Shane Larkin (Getty Images)
When Shane Larkin visited his father at spring training or during the Major League season as a young boy, former all-stars Pete Rose and Tony Perez often pulled him aside during batting practice to give him tips on his stance or his swing.
As a result, the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin quickly grew frustrated one year when the manager of his youth baseball team began trying to undo much of what he'd been taught.
"I was doing some things he didn't think a seven-year-old kid should be doing, so when I went up to hit, he was like, 'Whoever taught you to hit didn't know what was he was talking about,'" Shane Larkin recalled with a chuckle. "That pretty much killed my love for baseball. I never played in an organized baseball game after that."
Baseball might never have been Larkin's sport of choice anyway because he found the game too slow, but University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga and his staff should still be grateful for the incompetence of that youth coach. Had Larkin grown to love baseball as he grew older, the Miami point guard might be taking batting practice and fielding ground balls for some Double-A team right now instead of spearheading the resurgence of the Hurricanes basketball program.
Larkin's emergence as one of the ACC's best point guards as a sophomore is a big reason No. 14 Miami (15-3) is off to its first 6-0 start in league play in program history. The speedy 5-foot-11 Orlando native has thrived in the Hurricanes' ball screen-heavy offense, scoring 12.3 points per game, dishing out 4.1 assists and shooting nearly 40 percent from behind the arc.
One reason for Larkin's progress this season is he feels more comfortable calling for the ball and being aggressive going to the rim now that he knows he has the trust of his teammates.
Since he initially enrolled at DePaul during the summer of 2011 before deciding to leave after a few months, Larkin didn't even arrive on campus at Miami until less than two months before the start of practice last season. He played 25 minutes per game as a freshman, but he deferred to veteran guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott much more than he does his teammates this year because he was conscientious of not being perceived as a ball hog by guys who were still getting to know him.
"Last year, he was very conscious of wanting to be well-liked by guys on the team, especially the older guys," Miami assistant coach Chris Caputo said. "He certainly had some great moments, but there were also times where he kind of deferred to those guys when he needed to be a little more assertive. Now that he's more comfortable, you're seeing the results of that."
When Larkin was in grade school, there was a player on his YMCA team who hadn't scored a basket the whole season. During one game, Larkin made a point of trying to rectify that, even passing up easy layups and put-backs to throw the ball out to his teammate so he could shoot again and again.
"The kid shot six or seven times in a row, and I'd get the rebound and hand it back to him," Larkin said. "When he finally made the shot, everyone who was at the game erupted. So it's always been a great feeling getting somebody else a basket knowing that they're going to be more confident going forward."
Larkin attributes his team-first mentality to his parents.
Since Barry Larkin didn't retire from Major League Baseball until after the 2004 season, Lisa Larkin assumed many of the day-to-day responsibilities of raising Shane and his two sisters in Orlando. It was sometimes difficult for Shane not to see his father for weeks at a time during the baseball season, but they've grown close enough now that Barry is often the first person his son turns to for support after a poor game.
Being the son of a 12-time all-star shortstop and the nephew of former Xavier basketball standout Byron Larkin wasn't always easy for Larkin as a kid. Not only were opposing players extra-motivated to outplay him so they could say they were better than a baseball star's son, they also would attribute Larkin's success to his genes or wealth rather than his hard work.
I'd get 15 points and eight assists, and people would say, 'Oh, his dad probably paid someone $100,000 for a lesson,'" Larkin said. "There were lots of silly things like that people would say to try to upset me or get in my head. But you've got to be mentally tough. My mom and dad always told me to use that as fuel to go out there and play even harder and even better."
Considering Larkin's bloodlines and his decorated career at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, it's surprising he didn't receive more attention from high-profile college programs than he did. Larkin originally chose DePaul over Boston College, George Mason, Colorado and Florida State.
When Larranaga and his staff were at George Mason, they offered Larkin a scholarship before any other program did and made him one of their top priorities for the Class of 2011. Larkin and fellow point guard Corey Edwards visited George Mason at the same time, but Edwards committed on the spot and Larkin still wanted to look into other schools, leaving Larranaga little choice who to take.
"It was tough for us because we really liked Shane, but he was visiting five schools and like most people in recruiting, we felt a bird in the hand beat two in the bush," Caputo said. "Shane now jokingly says, 'Well, I was coming,' but all guys say that."
Luckily for Miami, Larranaga and his staff got another chance.
By the time Larkin left DePaul for personal reasons late in summer 2011 and began searching for a school closer to home, Miami had already hired Larranaga away from George Mason. Larkin already had a good relationship with the staff and Larranaga had a vacant scholarship and a need for a true point guard, so it was a natural fit.
Not honoring his commitment to DePaul was the toughest decision of Larkin's life, but coming to Miami has turned out better than he could have expected.
In his second season at Miami, Larkin has established himself as a versatile point guard capable of scoring, distributing and playing fierce on-ball defense. He has also watched the Hurricanes program grow from a middle-of-the-road ACC team overshadowed on its own campus to a top 15 program playing in front of sellout crowds and drawing unusual buzz in a big-event city typically slow to embrace college basketball.
One of the most fun aspects of it all for Larkin has been having his parents in the stands for most home games. Larkin says his dad is his biggest supporter even if it still burns the former Cincinnati Reds star deep down that his son never gave baseball a real chance.
"He still tells me I could go out there and hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases," Larkin said with a chuckle, "But I think I'm doing pretty well in basketball."
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