Let’s be honest here: No one had the University of Miami as a ranked team this season. Well now the Hurricanes are flawless in the ACC with a record of 10-0 and Miami stands at No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll with an overall record of 19-3. The Hurricanes’ coming-out party occurred on Jan. 23, when they blew out previously No. 1-ranked Duke by the score of 90-63.
Jim Larranaga has turned it all around in South Beach. The former George Mason head coach is being discussed as a potential coach of the year candidate.
Jim Larranaga joined Fox Sports Radio with Petros and Money to discuss the Miami Hurricanes coming together this season, the importance of Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott to this Hurricanes team, upsetting previously No. 1-ranked Duke in late January, turning the Miami program around in a short period of time and being the team to beat in the ACC.
How has this Hurricanes team come together?
“We had seniors on our team who are very, very dedicated with one specific goal in mind and that was get to the NCAA tournament, because none of them have ever played in the NCAA tournament before. Last spring I asked our two seniors — Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott — if they would be willing to stay all summer long and their teammates to stay all summer long because that was really going to be necessary for us to make the improvement that we felt we could make with the coaching staff during the summer. Julian Gamble has been a great leader for us. Garrius Adams, Trey McKinney Jones, Kenny Kadji, they all agreed they would stay and ask their teammates to stay and they worked so hard to get into great shape to get much stronger, and I think they showed a tremendous commitment and they are very, very hungry to get to the big dance.”
You mentioned Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott. In all three of your losses one of them has been missing. Are Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott that important to this team?
“Well they both are major contributors to the team on the court, but in Durand Scott’s case he is our emotional leader. When he was not available in the first three games, we lacked some of the defensive energy and intensity because frankly, when Durand is on the court, his work ethic makes everyone else work harder. He just has that kind of ripple effect on the team. When we lost Reggie Johnson, he is our go-to guy inside and when he’s not there we don’t have as many back-to-the-basket scoring opportunities and Julian Gamble is doing a great job. Kenny Kadji is doing a great job. Every player is a little bit different. They all bring a different set of skills to the game. Shane Larkin is a terrific point guard. He distributes the ball, but he can also score it. Durand Scott and Trey McKinney Jones is our outstanding 3-point shooter. Rion Brown is our 3-point shooter and he backs him up. So we’ve got a very well-balanced team.”
I started paying attention to you guys after the win against Duke. What did Coach K say to you in the postgame handshake?
“Well actually we didn’t shake hands after the game because, before the game started, the security people said if Miami wins the students are going to storm the floor. We don’t want any players from either team to be injured, so we’ll do away with the traditional handshakes. Just wave to each other and go to your locker rooms. I mean, Coach K is a veteran of many of these wars. They win a ton of games. They’ve only had two losses this season and he’s having a phenomenal season. They are second in the rankings this week. I think he understands, like all coaches do, that you play the game and whoever plays the best that day is probably going to win.”
How have you been able to put this kind of season together in a short time period?
“The thing me and my staff looked at was we saw the football program had won five national championships. We saw that our baseball program had won four national championships. We thought if football and baseball can do it why not basketball? We tried to make that very, very clear to our players that that was the reason we were here.”
How do you talk with this team about going from being the hunter to being the hunted in the ACC?
“Well the first game against Florida State on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. is a huge game for us because they are our arch rival. You can throw out all the scores and all the rankings that has taken place before or will take place after. The game against our arch rivals — whether it is against Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State or Michigan — those teams are always very special in the players’ minds and the fans’ minds and our players know that Florida State is going to be ready to play a great game and our guys gotta be ready to play a great game.”