“Miami Basketball is Not Something to Play With”

“Miami Basketball is Not Something to Play With”

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – They share a facility, a training room, and now, the same title hopes.

For the second straight year, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Miami are headed to the NCAA Tournament and there is most certainly a buzz on campus, particularly at the Watsco Center, where each team is deep in preparations for the Big Dance.

On Sunday, the Hurricane men learned they’d earned the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region and would head to Albany, N.Y. to face 12th-seeded Drake in their tournament opener Friday.

Hours later, the Miami women learned they’d earned the No. 9 seed in the Greenville 2 region and would open tournament play Saturday in Bloomington, Ind. against eighth-seeded Oklahoma State.

At each of their respective watch parties, the Hurricanes exchanged hugs, high-fives and reveled in a special moment of pride.

When the NCAA Tournaments begin later this week, Miami will be one of just 26 schools nationally to have both of its teams participating.

Making that accomplishment even more special? The fact the Hurricanes are one of just 11 programs nationally to have their men’s and women’s teams qualify for the tournament in back-to-back years. They’re the only ACC program to accomplish the feat.

That, the Hurricanes say, is plenty of reason to be proud.

“It’s something that’s really special. Not many schools have a good program in both men’s and women’s basketball,” said third-year guard Nijel Pack. “It’s something special to have both teams in. Obviously, we have support from our fans on both sides and we’re both going to be in the tournament. I hope fans can make it to both games, support both teams and help us bring back two national championships for [the] men and women.”

Added graduate student Karla Erjavec, a guard on the Miami women’s team, “I think it’s amazing. There’s been a whole buzz in school this year, with students coming to men’s games and students coming to women’s games…It really speaks a lot on how highly valued both the programs are. That helps us in recruiting. That helps the school in general. Making it back-to-back years is really special and it’s really something, for sure, to get out there and be proud of.”

The players who will be competing for titles in the coming weeks say one of the biggest reasons for the Hurricanes basketball success is the coaching tandem of Jim Larrañaga and Katie Meier, both of whom have been at Miami for more than a decade.

The two have amassed hundreds of wins at Miami, have led their teams to the NCAA Tournament on multiple occasions, have sent players to the professional ranks and each has earned recognition as AP National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Meier, whose 340 victories at Miami make her the winningest basketball coach in school history, earned the recognition in 2011 after Miami won the regular-season conference title a year after finishing last in the conference.

Larrañaga, meanwhile, earned the distinction in 2013 after leading the Hurricanes to the first ACC title in program history and a berth in the Sweet 16. His 251 victories at Miami make him the winningest men’s basketball coach in program history.

Larrañaga and Meier are also both members of the UM Sports Hall of Fame and both have overseen remarkable growth in their programs during each of their Miami tenures their players say.

“Miami basketball is not something to play with,” said Hurricanes guard Jordan Miller, who this year earned second-team All-ACC recognition on the men’s side after averaging 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game during the regular season. “Coach Meier and Coach L have done a great job of getting both these teams to levels where we can compete in the NCAA Tournament.”

Added sophomore guard Jasmyne Roberts, “Coach L and Coach Katie are both really amazing coaches. It says a lot that they’ve both built great programs at Miami and for both teams to make it two years straight, it just says a lot. The program is growing. We’re getting better and so, it’s really exciting to have two really great teams be able to compete for national championships.”

Also contributing to Miami’s basketball success, the coaches say, is the support the two programs receiver from both the University and the athletic department, along with the support the teams provide each other.

It’s not uncommon during the season to see men’s and women’s players exchanging good-natured ribbing in the training room or cheering each other on during games.

Even when they can’t be in the building together, the two are keeping tabs on each other.

That was on full display earlier this month when, as the women’s team returned to Miami from the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., players and coaches watched their phones intently as the men’s team defeated Pittsburgh, 78-76, to claim a share of the ACC regular-season title.

When the game ended and that title was secured, loud cheers erupted on the women’s team bus while made its way from the airport to campus.

“We have a good relationship with the guys’ program. We’re around them a lot. We share the same space, the training room and the facility. We see them a lot and it’s always encouraging,” Roberts said. “We go to their games. They come to ours. We both support each other. It’s nice to know that they have our backs, and we have theirs. They know what we’re going through, [how we’re] always in the gym, practicing hard. They’re going through the same thing. To have them with us, still competing for a national trophy, it’s amazing.”

Said Miller, “We see each other every day in the training room. We talk. We have some classes together. It’s definitely a family environment between the two teams. We know each other and what we’re going through…They cheer us on, we cheer them on. We share laughs in the training room and in and around the facility. It’s just good vibes all around.”

Now, the Hurricanes hope those good vibes continue for both programs in March and there’s no doubt they’ll be cheering each other on in the coming weeks, the way they have all season.

“It’s great and I think it’s just culture and it’s commitment and it’s fan support and everything else,” Meier said. “I’m really happy for the guys…They’ve got some gamers on their side. They’ve got some great shot-makers and I think we’ve got some great shot-makers, too. It’s March. You have to be a gamer.”

Added Larrañaga, “We have a great working relationship with the women’s program. Our players have a great relationship with the players. It really comes from the camaraderie that you see in the training room. We share the same training room. We’re in there all the time…You get very, very familiar and confident with your relationships with people when you see them on a daily basis.”