Miami’s motivating Larrañaga leads another Final Four run

HOUSTON (AP) — Start with the end in mind.

Jim Larrañaga, a follower of Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, chose Habit 2 to describe Miami’s first trip to Miami last four.

“You have to have an idea of ​​where you’re going,” Larrañaga said. “It’s like you put in your GPS, your destination, and I think we put in Houston as our destination. That should be our roadmap.”

Larrañaga has walked this path before.

With Larrañaga at the helm, George Mason had one of the biggest mid-major runs in NCAA tournament history, and caused surprise after surprise – and with them a nation of underdog fans – all the way to the 2006 Final Four.

“He was a teacher, he was a mentor, he was a magician,” said Tony Skinn, a Guardian on the 2006 George Mason team who was named his alma mater’s head coach on Thursday. “If you get a chance to play for a guy like that, you get the results that we ended up getting. No wonder he is in this position. It’s a new group, but the same Jedi Master.”

Larrañaga’s first Final Four heat began with a bit of a sweat on Selection Sunday.

The Patriots shared the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title with UNC Wilmington, but lost to Hofstra in the semifinals of the conference tournament. An offer at large was her only hope of entering the NCAA tournament.

“It was like, yeah, we’re going to look at it, but I didn’t think we were going to come in,” said Folarin Campbell, a 2006 team guard. “We were sitting at Coach L’s house and I remember that everyone just jumped up and down and cheered. It was a great feeling.”

The good vibes flowed on.

George Mason, seeded at 11, caused his first upset when he defeated Michigan State, a Final Four team, the year before.

Two days later, the Patriots defeated North Carolina, sparking campus-wide euphoria in Fairfax, Virginia. Cheers exploded the next week after victories over Wichita State and UConn sent the Patriots into the Final Four for the first time.

“This school is pretty big, so you don’t always see everyone in the same room,” Skinn said. “When we came back you would have thought they had enrolled 100,000 extra people in our absence.”

George Mason lost to eventual national champion Florida in the Final Four, but the mad run is still popular — just like the Hurricanes.

Miami has long been considered a football school. The men’s basketball program? It was once disbanded due to a lack of interest on campus.

Leonard Hamilton revived the program in the late 1990s. Now Larrañaga has carried the hurricanes into uncharted waters.

The 73-year-old has led Miami to the Sweet 16 four times, including his first trip to the Elite Eight a year ago. The Hurricanes made another big first move with an Elite Eight win over Texas this past weekend.

Students jumped into campus lakes and ponds. More than 100 people were waiting when the Hurricanes landed around 3 a.m. and the team had a big farewell before flying to Houston to face UConn in Saturday’s national semifinals.

“It was one of the greatest moments of my life,” said Miami forward Anthony Walker, who wore a black Final Four cowboy hat. “The energy was electric and I guarantee you there will be a lot of Miami fans in this building.”

The two deep runs in March, 17 years apart, were similar. The teams are similar too.

Miami, an ACC school, attracts top-tier recruits, yet the Hurricanes are undersized, gritty, and play hard no matter what the score — just like the Patriots. Tenacity helped Miami bounce back from a 16-point deficit and beat Texas, just as George Mason’s team did against North Carolina in 2006.

Larrañaga is the thread that connects the two teams in history.

He is a motivator and storyteller who also listens. He loves motivational quotes and Eastern philosophy, even if his players don’t always understand what he’s talking about. He is happy about the personal successes of his players and even dances with them after big victories – maybe even a little better today than 17 years ago when he was struggling with hip pain.

“He just knows how to motivate guys,” Campbell said.


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