’s Moses Wright posted 4 single-figure stinkers, including 3-for-10, 4-for-11 and 3-for-9 off nights.

He also averaged 17.4 points and 8.0 rebounds for the year.

And what about Duke’s Tre Jones in 2020? He had a handful of flame-outs in that pandemic-shortened season, shooting less than 30% from the field 4 times, including a 5-of-23 showing in back-to-back early season wins over Cal (2-for-10) and Georgetown (3-for-13).

He also averaged 16.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds for the year.

All that is to say, even the best of the best have bad days.

But Wong? When he’s been bad this season, he has at times been spectacularly bad, with a collection of 1-fers that should drive Jim Larranaga mad.

  • 1-for-7 shooting for 5 points against Florida A&M.
  • 3-for-10 for 8 points in a way-too-close win over Central Florida.
  • 1-for-11 for 6 points in a 6-point loss at Georgia Tech.
  • 1-for-8 for 9 points in a close win over Syracuse, followed by a 2-for-8 showing in an even closer loss at Duke.
  • 1-for-9 for 9 points in a squeaker win over No. 25 Pitt.
  • 1-for-10 for 5 points in a first-round near-upset against 12th-seeded Drake.

Can the Hurricanes win if this Isaiah Wong rears his ugly head?


Of course, there’s the other one, too.

That’s the one that UConn coach Dan Hurley chased so hard.

The one who got away. A real beauty.

During Wong’s high school recruitment in 2018 and 2019, Hurley went toe-to-toe with Larrañaga for Wong’s services. The Huskies, Hurley said, “finished a distant second,” with the Jersey-born star opting to forgo a chance to play for the progeny of Garden State basketball royalty, Bob Hurley.

“I think you get a sense on the visit whether you’re going to get the gold or the silver; I think we always felt we were a little bit behind,” Hurley said Thursday. “But we imagined the potential backcourt of him and (James) Bouknight. It was an exciting dream that didn’t come to fruition. Loved him as a player. Jersey guard. Athletic. Could score. Can play-make. Heck of a defensive player. It’s not surprising that he’s led his team to this point and eventually is going to have a long career in the NBA.”

Especially if there are more days like he enjoyed in a Round of 32 win over No. 4-seeded Indiana.

Wong went off for 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting with 8 rebounds in the win, tying for his 2nd-most prolific performance of the season. He followed with 20 points in an upset win over No. 1 seed Houston, particularly crushing the Cougars from the free-throw line, where he went 9-of-11.

Of course, this is nothing new for Wong.

He had 10 20-point games as a sophomore and 10 more last year as a junior. He averaged 16.2 points per game this year, his 3rd straight season averaging at least 15 points per game.

The kid can score.

Most of the time.


Final Four media sessions are made for soliloquies. Forget the platitudes and the chalk talks and let me listen to an ol’ hoophead pontificate on decades on the hardwood.

On Thursday, Miami’s erstwhile head coach took to his seat and his first question was what still brings him joy about this game to which he’s dedicated more than 5 decades.

“I might be 73 years old, but I think age is just a number,” Larrañaga said. “I just love doing what I’m doing. I love coaching basketball. I’ve done it for 51 years. And I hope to do it a lot longer. And what makes it so enjoyable are the players. And I tell the players all the time, the court is my classroom. And you are my student. And I’m going to teach you as much as I can. And learn as much as you can, improve as much as you can because all these guys want to play beyond college. They all want to be professional basketball players. And the best way to do that, no matter how good you are when you come into a college setting, is get better. Improve. Increase your stock, they say.”

But then he got specific.

“But I enjoy the growth,” he said. “If you look at an Isaiah Wong, see where he was as a freshman, where he is now, you can’t imagine it. The guy has gotten so much better in everything.”

Even back as a freshman, though, Wong showed promise.

Thrust into the starting lineup midway through conference play in the 2019-20 season, Wong found his groove in mid-February. In a 4-game stretch between Feb. 8 and Feb. 19, Wong had 3 20-point games, including a heroic 27-point performance in a triple-overtime win over Virginia Tech. A true freshman, Wong went 14-for-14 from the line that day.

If that guy shows up on Saturday — and maybe even a little older, and maybe even a little wiser — the sky is the limit for the Hurricanes.