Jim Larrañaga addressed reporters in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Media Day. Other than one question about the FBI probe, the University of Miami coach stuck to basketball and was delighted to share that D.J. Vasiljevic scored 159 points in a three-minute shooting drill a day earlier.
Asked if he has met with UM athletic director Blake James, and how he has kept the team focused through the ongoing federal investigation, Larrañaga replied: “I appreciate and understand any questions in regard to the issue. But, quite frankly, I'd like you to just go back to my comments on Monday (referring to a news conference on the UM campus, in which he said he believes he is the “Coach 3” mentioned in the FBI complaint, and that he has “absolutely no knowledge” of any wrongdoing by himself or anyone on his staff).
“In terms of my conversations with our athletic director, we met with our team the day that this broke in the news for three minutes. That conversation is the last conversation we've had with our players. We've been very, very focused on practicing and getting ready for this season.”
He relaxed for the remainder of the 10-minute interview, smiling as he gushed over his five talented guards – Bruce Brown, Ja’Quan Newton, Vasiljevic, Chris Lykes and Lonnie Walker.
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Larrañaga drew laughs when he told an anecdote about the “KD Shooting Drill” at Tuesday’s practice, named after NBA star Kevin Durant. Players have three minutes to try to score 100 points. Vasiljevic scored 159 points in three minutes Tuesday, the coach said, missing just four shots. “It was pretty spectacular.”
He also praised center Ebuka Izundu, who has improved his bench press from under 200 lbs. to over 300 lbs. since arriving on campus three years ago.
“He's grown into a man and he's playing like that in practice,” Larrañaga said of Izundu. “We're very, very confident in him. And I think offensively, if he had the same confidence in himself that I have in him, he'd be an all-league player. He could be that good.”
ACC Commissioner John Swofford addressed the FBI investigation, saying the charges filed “are truly disturbing to me, to our schools and to all those connected to college athletics that are dedicated to following the rules.”
He said although there are still many unanswered questions, if the allegations are found to be true, the individuals should be held accountable. He went on to say that so much comes down to individuals’ integrity, but he believes there are “systemic issues that need to be addressed, including one-and-done and more liberal agent rules.”
Swofford compared basketball in the United States to a sandwich, with the bottom slice of bread as the AAU travel teams, “which often are 501(c)3s funded by donations, the shoe companies, and others, for gear, for travel expenses, for coaches' salaries, and at that point, that's all legal and within the rules, and quite frankly, provides some incredible experiences playing the game and traveling and in some instances really quality coaching that mean a great deal to a lot of young people and expand their lives tremendously.”
He considers the “guts” of the sandwich to be college basketball, which must comply to NCAA rules –some of which may be antiquated and a departure from AAU rules.
The top slice is professional basketball – the NBA and international leagues – “the pay for play, the endorsements, the great money opportunities, and their problems are not necessarily our problems. Our problems are not necessarily their problems. Same with the first slice with AAU...You’ve got these rules that don’t apply, then they do apply, and then they don’t.
“So, whether you call it three buckets, a sandwich, whatever you want to call it, I think college basketball, it's in the middle of a broader spectrum in a very unique way, unlike any other sport, and consequently, it may need unique solutions. And a one size fits all, as in one size fits all sports, every rule fits every sport, that may not work if we're going to try to fix this.”
He pointed out that unlike anywhere else in the world, U.S. collegiate sports try to tie education to elite-level athletic competition. He suggested some athletes would be better off going straight from high school to the pros. He mentioned the baseball model of drafting out of high school as something basketball should examine.
“For some kids, the collegiate model might not be a part of this process, where they're going from high school and AAU to making a living playing professionally. And I think that's okay,” Swofford said. “I think getting rid of one-and-done is better than having it.”
The solution, he said, is to modernize the NCAA basketball system.
“We've got an opportunity here, because of a problem, to try and fix something, and I don't think we can afford to miss that opportunity,” Swofford said. “I'm not for throwing out the collegiate model by any stretch of the imagination, but I am for modernizing it to live in today's world in a way that makes sense.”