University of Miami coach Jim Larrañaga grew up in the Bronx, and dreamed of playing at Madison Square Garden. He got his wish during college, when he played in the legendary New York City arena multiple times with his Providence team.
His final collegiate game as a Friar was there, a loss in the 1971 NIT Elite Eight. He also coached there as a Virginia assistant when the Cavaliers won the NIT in 1980.
On March 31, he will appear there as a head coach for the first time as the Hurricanes play an NIT semifinal against Temple.
The Canes (24-12) advanced after rallying from an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Richmond 63-61 on Tuesday.
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“I watched my very first college basketball game in person at Madison Square Garden when I was 10 years old,” he said Wednesday. “I watched my brother Bob and his St. John’s team in the Holiday Festival at Christmas time. From that moment I knew that playing at Madison Square Garden was something very, very special.”
Larrañaga said the UM players were “jumping for joy” in the locker room after the Richmond game and can’t wait to get to New York City. “By Sunday there will be only eight teams still playing – the Final 4 in the NCAAs and the Final 4 in the NIT, and we are among them. That’s a great accomplishment.”
Guard Angel Rodriguez re-injured his wrist against UNC-Central, and it is still “very sensitive,” Larrañaga said, and his status will be a game-day decision.
Larrañaga was recruiting Wednesday, and every kid he talked to had watched UM’s comeback against the Spiders.
Back on campus, the UM team threw the first pitch at the Canes’ baseball game. Davon Reed, a New Jersey native, said: “It’s exciting for me because I’m going back close to home. I’ve played there [at MSG] twice in AAU ball. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great arena. It’s the Mecca. I think everybody on the team is really excited about being there.”
Rodriguez and McClellan have also played there.
Writer Walter Villa contributed to this report.