I am a South Florida guy; born and raised.
I grew up in Miami when the Dolphins were kicking it as the only game in town. Bob Griese and Dan Marino led the Dolphins to the playoffs every year, and the Orange Bowl was hallowed ground.
Our only baseball was Baltimore Orioles spring training and a minor league team called – ironically – the Miami Marlins. Basketball was played in Los Angeles and Boston, and hockey was played up in Canada (and those far away states that are near Canada).
Then there’s the University of Miami; the local, private university that went from ho-hum and serene pillar of education to loud, flashy, bad-ass football powerhouse almost overnight. I played little league football from 1982-1985, a four years span in which the Canes won one title and contended for another. In my formative high school years, I cheered my beloved Hurricanes to two more national championships, while also watching them lose in the title game to Penn State. It was the most explosive time in college football, and if you’ve ever seen Billy Corben’s 30 for 30 documentary ‘The U’, then you have a pretty good understanding of the environment in which I grew up.
With the exception to Ron Fraser’s stellar baseball program at Miami (two national championships and eight CWS appearances in the 80’s), being a Hurricanes fan meant everything begins and ends with football.
Not once was there ever a discussion of Miami’s basketball program. In fact, it can be argued that until recently, many Miamians didn’t even know The U fielded a basketball team. So imagine how perplexed the orange and green fan base are when they open the sports section of the Miami Herald and see the Hurricanes men’s basketball program ranked third in the nation.
As fans, we’re not accustomed to this from men’s hoops. Miami is supposed to be a laughing stock in basketball; a doormat to the ACC powerhouses of Duke, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Basketball success in Miami means the Heat and not the Canes. After all, everything at The U begins and ends with football.
But that’s not the case this season. Second year coach Jim Larranaga has turned around a program that was mediocre at best. In his first two seasons, Coach Larranage has posted a .709 winning percentage, and has the Canes undefeated so far in conference play. With a roster deep with experienced upperclassmen led by Senior Kenny Kadji, the Canes have talent at every position and match up well with just about every other team ranked in the AP Top 10. Throw in the electrifying guard play of Sophomore Shane Larkin, son of baseball great Barry Larkin, and you’ve got a team that can not only play big, but also fast.
Whether or not the Canes find themselves atop the polls during the regular season, a run into the NCAA tournament in March is all but assured. Given this team has not made it to the big dance since 2008, the success of this season is very much amplified. So much so that not advancing passed the Sweet Sixteen – which is the farthest the Hurricanes have ever been in the tournament – would be deemed a disappointment.
It may be an unreasonable expectation, and many great teams fall to the glorious randomness that is March Madness. Still, the national buzz surrounding Larranaga’s boys has Miami fans craving a title. It’s been quite a while since either football or baseball hoisted a national championship at The U (2001 for both programs). Those of us who remember the glory years remember how the dynasty run seemingly came out of nowhere. Perhaps we’re witnessing the birth of a new national powerhouse in ACC basketball. Or perhaps we’re witnessing, much like Larranaga’s 2006 George Mason team, a flash in the pan.
Whatever the case may be, Canes fans everywhere are going from being confused to amused at the site of a Miami program ranked so high in the polls. It’s a throwback to the days of old mixed with the giddiness of success yet to come. And much like their nickname, the Hurricanes are storming into the college basketball discussion and proclaiming, “We have arrived.”