Jim Larranaga Utilizes Miami’s ‘Resort’ Appeal To Bring Hurricanes To Final Four; NIL Cash Hasn’t Hurt Either

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Miami may be one of the better destinations for stay-cationers anywhere.

The Miami Hurricanes basketball team, for example, had nine of those stay over from the 2021-22 season through the 2022-23 season. And they have earned a trip to the Final Four in Houston for it. Only eight of the other 363 Division I basketball schools have that distinction.

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Apparently, the sand and the sea are also attractive to those past retirement age, like Miami coach Jim Larranaga. He is 73 and the oldest coach in the NCAA Tournament now and when it was at 68 teams two weeks ago. And over the weekend he said has no plans of retiring any time soon.

The sun-drenched beaches of Miami, Florida, can be an effective recruiting tool for the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida – 20 miles away. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

“The University of Miami is a very, very special place,” said Larranaga, a Bronx, New York, native who is in his 12th season in Coral Gables and coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.

Miami Is ‘Like A Resort’

“It’s like a resort,” he said after beating Texas, 88-81, on Sunday to win the Midwest Region in Kansas City to put Miami in its first Final Four. “You’re not exactly on vacation, because you’re working hard. But the venues are just tremendous, and we’re investing in ourselves and in our brand.”

No. 5 seed Miami (29-7) plays No. 4 seed Connecticut (29-8) at 8:49 p.m. Saturday in Houston on CBS. The national semifinals open at 6:09 p.m. in NRG Stadium with No. 5 seed San Diego State (31-6) playing No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic (35-3). Both of those schools are in their first Final Four, too. The national championship game will be at 9:20 p.m. Monday on CBS.

“My wife (Liz, married 50 years) loves Miami,” Larranaga said. “I’m going to go home and have a Smoothie King tomorrow.”

The Hurricanes Attract Players And Keep Them

It also helps that the Hurricanes have an extremely well-heeled alum in attorney, entrepreneur and health care billionaire John Ruiz at their disposal as a major Name, Image & Likeness daddy with numerous “student-athletes” on the payroll.

Miami sophomore guard Nijel Pack signed an $800,000, two-year NIL deal that included a car to transfer from Kansas State before last season. He nailed seven 3-pointers in 10 attempts in the No. 5 seed Hurricanes’ 89-75 upset of No. 1 Houston last Friday.

“I’m loving the experience so far,” Pack said after Miami eliminated No. 2 seed Texas from playing 164 miles from its campus. “This is something unreal. But we’ve still got more work to do.”

The NCAA did just slap Miami with sanctions last month concerning Ruiz’ involvement in the transfer of twins Haley and Hanna Cavinder from Fresno State to the Hurricanes’ women’s basketball team last year. The Cavinders and the Hurricanes just reached the Elite Eight before a loss to LSU on Sunday. Larranaga’s program has avoided such issues.

Jim Larranaga Signed 2 From Portal Before This Season

Larranaga also got 6-foot-7 sophomore Norchad Omier (13.3 points, 10.1 rebounds) via Ruiz and the portal from Arkansas State after last season and 6-7 senior guard Jordan Miller (15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds) from George Mason after the 2020-21 season.

And Ruiz’ NIL deals along with Larranaga’s coaching are keeping his players out of the exit portal. Returning from last year’s team were 6-4 star junior guard Isaiah Wong (16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists), 6-5 sophomore guard Wooga Poplar (8.7 points, 3.3 rebounds) and backup 6-2 sophomore guard Bensley Joseph (5.2 points, 2.1 rebounds).

Wong, the only one of 16 Wooden Award candidates still in the tournament, had an NIL deal worth $100,000. He was upset with what Pack got last year, but Ruiz convinced him to stay with the promise of other NIL deals.

Yes, the sun is warm and bright in Coral Gables, and the grass and money is apparently greener.

Miami Has The Weather, The Culture And The Cash

“I would just say the Miami culture is just a great place to be at,” Wong said Sunday after scoring 14 with two steals in the win over Texas. “Miami has nice weather. The students are great. It’s just a great culture to be a part of and a great organization to be a part of. It’s just an honor to be one of the players at Miami and just going to the elite four. I mean Final Four. We all show appreciation. And we’re all just here sticking to each other.”

Larranaga is also much appreciative.

“Last year, only nine schools didn’t have anybody transfer out, and we were one of them,” he said Monday on a Zoom teleconference. “So, 350 something all had transfers out. Where are they going? Well, they’re all looking for some place where the grass is greener. They have found it.”

And they keep finding it and staying at Miami.

But Larranaga has been a great coach for decades well before NIL and the NCAA Transfer Portal hit in summer of 2021. He took George Mason to the Final Four for the first time in 2006 along with four other NCAA Tournaments from 1997-2011. Larranaga has Miami in its sixth NCAA Tournament since he arrived before the 2011-12 season, including a Sweet 16 in 2016.

As an assistant at Virginia, Larranaga reached the 1981 Final Four with center Ralph Sampson under coach and mentor Terry Holland, who passed away at age 80 last month.

Larranaga’s Bible: ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Larranaga uses much the the same strategy he has for some 30 years after reading “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey that was published in 1989 with 40 million copies sold.

“I greatly believe in it,” he said Monday.

The 7 Habits Are:

  1. Be proactive. … “And that basically means plan,” Larranaga said.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. … “What that means is you’ve got to have a goal, a vision of where you’re going.”
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize (teamwork).
  7. Sharpen the saw (renew resources).

“It’s like putting in your GPS, your destination,” Larranaga said of No. 2. “We put in Houston as our destination. That was going to be our road map. Thank goodness, we don’t have to drive it, though.”

And don’t forget No. 8 – get John Ruiz or someone like him in charge of your NIL program.

The sea and the sand also are working well at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, 51 miles north of the University of Miami. The Owls have won their first four NCAA Tournament games all this season under coach Dusty May. They have the most wins in college basketball at 35-3.

“I got a very nice and thoughtful text from Dusty May right after we beat Texas,” Larranaga said. “And I immediately texted him back. I think it’s wonderful for our region. Everybody recognizes the state of Florida, especially Miami and Fort Lauderdale, is great and fertile territory in football and in baseball. But now some of the young kids who watched us play in the Elite Eight and watched FAU and us win and advance to the Final Four, hopefully, will pick up the round ball and start bouncing and shooting it.”

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Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

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