MY-Basket.it – Interview with coach Larranaga: «Syracuse plays the most difficult zone defense to attack»

During 2012/2013 season, the Miami Hurricanes won the ACC Championship and Jim Larranaga was named AP Coach of the Year [we talked with him after that season: CLICK HERE]. But in college basketball it’s not so easy to win again, especially if you lose several key players. Three of them – Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones and Reggie Johnson – played in the D-League after their experience at Coral Gables, whereas Shane Larkin was picked by the Dallas Mavericks, Durand Scott signed for Obradoiro in Spain and Julian Gamble went to France. Hurricanes weren’t able to repeat the 2012/2013 season, but they still got an overall winning record (17-16). It is possible to have big expectations for the Hurricanes of the future: freshmen Ja’Quan Newton and DeAndre Burnett, along with transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, will join Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri at the University of Miami.

Hurricanes’ key players Shane Larkin, Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson left, but your team still got an overall winning record. What do you think about the Hurricanes’ performances during this season?

«I think our team overcame a lot of adversity during the year. So many new players, so many new roles for even the returning players. I thought they did a great job of improving on a daily basis and making us very competitive in a very challenging ACC».

Tonye Jekiri will be basically the only player returning from the team who won the ACC Tournament in 2013. What do you think about his improvements through his first two college years?

«I thought Tonye was instrumental in helping us win the ACC Championship as a freshman, coming in off the bench. As a sophomore, he improved dramatically and helped us as our starting center. Tonye just keeps getting better and better. I think he’s going to have an incredible junior and senior year».

Teaming up with a solid backcourt, could he be a high post option on the offensive side?

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 09 North Carolina at Miami«Tonye is very good at passing the basketball. He’s not necessarily a dribbler, but he is really good in finding the open man. He can play both in the high post and low post and find the open man successfully».

Ja’Quan Newton, who led his team to the PIAA title with 33 points, will be one of the most interesting additions for the Hurricanes. What are his best qualities on the court and is he ready as a freshman to get into the rotations?

«Ja’Quan Newton is a multi-versatile offensive player. He can score the ball by shooting threes, by driving to the basket and he’s an outstanding free-throw shooter, but he’s also a terrific passer. He can play both the one and the two, and we expect him to be a major contribute as a freshman. But as all freshmen need to learn, he’s going to have to improve at the defensive end of the floor, because defense wins championships».

Syracuse joined the ACC for the ‘13/’14 season. How is it possible to get ready for their zone defense?

«Syracuse plays the most difficult zone defense to attack in the country. I thought our guys did a very good job of sharing the basketball. You have to make some threes, but you also have to be able to get the ball inside the paint and challenge their big guys. We did that throughout the two games we played against them and, although we came up short on both occasions, I was pleased with our offensive execution».

Your team also played Duke and NC State. What instructions did you give in order to guard players like Jabari Parker and TJ Warren?

«When we played Duke, Jabari Parker was absolutely incredible inside and outside. We had no answers for his offensive arsenal. When we played NC State, TJ Warren was unstoppable down the stretch. We ended up having to change our defense multiple times. The second and the third time we played them, we went to a box and one, so that one guy was assigned the responsibility of just trying to keep the ball out of his hands. And still he was an effective scorer».

Lousville joins the ACC for the ‘14/’15 season. Do you think the increasing level of your conference could affect the recruiting process in a positive way for ACC teams?

«The recruiting arena is the most challenging. You have to have good players to compete at the ACC level. Every player that we recruit is been highly recruited by many other outstanding schools. So the competition is great, not only on the court, but in the recruiting».

The ACC featured some of the slowest teams in the nation this season. Do you think your team will increase its offensive pace in the next season thanks to the great backcourt additions?

«Last year we had to play very conservative pace to be competitive and keep the game close. Next year, with the addition of Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, DeAndre Burnett and Ja’Quan Newton, we will have the speed, quickness, ball-handling and scoring ability in the backcourt to increase the tempo. We expect to do so».

Your son Jay is having his first season as assistant coach for the Celtics and Shane Larkin as a rookie for the Mavericks. What about their first years in the NBA?

«My son Jay was on the Doc Rivers’ staff with the Boston Celtics a year ago and now he has moved up in the staff to be a Brad Stevens’ right-hand man. He enjoyed it very much and even though the Celtics did not have a winning record, I think the team improved dramatically under the leadership of Brad Stevens and his coaching staff.

Shane Larkin got off to a very slow start in the NBA due to a broken ankle, that he sustained last July. He missed all of the Summer League in the NBA, he missed all the pre-season with the Mavericks. He did have the opportunity to play some during the early part of the season, but not enough to give him the experience that he needs to be successful. We have every confidence in Shane that he will have a great second year, just like he did here at the University of Miami».

Photos: Miami Hurricanes | hurricanesports.com