CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Preseason basketball practice had hardly begun when Miami Hurricanes guard Durand Scott first felt the wrath of the team’s new coach, Jim Larranaga.
Scott made the mistake of taking the court without tying his shoes.
“You might not think that’s important, but it’s as important as making a bucket,” Scott said. “Coach yelled at me. At first I didn’t think he was serious. I didn’t think you could get in trouble for not having your shoelaces tied. I went back to him, `Are you serious?”’
Larranaga was serious. Scott did a stint on a stationary bike as punishment, and has made sure to tie his shoes ever since.
“Double knots,” he said.
So the Hurricanes are following their new coach’s rules. Less clear is how closely rules were followed before Larranaga arrived.
Frank Haith left Miami in April to become the coach at Missouri and was replaced by Larranaga. Shortly before the coaching change, the NCAA began looking into allegations by a former Hurricanes booster, but the investigation didn’t become public until August.
Most of the allegations involved football, but one basketball player was implicated — DeQuan Jones. Yahoo Sports reported that the ex-booster said he provided $10,000 cash to Miami coaches to help recruit Jones, and Haith was aware of the matter.
With the season about to begin for two teams with new coaches, the case is the elephant in the gym in Coral Gables and Columbia.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Larranaga said.
Haith has said the allegations “are not an accurate portrayal of my character,” and said the way he deals with the situation can be a teachable moment.
“It’s a life skill we all can learn, because I think in life we’re all going to be faced with adversity,” Haith said. “No one has a perfect life. When someone attacks your character and who you are, the thing I want our guys to see is how I handle myself and how I stand. I stand firm, and being able to handle this thing face-on, hopefully that’s a learning experience for our players.”
Larranaga said he was unaware of the NCAA investigation when he took the job. Following a spirited recent practice, he denied a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the program.
“The general public has their own opinions and points of view,” he said. `”But we also have a very specific job to do, and we’re not going to allow anything to distract us from doing that job. You can only control the things you can control. We share that thought with the players and coaching staff.
“If you watched practice, you could see there was no cloud in this gym today.”
Jones took part in that practice but won’t play until the NCAA rules on his case. Miami officials say they don’t know when that will happen.
Jones was a part-time starter last season and could play a significant role for the Hurricanes, who are coming off a disappointing 21-15 season. In seven years under Haith they went only 43-69 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, including 6-10 in 2010-11.
So there’s plenty of room for improvement under Larranaga, who transformed George Mason into an overachieving success. He wants to recruit heavily in Florida, where basketball has become more popular with prep athletes.
“One reason our staff is confident we can build a championship-caliber program here is because of the great high school basketball talent developed over the past 25 years,” Larranaga said. “When the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic started their franchises, that opened the doors for a lot of high school players to have role models and encourage them to play more basketball.”
The scandal and possible sanctions, however, have made it even tougher for Larranaga to compete with the ACC’s heavyweight programs for recruits.
Haith faces a similar challenge competing in the Big 12, along with a recent standard of success at Missouri that will be tough to maintain. Predecessor Mike Anderson left for Arkansas after leading Mizzou to a school-best 77 wins over the past three seasons, and an NCAA tournament appearance each year.
Haith was not the Tigers’ first choice for the job, and some fans were less than thrilled with his hiring. Whether he succeeds in Columbia will depend in part on what happens in Coral Gables.
“I can’t worry about things I can’t control,” he said. “All I’m focusing on is doing what I’m paid to do, and that’s coach basketball.”