University of Miami men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga, his face showing the strain of an ongoing FBI investigation, spoke publicly about the recruiting corruption probe for the first time on Monday. He read a prepared statement and then answered questions at the Watsco Center, where the Hurricanes open their season in two weeks.
“I cannot state more emphatically that I have absolutely no knowledge of any wrongdoing by any member of our staff and I certainly have never engaged in the conduct that some have speculated about,” said Larrañaga, who acknowledged that he and his attorneys believe he is the man labeled as “Coach 3” in the FBI complaint. He added he was “relieved” by that because it means his assistant coaches are not connected.
“I’ve tried to live every single one of my 68 years on this earth with integrity, character and humility, and to set an example for my children, grandchildren and the hundreds of young men I’ve had the opportunity to coach. To have those values that I cherish so dearly even questioned is disheartening and disappointing.”
Although neither UM nor Larrañaga were mentioned by name in the court documents, they are clearly identified as “University-7” and “Coach-3” amid allegations that defendants, including an AAU coach, an agent and Adidas executives conspired — supposedly with the knowledge of “Coach-3” — to funnel a payment of $150,000 to a recruit as a way to steer him to commit to the Hurricanes.
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Larrañaga met with FBI agents at Miami International Airport for two hours on Aug. 26, and has “answered every question they had and turned over thousands of emails, text messages and any other materials requested of me.”
The Canes open the season Nov. 10, and some preseason polls have them ranked in the top 15.
Larrañaga has tried to keep his team focused and shielded from the ongoing investigation. He said he has confidence in returning backcourt players Bruce Brown, Ja’Quan Newton and D.J. Vasiljevic. He is excited by what he has seen of freshmen Chris Lykes, Lonnie Walker, Deng Gak, and Sam Waardenburg.
But he admits entering a season under a cloud of suspicion has taken its toll — personally and with recruiting.
“It’s been a strain physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” he said. “But it’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it, and I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family, support of the university, my staff and players. We just have to keep moving forward.”
He lamented that despite his vehement declarations of innocence through his attorneys, the school’s link to the probe, and the timing of Hurricane Irma during a critical recruiting period, led some high-level prospects to choose other schools without even visiting UM’s campus.
“Although this is a very difficult time for me and my family, I am confident when all reviews are concluded that my reputation as a man and coach of character will remain intact,” he said.
Brown and Newton both expressed their deep admiration for Larrañaga, Newton calling him “like a father figure.”
They said he has not let the FBI probe affect his coaching or the team’s practices.
“Around us, Coach L doesn’t show that he’s hurt,” Newton said. “When he’s around us, it’s strictly basketball and he’s just so happy to be around us on the court and off the court.”