Father's Day has never been a big holiday in the Larranaga household because basketball always seems to get in the way. The same is true of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays.
This year is no different.
Jim Larranaga, the University of Miami coach, is busy recruiting and running his summer camp. His eldest son, Jay, an assistant with the Boston Celtics, has been interviewing for NBA head coaching positions (the Knicks, Hornets, Hawks and Bucks were among his suitors) and is now immersed in his 12-year-old son James’ AAU summer basketball circuit.
Larranaga’s younger son Jon, who lives in Washington and works in the insurance industry, is coaching his 9-year-old and 7-year-old sons’ youth teams and taking them three times a week to “Rhythm Dribble,” a neuromuscular training program to develop their ball-handling skills.
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The Larranagas are not big on holiday traditions, big gatherings, greeting cards or gift exchanges — unless you count the time a few years ago when Jon gave Jim a holeless Mission Belt made famous on Shark Tank.
Asked how often they all get together, the father and sons could remember only a few occasions in the past 12 years.
They gathered in D.C. in the spring of 2017 for Jon’s son’s first communion (“The Celtics happened to be playing the Wizards in the playoffs that weekend,” explained Jay). They also were together “April 2, 2006, in Indianapolis, when my George Mason team made the Final Four,” said Jim Larranaga. “Jay was playing pro in Italy and flew in. It was the first time I met my infant grandson.”
Despite their conflicting schedules and collective obsession with basketball, the Larranaga men remain remarkably close. They call and text each other regularly — mainly to talk basketball, and sometimes movies. And, when the Larranagas are with their grandchildren, Jim and wife Liz host pancake Sunday.
“I call Jay after every Celtics win, and I don’t say anything after a loss,” Larranaga said. “We exchange ideas about basketball. I’ll ask him, `What’d you think of our zone?’ I’ll ask him questions as it relates to my team. We’ve always bonded over basketball.”
From the time the boys were knee-high, they tagged along with their father to countless gyms, locker rooms, camps, hotels, even recruiting trips.
“When he was an assistant at the University of Virginia and head coach at Bowling Green, he traveled quite a bit and I got to go on recruiting trips with him,” Jay recalled. “Any trip within driving distance, I’d jump in the car with him. It’s funny because we [the Celtics] were playing in the playoffs this year and Dennis Scott was covering our series and he was one of the first recruits that I went and watched with my Dad when Dennis was a freshman or sophomore in high school.
“Kenny Smith is another one I got to see on a recruiting trip. And Shawn Kemp. I enjoyed keeping my Dad company. It was less about the sport and more about the time in the car. My dad’s a great storyteller, so I loved hearing stories about him growing up and all the players he played against; really, the same stories he tells now. He’s been telling the same stories for 40 years, and I still like listening to him.”
The boys remembered their father telling them bedtime stories about Hercules, Zeus, Mercury and Zorro.
Jay also has fond memories of being with his father when Bowling Green shocked Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Jon’s earliest memory of basketball with his father was University of Virginia summer camp, when he was in seventh grade and his father was the head coach at Bowling Green.
“We were doing a father-son trip, and he was my coach the whole week at the camp, which tells you what kind of Dad he was because he was a Division 1 head coach and he spent a week as a coach at a day camp just to spend alone time with me,” Jon said.
“I was on fire the whole week. Everything I threw up went in. Our team made the camp championship and every day after camp my dad would take me to 7-11 and we’d get Slurpees. We stayed in the dorms together. He put baby powder in my shoes at night so they’d dry and be ready for the next day. Those are memories I’ll never forget.”
There was also the time when Jon was 12 and his father coached his AAU team. They faced a team called the Chicago Warriors, whose top player was a kid named Cory Maggette. “After the game we left the gym, and my dad looked at me and he goes, `That was the first NBA player you’ve ever played against.” And I looked at him like, `NBA player? We’re only 12 years old’.”
Maggette went on to star at Duke and play 14 years in the NBA.
The tales go on and on. The sons recalled laughing hysterically in the back seat of the car while their father, a stickler for detail, dictated notes to his assistant, Kay, through a Dictaphone.
When Brad Stevens got the Boston Celtics head coaching job, Jay Larranaga, whose sons are the same age as Stevens’ kids, suggested that the children be involved in team activities. “I told him about my memories with my father, and how important it was to remain close to our kids,” Jay said.
Both sons chose to play for their father in college – Jay at Bowling Green and Jon at George Mason. Jay broke the school’s three-point shooting records. Jon is among his school’s leaders in points, assists and rebounds. Both played pro in Europe, Jay for 12 years, including a stint as player-coach for the Irish national team. He went on to become an assistant at Cornell and the head coach of the minor-league Erie Bayhawks in Pennsylvania before joining the Celtics.
Both sons heaped praise on their mother and said they have learned invaluable lessons from both parents.
“My mom has been a huge part of his success because she has allowed him to devote all his focus to his job,” Jay said. “She was the one that took my brother and I to our games, practices, made sure the house was in order, the finances were in order. Parenting is the area I lean on him the most now, besides the basketball. As hard as he worked, there was never any doubt that our family was the most important thing in both my parents’ lives.”