Miami’s Jim Larranaga named nation’s top basketball coach

Jim Larranaga was in Atlanta on Thursday, arriving a couple days early for the NCAA Final Four.

Larranaga will be a spectator, not a participant, in the national semifinals after his University of Miami squad was knocked out of the tournament last week by Marquette in Washington D.C.

But that didn’t keep Larranaga, 63, who capped a win against Illinois in the NCAA tournament by doing the Ali Shuffle, from being named the Associated Press Coach of the Year.

The honor was another in a long line of awards for Larranaga and his players following the finest season in school history. The Hurricanes won the ACC regular season and tournament championships, were ranked as high as No. 2, won a program-record 29 games and earned the second Sweet 16 berth in school history.

Leading the way was Larranaga, who left George Mason two years ago to take the Miami job so he could fulfill a lifelong dream of coaching in the ACC. Larranaga proved this season to be every bit the equal of the conference’s biggest names, specifically Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams. UM became the first school in ACC history to defeat the Blue Devils and Tar Heels by 25 points in the same season and beat North Carolina three times, including in the championship game of the ACC tournament.

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“I’m humbled by an award like this because there’s so many great coaches in the country and so many guys who would be very deserving,” Larranaga said. “To be selected as the national coach of the year doesn’t happen to a guy more than once in his career. So for me, it’s a special moment.”

Larranaga, previously named ACC Coach of the Year, won the national award by receiving 29 votes from the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Jim Crews of Saint Louis earned 19 votes and Mark Few of Gonzaga got 11. The voting took place before the NCAA tournament.

Like an actor receiving an Academy Award, Larranaga spent much of a short phone interview Thursday thanking men that shaped his career like Jack Curran, his high school coach in New York City, and Dave Gavitt, his coach at Providence. Larranaga also credited his staff of UM assistants — Chris Caputo, Eric Konkol and Michael Huger — and his players, who went from unranked to No. 2 in a month’s time.

“I told the players one day what makes a good coach is good players,” Larranaga said. “Having guys like Shane (Larkin) and Durand (Scott) in your backcourt, having seniors like Julian (Gamble), Kenny (Kadji), Trey (McKinney-Jones) and Reggie (Johnson) up front just made my job easier and more fun.

“The players made a lot of sacrifices starting last April. They had a clear vision of what we wanted to do and they were on a mission to make that vision come true.”

Larkin, contemplating a jump to the NBA after being named ACC Player of the Year as a sophomore, received one vote in the AP’s National Player of the Year balloting. Michigan’s Trey Burke won the honor with 31 votes, finishing ahead of Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. (15) and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (10).

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