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Jim Larranaga Has Been More Than Just A Quick Fix For Miami Basketball

When Miami hired Jim Larranaga in 2011, it was seen as a puzzling short-term move. But the 60-something coach has used transfers and improved recruiting to position the Hurricanes as a sustainable contender.
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This feature is part of VICE Sports' March Madness coverage.

When Miami hired Jim Larranaga in 2011, many people figured that the Hurricanes were something of a half-retirement for the then 61-year-old coach.

Best known for taking George Mason to the Final Four, Larranaga had plenty of success with the Patriots, and even took the program back to the NCAA Tournament the year before he left for Miami. Yet due to his age, he wasn't exactly a hot coaching candidate.


There were questions from the start: As a career mid-major coach, could Larranaga recruit power conference players, especially in his sixties? Sure, he took Miami to the NCAA Tournament with former coach Frank Haith's players in his second season, but could Larranaga do it with his own players? Was he willing to pick up transfers to fill voids in his roster?

Five years later, it's clear the answers are yes, yes and yes.

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Under Larranaga, the Hurricanes appear to be on the verge of becoming a consistent winner in the ACC, despite having to compete against programs such as Duke, North Carolina, and Syracuse, who have better foundations. A No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Miami is in the Sweet Sixteen and has wins this season over Virginia, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame (twice), Utah, Butler and Wichita State. That's an impressive series of victories, and a resume that just five years ago would have seemed impossible.

The key? Finding players who have taken unconventional paths to Coral Gables, just like their coach.

Larranaga has built his program in a variety of ways, but most striking is how well he has mixed in players he has recruited with transfers from other schools. To wit: Miami's current starting lineup includes two Larranaga recruits and three Big 12 transfers.

Angel Rodriguez started at Kansas State, and now he's here. Photo by Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches who rely on transfers are often criticized for a quick-fix approach. And while this criticism can be valid—many transfers are quick-fixes, as they're often upperclassmen and/or play-now graduate transfers who only are eligible for one year—Larranaga has a knack for finding the very best transfer players in the country and being patient with them, even if it means they have to sit out for a year. That's true of three players in this year's starting lineup:


● Angel Rodriguez was Kansas State's best player three years ago, but surprisingly decided to transfer a year into Bruce Weber's tenure as head coach. Larranaga won him over in a competitive transfer market.

● Sheldon McClellan was a four-star, top 50 recruit who initially chose Texas. He also transferred three years ago, and now is one of the most efficient and overlooked scorers in the country.

● Kamari Murphy was Oklahoma State's top rebounder in 2013-14, but left due to turmoil in the program. He's now in his first season playing for Miami.

After an NCAA Tournament berth in 2012-13, and with all of his best players graduating, Larranaga could have looked for immediate help via graduate transfers. Instead, he brought aboard players who would help down the road, and now his approach is paying dividends.

Rodriguez has been one of the best point guards in the ACC, and he scored 28 points in the Hurricanes' win over Wichita State in the round of 32. McClellan has surpassed every expectation he had at Texas, and ranks in the top 30 in the country with an offensive rating of 126.2. Murphy is one of the team's best rebounders, just as he was in Stillwater.

That collection of imported talent has helped put Miami back on the map, and what's more, it's now paying off in high school recruiting as well. While Rodriguez and McClellan will graduate this spring, the Hurricanes are poised to reload in a way the program has never done before. This year's recruiting class features one five-star recruit and two four-stars, meaning Larranaga will once again have the talent to be competitive in the ACC.

TFW the future looks bright for your basketball team, and Uncle Luke's angry columns about Miami football are the farthest thing from your mind. Photo by Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In five years, Miami has gone from the school that puzzlingly hired an old, lifetime mid-major coach, to an ACC upstart, to a transfer haven, to a program that looks to have staying power at the top of the conference. It's a strange path, but it has worked out better than just about anyone imagined, as Larranaga himself has proven to be anything but a short-term solution.