March Madness: Larranaga has Miami poised
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Jim Larranaga was in the Miami locker room before a game during this regular season, talking about the importance of defense, when he decided words were not going to be enough to illustrate his point.
So the 63-year-old, two-time-hip-replacement-patient, white-haired, suit-wearing man fell backward like he was taking a charge, then started shouting.
“When you see that,” said senior guard Durand Scott, “you want to run through a wall for this guy.”
The wall had no chance. Larranaga’s team went out, fully energized, and beat North Carolina by 26.
Larranaga has taken charge of what not long ago looked like a wayward Hurricane program — leading Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, a 27-6 record, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and quite possibly putting a school that hadn’t been to the men’s version of the Big Dance since 2008 in position to win a national title.
Miami plays Pacific (22-12) in Austin, Texas on Friday. So on Monday, other than consenting to about a dozen media interviews, Larranaga tried to rest.
“We’ve got to turn the page,” Larranaga said Monday. “When non-conference season was over, we turned the page. Regular season over, turn the page. ACC tournament is over, turn the page. One does not have anything to do with the next. They’re all separate events and we need our guys to get some rest, because it was a long, grueling tournament.”
Larranaga and the Hurricanes made getting out of that ACC tournament look easy.
Not bad for a guy who, when he decided to pursue the Miami job two years ago, was absolutely convinced he had zero chance of being hired.
“He’s a great teacher,” Miami President Donna Shalala told The Associated Press. “When you get right down to it, in higher education, there are a handful of really great teachers. Sometimes they’re in chemistry, sometimes they’re in English, and sometimes they’re the basketball coach.
“When we heard he wanted the job, I thought this was an opportunity of a lifetime for the University of Miami.”
She might have been right.
And whether he wants it or not, Larranaga — a likely national coach of the year candidate — is getting much of the credit.
That’s why, when the bus carrying the ACC champions arrived back on campus Sunday night, Larranaga was the first to exit and start giving hundreds of high-fives to delirious, fans.
“That was his moment,” said senior forward-center Kenny Kadji, who carried the trophy off the bus. “That was for him.”