CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami Hurricanes center Julian Gamble learned about his team’s latest ranking when he received a flurry of phone messages, including one from his mother in North Carolina.
“She texted me – ‘No. 3. Wow. That’s crazy,’ ” Gamble said. “I didn’t even know what she was talking about.”
For the sixth-year senior, the Hurricanes’ unprecedented achievement was a little tough to grasp. They were ranked behind only No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Duke in Monday’s poll, and received a school-record 17 first-place votes.
The Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) had never previously been ranked higher than No. 8. Last week they achieved that spot for the first time since 1960.
“I’ve never really thought that Miami could be a top-10 program,” senior Reggie Johnson said. “I didn’t think we’d be here in February. It’s surreal.”
Miami cracked the Top 25 three weeks ago and has since enjoyed a rapid rise, thanks to a succession of impressive victories and a flurry of losses by highly ranked teams. With the Hurricanes’ win Saturday over North Carolina, they became the first ACC team ever to beat both the Tar Heels and Duke by at least 25 points in the same season.
The Hurricanes are so good they’ve even started to quibble that their ranking isn’t high enough.
“It does feel strange Duke is still ahead of our team,” Johnson said. “I feel like if the poll’s really legit, we should be ranked in front of them.”
Coach Jim Larranaga described the Top 25 as a popularity contest and a beauty contest. But he also said the high ranking will benefit the university and give his program a long-term boost.
Larranaga said he texted recruiting prospects with the news of the latest ranking and received congratulations from every one.
“We had an eighth-grader commit,” the coach said with a grin. “We told him it’s a little too early.”
Larranaga said the Hurricanes are handling success and attention well in part because they’re a senior-laden team. Miami takes an 11-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game at Florida State, and several players said they expect the games to start getting tougher.
“The target on our back is bigger than it ever was,” Gamble said.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” guard Shane Larkin added.
Larkin’s only a sophomore, but Miami’s other four starters are seniors who are well aware the program’s in uncharted territory. So is Larranaga, who is in his second season with Miami after leading George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
The Hurricanes have already set a school record for ACC victories in a season, and the last time they received any votes for No. 1 was in March 1960.
“This is what every program strives for,” Larranaga said. “Carolina and Duke have this every year. It’s a little different for us.”
The buzz the Hurricanes are creating is a big change for the long-overlooked program. Monday’s practice drew a large media contingent, and three of the past four home games have been sellouts.
“I’m at the shopping mall and people are coming up to me, ‘Hey, man, I’m proud of you guys. Keep it up,’ ” Johnson said. “That has never happened before.”