CORAL GABLES — Jim Larrañaga is trying to rest his tired voice. He went “speechless” for the month of September, as he framed it. He alternated between sucking on throat lozenges and drinking water at practice Thursday afternoon.
But there’s only so much quiet a good coach can commit when there’s so many important ideas to underline on the edge of a season, and one of those ideas came in his talk to his University of Miami basketball team before Thursday’s practice.
Every day has a message, the way Larrañaga teaches. It can be about life or school or sometimes just about some line from one of his favorite action movies like “The Last Samurai” or “Gladiator.”
“Are you ready for war,’’ he said before an NCAA Tournament game last year, quoting Mel Gibson as William Wallace in “Braveheart.”
Thursday brought a more measured tone.
“I’m going to talk about living in the present,’’ he said.
This might sound like the right theme for a team with some Final Four feelgood from last spring. Miami went to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, too, so the idea could have been about not looking too far ahead to March. But that’s not the idea.
“Half of last year’s team isn’t back,’’ he said.
So this living-in-the-present idea doesn’t refer so much to last year.
“It’s the NBA,’’ he said. “My main concern for a lot of guys is they think too far ahead. They start thinking about what’s next for them.”
Add this to the fun new world of Miami basketball, the one where they’re ranked 13th in the preseason, picked second in the ACC behind Duke and have the No. 7 recruit in the nation waiting to sign next week.
It’s standard to say the preseason means nothing, that all the work is ahead and, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” as Miami senior guard Nigel Pack said. But hold that thought in the case of Miami basketball, because something more is at work here.
All this postseason success and preseason praise strikes on a more important point: They’ve reached a certain level of healthy expectation. It’s not just the preseason rankings. They sold 1,400 more season tickets off last year’s success.
They also had two of their five starters, Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, drafted to the NBA last season compared to three in the lower rounds for the Miami football team. If that crystallizes where the school’s primary programs are right now, Larrañaga’s reminder to live this moment is underlined by players reading together the “Ten Commandments of Miami Basketball,” listed by the court.
“We will set our defense every time,’’ they start at the first commandment and together read down to No. 10 of, “We will attack the offensive boards.”
They then break into a full-court shooting drill where the scoreboard has to register 100 points in two minutes to reiterate Larrañaga’s idea of competing in practice. He has a good team, if a thin and size-challenged one. Norchad Omier, the 6-7 center, again will be asked to do the heavy lifting inside.
“How good can we be in the here and now?” Larrañaga said. “We’re going to find out right away in the non-conference games.”
Georgia. Kentucky. Colorado in New York. That’s ahead after Monday’s opener against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. There’s no road map to success. Larranaga points to two years ago when Miami lost by 32 points to Alabama.
“Everyone thought we were going to be terrible,’’ he said. “I thought, ‘OK, we learned an awful lot from that beating.’ We went on and won 10 straight.”
Thursday was a newsworthy day for college basketball because Bob Knight died. Larrañaga has been around long enough to coach against Bob Knight, to be at Midwestern schools like Bowling Green to witness Knight’s influence as coaches followed his motion office.
You couldn’t find two successful coaches much different than Knight and Larrañaga. Knight led by yelling and bullying. Larrañaga, in a snapshot of his style, encouraged a player at practice Thursday about how well he’s shooting.
He then takes a drink of water and reaches in his pocket for a lozenge. It’s the start of the season. From his team to his throat, he’s focused on the here and now.