Things continued to go wrong for the University of Miami basketball team the morning after the team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Marquette.
As it happened, the Hurricanes’ team flight from Washington on Friday was due to land at Miami International Airport right about the time President Barack Obama was arriving on Air Force One, which meant the UM charter plane circled in a holding pattern for nearly 45 minutes while the airport was closed. Once they got on the ground, traffic was snarled around the airport.
But the players’ moods got a lift when the bus rounded the corner onto campus and they saw hundreds of Hurricane fans awaiting the team bus at BankUnited Center. They had been standing around from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for a chance to greet the team, which finished the season 29-7 and matched the best finish in school history by reaching the Sweet 16.
Players posed for photos and signed autographs as fans chanted, “It’s great — to be — a Miami Hurricane!” and “Thank You, Seniors!”
“The bus ride over here was real quiet, the plane ride, too, so I immediately felt a little happier when I saw the fans out here,” guard Rion Brown said. “We didn’t expect this many people. They’re out here cheering just as if we won the game. It hurts that we lost, and it’s still going to hurt for a while. But what we did is unbelievable. We made program history, so many firsts for the school. We set the standard for future Hurricanes to come. This is what they’re going to try to duplicate.”
Julian Gamble said the players are fatigued and ready for some rest after an intense month of postseason basketball. He said Thursday’s loss still stung the next morning.
“It was very emotional having five seniors and coming to an abrupt end the way it did, and not playing our best game, missing so many open shots that we’ve made all year,” he said. “To miss those shots on that stage, it really hurt. But looking back on it now, we know we had a historic season, a season for the ages.”
Obama gave the Canes a shout out during his visit. He ribbed Heat fans, reminding them that his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, snapped the Heat’s win streak. He then praised the state of Florida for the NCAA Tournament success of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and Miami.
“The Hurricanes, they had a great season,” he said. “They deserve a big round of applause.”
Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin did not travel home with the team. Teammates said he was still feeling a bit weak following an upset stomach Wednesday night, so he stayed behind and was to travel back with his parents on an afternoon flight.
The big question now is whether he will return for his junior season or declare for the NBA Draft.
“I’m just going to talk to Coach [Jim Larrañaga] about that, and I don’t know what my future is yet,” Larkin said after the game. His baseball Hall of Fame father, Barry Larkin, is fielding all draft-related calls.
Shane posted on Instagram on Friday: “Regardless of what future decisions I make, this has honestly been the best year of my life. Thank you to my teammates, coaches, and most importantly, all the fans for the support. I will forever be grateful for every moment shared with you. This season was magical and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Larrañaga was asked if he expects Larkin back next year. At first he replied, “Yes,” but then changed his answer to: “I expect Shane and his family to do the research they need to do to make a good decision, whatever’s best for him and his future.”
Either way, Larrañaga is optimistic about the team’s future.
“We hope this is the first of many years like this, and that we can repeat the magic,” he said Friday. “We need to have a great recruiting class and be able to build on this year’s season. These kids know what kind of season they had. Everybody except the national champion loses. And every one of the 67 teams feels very bad, but will reflect and think, ‘We did a lot of great things.’ This team went on a long journey starting with the beginning of the year and kept it going a long time, even when there were doubters. People thought when we lost a few at the end of the regular season that we couldn’t win ACC tournament, thought we had peaked.
“But making it to the Sweet 16, these players have a lot to be proud of.”