For Jim Larranaga, NIT semifinal trip is a homecoming
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) One of Miami coach Jim Larranaga's earliest basketball memories in basketball goes back to when he was 9 or 10 years old, watching his older brother play for St. John's at Madison Square Garden.
Larranaga would eventually play there a few times when he was a standout for Providence, going up against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back when he was known as Lew Alcindor during his UCLA days. His last college game as a player was there against North Carolina in the 1971 NIT. And he's coached there in the past, albeit as an assistant.
Bottom line, The Garden is still special to a New York kid like Larranaga.
So when he takes his Hurricanes into Manhattan on Tuesday to face Temple in the NIT semifinals, it will most assuredly be a homecoming that Larranaga - and his team - will savor.
''When I got to college and played in Madison Square Garden it was always a very special thrill,'' Larranaga said. ''Then as an assistant coach at Virginia we won the NIT my first year as an assistant. To take your team to New York and have your players experience that is very different than any other venue you'll ever play in.''
Larranaga and his banged-up team have handled the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament as well as they could, after grinding out three wins in the NIT. The Hurricanes (24-12) held on to beat North Carolina Central in the opening round, topped Alabama in the second round and rallied from an 18-point deficit to win at Richmond in the quarterfinals.
And the Richmond win was a particular grind: Miami shot just 31 percent from the field in that game, just 12.5 percent from 3-point range. Division I teams shooting that badly lost 70 out of 77 times this season - but the Hurricanes are still heading to New York.
''It's just something about this team,'' Miami's Sheldon McClellan said. ''We don't really get rattled.''
The Hurricanes take that cue from their coach, who told his team before the Richmond game that his wife wanted to be spending next week in New York and that it was up to them to make that happen.
So now Larranaga gets to go home, where plenty of his old friends will be waiting - and costing him ''a lot of money'' in tickets, he joked. Some of his former teammates, from high school all the way back to the playground, also will be attending the games at MSG.
''Everybody comes out of the woodwork,'' Larranaga said.
Nice problem to have, though.
That being said, there will be no time for sightseeing on this trip. No checking out the old neighborhood, the old haunts, the site of the Parkchester section of the Bronx - ''down the East,'' as they would say - where he grew up, the win-and-stay-on courts where he could be found from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. just about every single day of every single summer.
''This is a business trip,'' Larranaga said. ''This is trying to win a championship.''