University of Miami

UM basketball team inspired by butterfly legend

Head coach Jim Larranaga of the Miami Hurricanes directs his team against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.
Head coach Jim Larranaga of the Miami Hurricanes directs his team against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. Getty Images

The secret to the surprising success of the University of Miami men’s basketball team this season may lie in 30 butterflies the Canes released for good luck from atop the Bank United Center steps, shortly before their first eye-opening road win over then-No. 8 University of Florida.

Coach Jim Larrañaga had done a butterfly release once before, with his 2004 George Mason team, the team that a year later reached the Final Four. According to some Native American legends, flocks of butterflies are said to fly together to a common destination. Larrañaga liked the symbolism, and he feels that this Hurricanes team — which is coming off a stunning road upset of No. 4 Duke — “has a chance to do something special, whether it’s this year or next year.”

So, he ordered a second batch of butterflies in late October.

He gave each player an envelope containing a hibernating orange and black butterfly. They went outside, waited for the warm weather to get the wings flapping and set the butterflies free. The Canes proceeded to win seven straight games, and their 8-0 record landed them at No. 15 in the AP poll. They took a dip after a pair of humbling losses to unranked opponents, but in recent weeks they are making noise again after taking No. 3 Virginia to double overtime and on Tuesday beating Duke by 16 on its home court.

Up next: No. 12 Notre Dame on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday. It will be the UM debut of 6-10 Spaniard Ivan Uceda, who sat out 16 games because of eligibility complications.

Larrañaga enjoys holding court with the media, so he was delighted to find a rare crowd of reporters waiting for him in the arena interview room Thursday.

Asked what the win over Duke meant to the UM program, he replied: “It means more people showed up for the press conference.”

He then said the “ripple effect” of the win could be in recruiting. After the Canes (12-4, 2-1 ACC) beat the Blue Devils, Larrañaga’s phone was overloaded with congratulatory texts from recruits.

If they wind up at UM, they will become accustomed to the coach’s sometimes unorthodox methods.

Guard Angel Rodriguez said of the butterflies: “It was definitely a different experience, kind of a random thing to do. But I think it was great. I think everybody enjoyed it, and you know, every person believes in different things, whatever he believes in, I’m going to buy into it. You want to keep your coach happy, and as long as we keep winning, the butterflies are going to make him feel good.”

Larrañaga definitely was in a good mood Thursday.

“You might think it’s silly, foolish, a waste of time, a waste of money,” Larrañaga said.

“But when our players at George Mason were being interviewed for the Final Four run, they talked about that. They talked about, hey, our goal was to get to the Final Four … and we knew it was going to take us a while to get there, but like the butterflies, we were going to stick together and fly together.”

So, where might the flock of UM butterflies be now?

“Where’s the Final Four this year?” Larrañaga asked. “Indianapolis? They’re probably halfway there.”

Note: Upon further review, football players Corn Elder and D’Mauri Jones decided to stick to football and not play for the basketball team.

“Despite how excited myself and my staff were about having Corn Elder and D’Mauri Jones join us, those guys realized the amount of work they have to do academically and still with football, and the time commitment was just going to be way too much, so neither will be with us any further,” Larrañaga said. “Corn was with us two practices; D’Mauri just watched and realized, ‘Well, maybe I need to just concentrate on the football.’”

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