News Column

Hurricanes Fever Spreads as Miami Magic Season Enters NCAA Tournament

March 20, 2013

Hal Habib

Coach Jim Larranaga recalls a day in 2006 when a CBS crew showed up at his house at 7 a.m. and stayed with him until 11 p.m., chronicling what it was like to lead George Mason to the Final Four. At one point, Larranaga innocently asked if CBS was doing that with other coaches in the NCAA tournament.

No, the crew said.

"Why not? What makes us so privileged?" Larranaga asked.

"You're the only coach that'll let us do it," came the reply.

Years later, Larranaga has changed latitudes, arriving at the University of Miami, but hasn't changed his attitude toward the bandwagon: No ticket required. Just jump onboard. And with UM facing Pacific on Friday (2:10 p.m., TNT) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, plenty are on board:

--CBS again is "embedded" with Larranaga's team for behind-the-scenes coverage throughout the tournament.

--UM's online store, ShopMiamiHurricanes.com, enjoyed a record sales day of nearly $10,000 Monday after UM won the ACC tournament.

--MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, which opened the season listing UM at 100-1 to win the national championship, now has the Hurricanes at 10-1. A few experts, including ESPN's Digger Phelps and CBS Sports Network's Pete Gillen, pick UM to win the national title. Tuesday, Sports Illustrated joined those predicting UM will lose the final to Louisville.

--UM's alumni association is promoting about 15 watch parties nationally, in places such as Chicago and Denver, plus three in Texas, including one hosted by the association's chapter in Austin, site of Friday's game.

--When the Hurricanes returned to campus Sunday night with the ACC trophy, they were greeted by a few hundred fans. Players coaxed Larranaga, ACC coach of the year, to exit the bus first.

"It was like fine wine," says Harry Rothwell, general manager of allCanes, a sporting goods store across the street from campus. "You want to sip and enjoy every second of it."

You do if you're Eric Brown. On Nov. 22, 1985, he scored 21 points to help the Hurricanes defeat The Citadel as the basketball program was resurrected following a 14-year absence. Today, Brown attends most games, and as he walks into the BankUnited Center he harkens back to his day, when apartments for football players stood on that spot. There was no on-campus gym.

"If there was a better word for it, I'd use it, but 'amazing' is as close as I can get," Brown says. "The feeling these guys have given me as a former player -- just to be a part of it, to be a Hurricane, it's one of the most wonderful things."

Bill Fisse, 59, is managing director of human resources for Citigroup, but he arrived as a UM freshman in 1971 -- the year the team was disbanded. As a member of New York's alumni chapter, he helps organize watch parties attracting 500 for UM football games. It has branched out for UM hoops parties drawing about 200 at Brother Jimmy's restaurant.

"You kind of blink and say, 'Is this for real?' " Fisse says.

Here's reality: During this season, MGM's odds on UM have ranged from 200-1 to 8-1 -- meaning Vegas likes UM in basketball much more than in football next season (30-1).

Jay Rood, MGM's vice president of race and sports, says such climbs are rare.

"A few people kept waiting for the wheels to fall off a bit," Rood says. "And they didn't."

The Hurricanes' victory over Michigan State in November caught the eye of CBS. Emilie Deutsch, vice president of features and original programming, says her crews are producing segments up to four minutes long entitled "March Madness Confidential: Miami" for CBS, Turner, CBS Sports Network and NCAA.com.

"They just became a very exciting team to follow and to watch," Deutsch says. "What we're looking for is a team that is interesting, that has players that are accessible and particularly a coach that welcomes us. People are going to be interested in seeing what they're able to accomplish this year."

The impact isn't just about the present, but the future.

"If anyone thinks that game on Friday doesn't help the University of Miami and our brand, (they're) foolish," UM football coach Al Golden says. "The basketball team helps us a ton. The energy the students, fans and our alums provided in our home basketball games has been phenomenal, and I think it's why we're off to a fast start in recruiting."

No to mention basketball recruiting.

"A lot of guys might be attracted to play in the city where LeBron James plays, so they can go and watch Heat games," former UM great Rick Barry says.

Gillen is the only CBS panelist favoring UM to win it all.

"Number one, I think they've got the best guard tandem in the country in Shane (Larkin) and Durand Scott," Gillen says. "In the tournament, guards are really important. Number two, I like their experience."

Rothwell: "To have national broadcasters talking about us ... "

To have a welcoming party for basketball ...

"I was the first player off the bus carrying the trophy and I got smothered," forward Kenny Kadji says. That was after Larranaga exited because players "wanted him to have his moment and share with the fans," Kadji says.

ShopMiamiHurricanes.com is projecting this month to rank fifth all-time in sales, says Chris Freet, UM's associate athletic director for communications and marketing. Freet says T-shirts sold out within an hour of the team winning the ACC regular-season title and 900 ACC title shirts were sold by Monday afternoon.

Needless to say, ESPN's Dick Vitale is pumped up.

"They have a little chip on their shoulder because for years they were equated with pigskin," he says. "Now it's time for hoops, baby! South Beach -- you better share it, LeBron and D-Wade! You better share it with Larranaga and Larkin!"

Palm Beach Post staff writers Jorge Milian and Ethan Skolnick contributed to this story.



Source: (c)2013 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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