UM basketball is suddenly the rage on campus, and coach Jim Larranaga is the reason | Opinion
The revolving door at the University of Miami football office (soon to be a $300 million football complex) keeps spinning as Mario Cristobal, less than a year after getting everyone excited about his All-Star coaching staff, finds himself having to hire a new offensive and defensive coordinator a month before spring practice.
Hurricanes fans were abuzz on social media Tuesday upon finding out that Cristobal lured Lance Guidry, a highly respected defensive mind, away from Tulane, where he had just accepted a defensive coordinator job after leaving Marshall.
Guidry’s resume should give Hurricanes fans reason for optimism, but long-suffering UM faithful also have reason for skepticism. We’ve seen this movie before. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, the men’s basketball program is getting stronger and stronger under coach Jim Larranaga, a Naismith Hall of Fame nominee who is finally starting to receive the respect he deserves after five decades of getting the most out of his players.
An electric Watsco Center sellout crowd and national TV audience witnessed UM’s 81-59 beatdown of Duke on Monday night, improving the Hurricanes’ record to 19-5 overall, 10-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 13-0 at home.
The Hurricanes, whose two highest scorers were a 6-7 transfer from Arkansas State and a 6-7 transfer from George Mason, completely dominated a Duke roster loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans, including frontcourt freshmen Kyle Filipowski, who is 7 feet tall, and Dereck Lively II, who is 7-1.
Ask any coach in America if they would swap Duke’s roster for Miami’s and they would probably say no. And yet, the Hurricanes led the Blue Devils from start to finish, forced them into 21 turnovers and outrebounded them 38-31. Three weeks earlier, they took Duke down to the wire at Cameron Indoor Stadium, one of the most intimidating places to play.
Last year, the Hurricanes beat then-No. 2 ranked Duke and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski at Cameron and went on to make a surprise run to the Elite Eight in March.
Larranaga always makes it a point to credit his players and staff for the team’s success, but the truth is, he deserves a bulk of the credit. Before he arrived at Miami, the Hurricanes were 2-15 against Duke. Since he took over, they are 8-9, including a 90-63 rout of then-top-ranked Duke in 2013, the third-largest margin of defeat ever for a No. 1 team.
That is not a coincidence.
Since his arrival at UM 12 years ago, the Canes have advanced to the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight once and have won both the ACC season title and tournament title.
Coach L, as he is affectionately known, hasn’t built his reputation on the backs of five-star recruits. This is a man who took 11th seed George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. George Mason.
Critics said his team didn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament. They shocked the nation, knocking off 2005 Final Four team Michigan State, defending national champion North Carolina, Wichita State and 2004 champion UConn before losing to eventual champion Florida.
Before playing Carolina, Coach L told his team: “Their fans think they’re Supermen. Our fans know we’re kryptonite.”
Year after year he restocks and rebuilds, develops his players, earns their trust, adapts his tactical schemes to the roster’s strengths and weaknesses. And, he has fun.
The 73-year-old coach ignores his back pain and dances in the locker room with his players. He comes up with corny motivational stories. He promotes his team all over campus, speaking in classrooms, visiting fraternities, meeting with the pep band, inviting spirit groups to practice.
He regales reporters with basketball history and funny tales at news conferences. In fact, Monday night after the huge win over Duke, he opened his remarks by introducing one of his high school teammates who was in the back of the room.
“Before I get started about the game, I want to introduce John Carey. He was the point guard at Archbishop Molloy High School. We played together and he was smart enough to throw me the ball after he had shot it like 30 times.”
He later shared that before the Duke game, he wanted to stress how important rebounding was to his players so he threw a ball up against the board, jumped up and rebounded it, adding, with a big smile, “I have like a 40-inch vertical.”
That positive spirit rubs off on his players and their joy shows every time they take the court.
Another reason for Larranaga’s success is his willingness to change with the times. Sure, he loved the Good Old Days before social media, the transfer portal and Name, Image, Likeness deals. But he accepts that college basketball recruiting is different nowadays, and he has learned to adapt.
Legendary Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim had the gall to say last week that Miami is winning because it “bought a team.” He complained during an ESPN interview that Miami, Pitt and Wake Forest bought players with NIL deals.
He has since clarified his remarks, saying that he didn’t mean they cheated, that the NIL deals were within the rules. Still, he clearly believes NIL money is the reason the Hurricanes are ranked No. 19 in the nation and coming off back-to-back wins over ACC leader Clemson and Duke.
Yes, Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack got a two-year $800,000 NIL deal from LifeWallet, a company owned by UM super booster John Ruiz. And Norchad Omier, the Arkansas State transfer, is getting NIL money, although because he is a foreign student, his endorsement work must be done in his native Nicaragua.
But that is not why UM is winning. Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, Bensley Joseph, Wooga Poplar, Harlond Beverly and Anthony Walker were all here before NIL. Omier had Miami ties and was dying to get back to a Hispanic community.
Miami is winning because Larranaga has built something special. So special that the UM student body, which largely ignored basketball for decades, is finally showing up in big numbers, turning “The Wat” into a bona fide ACC cauldron.
Two years ago, during one of Larranaga’s rare down seasons, some fans got restless. They called for his ouster on Twitter:
“Miami’s gotta fire Coach L. That program is a disaster.”
“Fire Jim Larranaga. I can’t take this terrible basketball.”
Would love to know what those fans are thinking now.