March 27, 2013 in Sports

Follow the leader

Inspired by their coach, Hurricanes in East semis
Tim Reynolds Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The Miami Hurricanes, inspired by the on-court and off-court antics of coach Jim Larranaga, have reached the NCAA Sweet 16.
(Full-size photo)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Jim Larranaga left the Washington area for Miami, with hopes of taking another men’s basketball team to the Final Four.

To make that plan a reality, he’s headed back to Washington.

Larranaga and his Hurricanes (29-6) face Marquette (25-8) in the East Regional semifinals on Thursday night, a game to be played at the Verizon Center – a half-hour drive or so from his former workplace, George Mason, the school he led to the Final Four in 2006. And Mason won its regional at, you guessed it, the same arena where the Hurricanes are headed this weekend, where Larranaga cut down the nets seven years ago.

Given all that, good karma sure seems like it’ll be awaiting Miami.

“It’ll definitely help us up there,” Miami guard Rion Brown said. “What he did for that place was great. He brought it down here. I feel like there will be a lot of people there to support us and support him, and that’d be great.”

Larranaga has a team that’s gaining plenty of notoriety on the court, whether it’s for the superb (like Shane Larkin’s play at point guard) or the silly (like Julian Gamble’s penchant for photo-bombing postgame interviews). The coach’s demeanor out on the floor rarely seems to change much, stoic but not cold on the sideline, active but never overly animated.

When he leaves the floor, something changes. He takes phantom charges in the locker room. He dives for loose balls to the delight of his players. He’s a yeller and a screamer of encouragement.

“He can’t keep doing that,” Hurricanes forward Kenny Kadji said of Larranaga’s physical antics, unable to keep a straight face. “He’s got to get treatment.”

What Larranaga is doing seems to work.

The Hurricanes had not made the NCAAs since 2008. They’re now one victory away from a 30-win season, two wins shy of the Final Four and four triumphs away from winning the whole thing. Larranaga has made it happen at a university that’s three years removed from 4-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Just like parenting, your passion for being a good father or a good mother means you don’t have any minutes, hours or days off. You do it 24-7, 365, every day of your child’s life,” Larranaga said. “And for me and my coaching staff, that’s the way we are with our players. There isn’t a second of a day that goes by that there isn’t something we have to do to help our players with something he’s dealing with in his life.”

“I have such great memories,” Larranaga said, alluding to his time at George Mason. “We tell the players all the time, you create memories, and they’ve created a lot of great memories for themselves.”

Of course, he’s created more than a few more memories for them himself.

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