Miami Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004 and, after nine seasons, they won their first conference title. Coach Jim Larranaga, Hurricanes’ coach since 2011, led the team to an incredible season. Miami had a 9-3 record coming into the 2013, then ACC regular season started and Hurricanes kept on winning. They got only three losses against ACC opponents. Hurricanes outscored Boston College, North Carolina State and North Carolina in the ACC Tournament to win the title. In the first two games of NCAA Tournament Miami won over Pacific and Illinois, but Reggie Johnson’s injury and Shane Larkin’s flu prevented Hurricanes from playing their basketball against Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen. Jim Larranaga won the AP College Basketball Coach of the Year Award.
You led the Hurricanes to their first ACC title in program’s history. Before the season started, did you think that that was a reasonable expectation for this team?
The answer is yes. Before the season started, the board of trustees’ members met here at the Bank United Center in October. Although I wasn’t had invited, I decided to just put my head in. While I was there, I told them that I thought our basketball team was in for the best season in school history. Normally coaches don’t create that heightened expectation, but part of the reason I planted that seed is because I wanted them to take notice. I wanted them to tell their friends: «Hey, coach said today is gonna be a great year, get your season tickets now! Get on board early!». And then once we got into the season I thought the players really performed at a very high level, winning the regular season and the ACC Tournament as well. It met my expectations, but also was very enjoyable. Did it exceed my expectations? No, because my expectations are always very high. We are always set to go and win the regular season championship, the tournament championship and win a national championship. So we worked very hard towards that, we’re a great group of guys. I thought that the teamwork that they showed and the class that they showed on and off the court was exactly what we were looking for.
What were the major key points and the reasons why the team had this successful season?
I would say again it was because they had a great attitude. It make a great commitment to each other and to the program. They had a lot of experience, having gone through last year together. We just had one new player, Tonye Jekiri. Everyone else was back from last year and that really helped.
What do you think about NCAA Tournament run? Are you happy with the Sweet Sixteen?
I think that whenever you get into the NCAA Tournament you have to understand there’s only one champion. So if you’re not the champion, that means that you lost your last game and you’re going to be disappointed. I think we played very well in the first two games of the Tournament and had two outstanding victories. Our win over Illinois was really a great game. However, we were not at 100% against Marquette. We had injuries and sickness. So we were not able to play our best. We did 100%, I would have felt like we done well should have won that game, but knowing how beat up we were and sick we were, I saw we did not have the energy that we normally had during the course of the season.
AP Coach of the Year Award: how would you rank that as far as your achievements as a coach? Do you think that this put you among the elite basketball coaches in college basketball right now?
I really believe any of the coaching awards are reflection of the team, because it takes a team effort for us to be as successful as we were and I might be the recipient of the award, but it’s the players, my coaching staff and our support staff that allow me to do what I do. Secondly, I don’t judge myself, nor do I judge other coaches or where they rank. I think that’s maybe the media’s job or someone else’s job. I just enjoy doing what I’m doing. I enjoy doing it with the players and I really enjoy watching players improve. So when I see a young man like Shane Larkin go from a freshman to a sophomore and from a good player to a great player, to an NBA player, it’s very satisfying. When I see a player like Kenny Kadji going from 265 pounds and out of shape to 242 pounds and great shape and becoming an NBA prospect, that is very satisfying.
In terms of qualities for a coach, how important do you think it is to be able to recruit talented players?
The most important quality, the most important aspect of coaching, is recruiting the right talent. If you can’t recruit, you can’t get the right players for your program. Don’t care how a good coach you are, you’re not going to be successful. You got to find the right players for your personality, for your style of play, for what you’re trying to accomplish in your league. That is a very challenging job.
Shane Larkin had two great seasons at Miami. How much do you think his style of play affected the team style? And how do you think that his style matched with the way the team played?
The first thing is that my staff and I are flexible in trying to find ways to help our players do what they do well. In Shane Larkin and Durand Scott’s case, they’re both very good guards offensively and defensively and very good using ball screens. So we adjusted our offense to give them the chance to do what they do best. The result is they not only played well, but they helped their teammates play well. Their teammates appreciate how unselfish they are, how hard-working they are and how committed they are to winning. Neither one of those guys cared about their scoring average, they cared about what we had to do to win the game.
Shane will enter the NBA Draft in June. Will the team style of play change at all with Larkin leaving?
Our style of play again will be based on the strengths of our team. We don’t know yet all the players we’re going to have in the program, we’re still in the process of recruiting. The more guys we add, the more work we have to figure everybody out. When you have a veteran team, like we did this past season, coaches and players already know each other’s strengths. We’re going to have to reevaluate and figure who are best players, what they do well and how we can take advantage of their strengths.
Photo: Miami Hurricanes | www.hurricanesports.com