Julian Gamble was stopped at a traffic light at lunchtime on Monday when he looked down and saw his mother had texted him from North Carolina. “#3! Wow! That’s Crazy!”
Yes, it is.
Take a deep breath, University of Miami basketball fans. The unfathomable is happening.
The Hurricanes on Monday were No. 3 in The Associated Press poll, behind Indiana and Duke. Yes, No. 3. As in, third-best team in the nation. Not only that, they received 17 first-place votes. First. Place. Votes. UM. In basketball.
Miami, 19-3 and 10-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has made a meteoric rise during the past five weeks from unranked to No. 25 to No. 14 to No. 8 to No. 3.
No UM team ever has been ranked higher.
The national pollsters clearly have noticed the Hurricanes’ jaw-dropping stats this season. UM is the only undefeated team in conference play of the six major conferences.
The Canes have not lost since Christmas; are riding an 11-game win streak; are the first team ever to beat Duke and North Carolina by more than 25 points in the same season; and their Ratings Percentage Index is No. 1 or No. 2, depending on which computer you choose to believe.
Whoever imagined UM basketball would reach the point where many fans believe the Hurricanes got slighted by being ranked third behind Duke after beating the Blue Devils by 27 points?
“I never really thought that Miami could be a top-10 program,” the always-candid senior center Reggie Johnson said. “I knew we were a good team, and we’d compete and take down some of the big dogs that are always in the top 10, but I didn’t think we’d be here in February. It’s surreal. Our school has never been ranked this high and to be part of it with this group of guys is really special.”
He is among those who believe UM deserves to be ranked ahead of Duke.
“If the poll was really legit, we should be ranked in front of them, but that’s for the media and fans,” Johnson said.
Senior guard Durand Scott was taking a nap Monday when he heard his phone vibrate repeatedly. He knew then that the Canes had moved up the rankings.
Surreal is real
“I checked, saw we were No. 3. I went to the bathroom and was listening to the radio while I brushed my teeth, and a Drake song, Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here came on and it felt real good. … I really didn’t think we’d be here. Being at No. 3 is surreal. We’re embracing it and having fun.”
Coach Jim Larranaga insists he doesn’t get caught up in the polls, calls them “popularity contests” and “beauty contests,” but he conceded they help create buzz and attract recruits.
The coach got an ovation from Heat fans at AmericanAirlines Arena during Sunday’s Heat-Lakers game when they showed him on the Jumbotron.
Said Scott: “I don’t have to wear a UM shirt for people to know who I am now.”
And Larranaga joked that an eighth-grader called to commit Monday.
“We told him it’s a little too early,” he said.
Watching it all from Fort Myers is Kevin Norris, the UM point guard from 1994 to 1998 and now an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, one of three teams that beat the Canes this season.
“I’m on Cloud 9 seeing UM reach No. 3 because I have orange and green blood. We were 0-18 my first year there, and feel like I’m part of the stepping stones that got UM to this point. Beating UM this year was bittersweet for me. I’m really excited for what’s happening at Miami and tip my hat to those players and coaches.”
Asked whether they should be in the conversation for No. 1, senior forward Kenny Kadji said: “I don’t know. I really don’t want to pay attention to that. We’re having too much fun — 10-0 and I just want to keep going. No. 1 right now doesn’t mean anything. You want to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
Later Monday, Kadji "tweaked'' his shoulder in practice, according to Larranaga, and his status will be evaluated on Tuesday.
Now a target
Scott is not worried about his team getting distracted by the excitement.
“Coach Larranaga’s going to make sure of that because he’s our leader, and we’re his students,” he said.
The Hurricanes are on the road at Florida State on Wednesday night. That was all Larranaga was thinking about Monday.
“I’m going to be on them very, very hard in practice,” he said. “We can’t afford any slippage. Our offensive rebounding efficiency is 280th in the country, we need to do better because from now on, we’re getting everybody’s best shot. No sneaking up on anybody anymore.”