The kid was scrawny. No taller than 5-9 and maybe 150 pounds with his high tops on. He had curly hair and a baby face that made him appear even younger than his 15 years.
Although his father was a Major League Baseball legend, his was not among the names on the college basketball coaches’ watch lists as they gathered in a gym in Orlando to scout recruits at an AAU tournament in the summer of 2009. But Shane Larkin, son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, is the kid who immediately captured the eye of Jim Larranaga, then the coach at George Mason University.
Larranaga is now coaching the eighth-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes, and is delighted that, through a bit of luck and a circuitous route, Larkin eventually became his point guard. That scrawny kid is now a college sophomore, and on Thursday was named one of 12 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the top point guard in the nation.
He is a big reason the Canes are favored to beat perennial power North Carolina on Saturday afternoon in front of a national TV audience and a sold-out BankUnited Center.
“He made a defensive play in a 3-on-1 fastbreak situation,’’ Larranaga recalled, of the first time he laid eyes on Larkin. “When you’ve got a small point guard back on defense and three great athletes running at him, you think they’re at the advantage. But I saw [Larkin] fake at the dribbler, who was gonna try to make a no-look pass.
“Shane had already probably evaluated that guy, knew he liked to make no-look passes. ... Guy looked right, threw left, Shane picked the pass off, pitched it down the floor, and his team got a layup. For a kid just out of 10th grade to have that kind of defensive presence, you don’t see that very often.
“On offense, he was making high-speed layups going right, high-speed layups going left, shooting threes, and distributing the ball like a real point guard does. First time I saw him, I said, ‘That’s the guy. That’s who we need.’ ’’
Larranaga’s longtime assistant coach Eric Konkol felt the same way.
“He was really small and he was really skinny,’’ Konkol said. “But he had a real quick burst, and was very clever. The game was in slow motion for him at times. He could see things happen before they occurred, and he had a great feel for when his teammates were open.’’
Larranaga continued to keep tabs on Larkin, and was surprised — but relieved — that many coaches doubted his potential. “I’d ask my coach friends, ‘Hey, what do you think of Shane?’ They’d say, ‘Eh, he’s all right.’ And I felt like, ‘Wow, maybe there’s a shot we could get Shane at George Mason.’ ’’
That August, Larranaga called Larkin and offered a scholarship. It was his first offer. Larkin was sitting poolside at his family’s Orlando home when the call came. “I got so excited I slipped into the pool and my pants got all wet,’’ Larkin said, laughing. “I ran in the house dripping, and yelled, ‘Mom! I got my first offer!’ ’’
More offers were to come, from Clemson, Boston College, Florida State, South Florida and Central Florida. The Clemson coach, Oliver Purnell, left for DePaul, and Larkin chose to go play for him. But after a month in Chicago, Larkin started doubting his decision and feeling homesick.