ATLANTA (AP) — Jim Larranaga made his mark as a basketball coach years ago at places like Bowling Green and George Mason. This season, with his Miami Hurricanes enjoying unprecedented success, Larranaga showed he has impressive footwork.
Minutes after he was introduced Thursday as The Associated Press’ coach of the year, the 63-year-old, two-time hip replacement patient was asked about his postgame Ali shuffle after the Hurricanes’ 63-59 victory over Illinois in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“When we left Coral Gables for the NCAA tournament I told the players I was going to have more fun than any other coach and I wanted them to have more fun than any other team,” Larranaga said. “It doesn’t mean be silly and goof off. It means enjoy each other’s company, when we practice be excited about being there, have some enthusiasm, be very, very positive.”
Larranaga admitted that he plans a lot of the things he does with his team but what happened after the Illinois game was off the cuff.
“During the hard fought game at almost every timeout in the second half I said we’re in a fight and I need fighters. I told them we needed to fight to get every rebound, every loose ball, every basket, every inch of the floor,” he recounted. “I kept repeating that and after we won, as I was walking into the locker room to address them, I thought I have to congratulate them on how well they fought and the first name I thought of was Muhammad Ali.
“I asked you guys to fight and what I saw out there was Muhammad Ali and the shuffle followed. The best thing was the reaction of the players who jumped up and started shadow boxing.”
Larranaga and his quick combination of punches is still in every promotional clip for the tournament, even though the Hurricanes were eliminated by Marquette in the round of 16.
Larranaga led Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament titles — the first in school history — and a school-best No. 2 ranking. The Hurricanes finished 29-7 in Larranaga’s second season.
The AP’s player of the year wasn’t able to make the presentation because he and his teammates were at practice, getting ready for the Final Four.
Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke was the player of the year after leading a young group of Wolverines to Michigan’s deepest run since the Fab Five era in 1992 and ’93, when the Wolverines played in back-to-back championships. They take on Syracuse in the national semifinals Saturday.
Burke joins Cazzie Russell in 1966 as the only Michigan players to win the award. The Big Ten player of the year, Burke averaged 19.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 40.1 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“He has been with three to five freshmen all year long,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Thursday. “Here he is this cagey sophomore, veteran sophomore.
“Come on, the whole year he has been just as calm and cool as if he was a fifth-year redshirt senior guard. So you look at that.
“Those young guys look at Trey, they see poise, they see patience. It’s worked very well.”
The voting was by the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Ballots had to be returned by Selection Sunday.
Burke received 31 votes while Otto Porter Jr. of Georgetown was second with 16 votes and Victor Oladipo of Indiana got 10.
Larranaga received 29 votes, Jim Crews of Saint Louis got 19 and Mark Few of Gonzaga had 11.
Larranaga is the first Miami coach to win the award and is the first Atlantic Coast Conference coach to get it since Roy Williams of North Carolina in 2006.
Larranaga, a New York native who led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, was told Burke wouldn’t be able to attend the news conference because Michigan was at practice.
“Boy, I wish I was,” he said, meaning every word.