The University of Miami mens basketball team climbed as high as it ever has Monday to a No. 8 national ranking in The Associated Press poll and the man who made that magic ladder appear, Jim Larranaga, had just heard the news when we spoke.
It feels great. Im excited, the coach said. It represents a major step forward.
I asked Larranaga if he planned to break the news to his team. He smiled.
Those guys know everything before I do, he said. By now someone has texted it, tweeted it, Facebooked it or instant messaged it.
Nothing stays a secret for long anymore, and so these Hurricanes havent.
Less than a month ago they were off the national grid, and barely making South Florida pay attention. Now they are one of the sweet stories in all of college basketball, rocketing up in the polls from nowhere to 25th to 14th to eighth in three heady weeks.
A signature 90-63 pasting of No. 1 Duke on Jan. 23 in Coral Gables made America take notice. Reggie Johnsons miracle last-second tip-in to win at No. 19 North Carolina State on Saturday made you wonder if this team wasnt charmed.
Football is done now. You ready to pay attention to something besides the Heat?
This is your team. This is the time.
Larranagas guys have won nine in a row entering Tuesday nights home game vs. Boston College. They are 17-3. They are 8-0 in the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference the first ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina to do that since 1981.
The only other time the UM men ranked No. 8 was in March 1960, even before Rick Barry arrived. The Canes have never finished a season ranked higher than 10th.
This year, though, you get the idea anything is possible. You get the feeling March Madness will very much include this team as a major player.
A couple of weeks ago there was speculation about this being a Sweet 16 team. Then came the stunning whipping of Duke. Then came the top 10. Now if youre talking Sweet 16 you seem to under-selling UMs potential.
Elite Eight, anyone? Final Four, even?
This is Larranagas problem at the moment. Well, his challenge, at least. The excitement of possibility nourishing this program is all good, but it also raises the stakes on the coach making sure his players keep their focus.
Our point of view is to get ready for Boston College, he said Monday. At any time, circumstances can change. We are not looking two weeks or a month down the road. The only thing [being ranked No. 8] does is fire up your opponent. The whole reason we are enjoying success is that we have prepared one day at a time. We do not get too full of ourselves just because somebody else has decided were good.
The even keel is easier because five of UMs top six scorers are seniors Johnson, Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones and Julian Gamble itself unusual (and pleasantly so) in the one-and-done NCAA.
That is also why this season figures to be Miamis best opportunity, although Larranaga, 63, in his second season here, has earned the faith that he can recruit and win with his own guys, not just with the talent inherited.
This coach took a long time to get to his dream job, but he has arrived at it.
He is best known for coaching mid-major George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, but that was just part of the climb.