LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No matter what happens in the Sweet 16 game against Villanova Thursday night, Miami coach Jim Larranaga will not curse. Nor will any of his players. They better not, anyway, or they will have heck to pay.
It is a strict rule that Larranaga, 66, learned from his high school coach, Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy in Queens, and has carried with him ever since those days when he rode 90 minutes each way every day from his home in the Bronx.
Larranaga has had many journeys since then, all of them successful, and tons of fun (he organized an indoor baseball game for his team at the hotel here Tuesday night). And just as he took cues from Curran — including a certain way for players to tie the laces on their sneakers — the Miami coach is passing along ideas to younger coaches, notably Jay Wright, who coaches Villanova.
Wright readily admitted Wednesday that Villanova uses Larranaga’s three-point drill: In practice every day, players get five minutes to try to sink 50 three-pointers. If they average 50 or better, they get a green light to fire away during games. If they average fewer than 40, they get the red light that says never shoot a three. Larranaga said, “Players say, ‘But coach, I’m open.’ I say, ‘The reason you’re open is they know you can’t make it.’ ”
Anyway, that is the sort of story he shared with Wright on Nike-sponsored trips. “Our wives became friendly, played golf together. We played golf together,” Wright said. “He’s just a really friendly guy.”
They first crossed paths when Wright coached Hofstra and Larranaga coached Bowling Green. They often recruited the same players in New York. “We’d think we had somebody and he’d come in there with much stronger connections,” said Wright, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
Larranaga is one of six children raised in the Bronx after their dad moved from Key West. He played at Providence, had several assistant coaching jobs and became a national figure in 2006 as coach of mid-major George Mason. That year, despite two losses to Hofstra (under Wright’s former assistant Tom Pecora), Larranaga’s team reached the Final Four. He recalled Wednesday that Butler athletic director Barry Collier told him at the time, “You’ve just broken the four-minute mile barrier” for mid-majors.
The coach did it without abandoning Curran-inspired discipline: He suspended Tony Skinn one game in the Big Dance for having punched Hofstra’s Loren Stokes. Larranaga moved on to Miami (not far from where his grandfather once produced Larranaga Cigars in Cuba) and turned the program into a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year’s team is led by guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. He swears his group is a mirror image of Wright’s team.
Well, he doesn’t literally swear. “It’s a sign of discipline and respect,” he said of his rule. “I have a lot of respect for my players and I don’t want to demean them by cursing. And I don’t want them to curse and get in the habit of doing that because if they do that in the game, they’ll get a technical foul.”