No Introduction Necessary for Larranaga

By David Scott - December 22, 2006

WORCESTER, Mass. - Old habits die hard for the man who made an entire career for himself over these past 12 months.

George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga is still introducing himself to people.

“Hi, Jim Larranaga,” he says to each of the four media members in front of him, before shaking hands with each one. “Nice to meet you.”

He then softly, enthusiastically and cordially explains his team’s fifth win of the season, a 58-46 triumph over Holy Cross, before a way-over-counted 3,114 at the DCU Center.

He praises his bench, which outscored the Crusader’s, 27-5, he bemoans the pre-conference schedule he has undertaken (seven of nine games have been on the road) and, yes, he mentions the Final Four run of last season.

What Larranaga can’t possibly explain - what no one probably can - is how this basketball lifer was the one chosen to wear the crown of the King of the Mids. The Bronx Bomber (and Providence College’s fifth all-time leading scorer) did what no other mid-major coach had been able to do in all these glorious years the modern NCAA Tournament: he took Cinderella to the Ball.

Take your Barry Bonds saga, your Allen Iverson trade and any other supposed big story of 2006 and tuck them in a scrapbook. There’s only one story from this calendar year that resonates the way Mason’s Final Four appearance does.

And somehow, Larranaga still rides the company line (which he instilled): “Last year is over,” he says.

Or, as junior forward Will Thomas puts it, “I’m not celebrating any more. It ended when we lost to Florida (in the National Semifinals).”

“The Final Four certainly got everybody’s attention,” says Larranaga. “We’re getting everybody’s best game.”

And giving it right back on nights like Thursday, when the Patriots held the Cross to 30 percent shooting from the field. “This is a tremendous win for us - they were No. 34 in the RPI coming in,” says Larranaga as he heads into a week of rest before opening the CAA schedule at Drexel on Dec. 28.

“That’s a good team,” says HC head coach, Ralph Willard. “You don’t just replace three or four kids like they had and get right back to where you were. Not at the mid-major level anyway.”

But Larranaga is trying, in fits and starts (they have won one, lost one the entire way so far). So, the situation merits asking: Are you a better coach today than a year ago, Coach?

“Yes,” says Larranaga, setting his verbal trap the way his team sets the full-court one, “but I have to say that’s true for each of my last 35 years in coaching.”

Probably so, but it’s this year that the “Mason Effect” has taken a hold of the college basketball community. This is the year, that Larranaga is wearing that Crown.

And it’s this year, more than any other in his life, when Jim Larranaga can stop introducing himself to folks who hang out in basketball gyms.

It’s already been very nice to meet you, Coach.

Posted by David Scott at 12:56 PM on December 22, 2006

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