The Dagger - NCAAB

When former George Mason coach Jim Larranaga first learned earlier this month that Frank Haith had left Miami, his reaction was probably identical to most Hurricanes fans.

"I thought, 'Oh wow, I wonder if Frank Martin will take the job,'" Larranaga told 560 WQAM on Tuesday morning.

To the surprise of Larranaga and the rest of the basketball community, Miami never showed any interest in the Kansas State head coach with deep ties to South Florida. Instead Miami president Donna Shalala went a different direction, making a failed run at Harvard coach Tommy Amaker before prying Larranaga away from the George Mason program he previously led to the Final Four.

In addition to the substantial raise he received by leaving George Mason to come to Miami, Larranaga spoke glowingly during his radio interview about the opportunity to coach in the prestigious ACC. He downplayed concerns about the difficulty of either drawing fans or consistently winning at Miami even though the football-focused Hurricanes have only made the NCAA tournament five times since relaunching the program 26 years ago.

"When I was contacted by (Miami), I was very, very excited," Larranaga said. "You want to be part of a league like this, and at my age, it's probably the last, last chance I was going to have. When the opportunity arose and I was offered the job, I jumped all over it."

Among the first tasks for Larranaga at his new gig will be to rebuild the relationships between Miami high school and AAU coaches and the school. Larranaga found success recruiting the state of Florida since George Mason's 2006 Final Four run, but top prospects in Miami have often spurned the Hurricanes in favor of basketball programs with more fan support and pedigree.

While Larranaga has reached out to some local AAU coaches already, his first priority has been introducing himself to his new players and making sure they're comfortable with him. Most of Miami's top returners appear excited about the new direction of the program, but Larranaga still has some convincing to do with two important pieces of next year's team.

Larranaga will travel to North Carolina to visit in person with high-flying guard Bishop Daniels, Miami's top recruit who asked for a release from his letter of intent after Haith's departure. He's also optimistic that center Reggie Johnson will return to the team despite declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent earlier this month.

"We need to get those guys back and in the fold, so we can get off to a great start next season," Larranaga said. "That is one of my top priorities. I've met with Reggie. He's back on campus now. We're discussing the possibility of him being drafted, what the prospects are there. But we are very, very hopeful and I think he's excited about the possibility of returning and leading the Hurricanes back to the NCAA tournament."

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