Making History, Making Memories

Making History, Making Memories

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

HOUSTON – Jordan Miller tried to contain his emotions.

He quickly realized it was going to be nearly impossible, not when he looked to the bench.

There, the veteran guard saw that as he and teammates Isaiah Wong and Norchad Omier walked off the court during the final seconds of Miami’s season-ending loss to Connecticut in the Men’s Final Four, their head coach was waiting for them.

In front of more than 73,000 fans at NRG Stadium and millions more watching at home, Jim Larrañaga enveloped the trio of Hurricanes who’d helped bring Miami to this historic moment and reminded them that, even in their disappointment, they’d accomplished so much.

They’d led the Hurricanes to new heights, bringing them to the Final Four for the first time in program history. They’d won a share of the ACC regular-season title. They’d lost just one game on their home floor this season. And over the course of the past year, they’d created memories that would last all of them – and Miami’s fans – a lifetime.

Those were all things to celebrate and their coach’s reminder of all that was a moment Miller later said he won’t forget any time soon, even if it prompted a tear or two.

“I was fine until I wasn’t fine, you know? I told myself I didn’t want to get emotional on national television, but there’s just too much time we’ve all spent with each other,” Miller said with a smile in the Miami locker room late Saturday night. “I love this group. I love this coaching staff. I poured so much into them, and they poured so much into me. And it was just that feeling that it was the end to a journey…I really feel like I made the right choice to come here. I was obviously disappointed, but I’m proud.”

Their coach was plenty proud, too.

And he made sure his players – and everyone else watching that game – knew it.

“They got the message that I was so proud of them, that I loved them, and that I’d really just been on a magic carpet ride with these young men,” Larrañaga said. “They’re so much fun to be around, on the court and off the court…They’ll have great memories of the entire season and some of the great wins we have had. I told them all along these memories last a lifetime. You’ll be telling your grandchildren about it one day.”

Among the stories the Hurricanes can share from the season that was is how they dazzled through most of the NCAA Tournament.

Just last week, as a five seed, Miami rallied from a second-half, double-digit deficit to stun second-seeded Texas and advance to the Final Four. In that game, Miller put together one of the greatest individual performances in program history, scoring 27 points while shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from the field and 13-of-13 from the free throw line.

Another story the Hurricanes can share? How before knocking Texas out of the tournament, they eliminated top-seeded, second-ranked Houston out, too – in dominant fashion, to boot.

The Canes can also recount tournament wins over Indiana and Drake. And before that, there were regular-season victories over the likes of Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse.

Some of the veterans who were members of last year’s team will even be able to share the story of how they made program history then, too, by advancing to Miami’s first Elite Eight.

But as most of the Hurricanes noted in the tough minutes immediately after the loss to UConn, it wasn’t just the wins and program-defining milestones that made the season so special.

It was the laughs they shared on road trips. The hours they spent together in the weight room and in the practice facility. The work they put in with their coaches and the bonds they built that brought them closer together off the court and helped them perform better on it.

“I’m going to think about just how much I love the guys,” said fourth-year junior guard Harlond Beverly. “This is such a really close team, the closest I’ve been on in college. The love between everybody was really genuine and that was the part I appreciated most, I enjoyed the most. The road trips were great because we got to spend so much time together and I know I really appreciate the friendships over the past year.”

Said Omier, “It was a great year. Transferring to Miami, making the Final Four, making history. I’m just so proud of everybody in this locker room right now. I love my brothers…I think those friendships we had translated so well on the floor. We trust each other so much and we know everybody had each other’s backs.”

Soon enough, the Hurricanes will start the process of moving forward.

They know Miller – one of their leaders on and off the floor – won’t be back next season after exhausting his eligibility. Others will have to make decisions about their futures and whether it’s time to pursue their professional careers.

It’s a reality Larrañaga acknowledged the moment he and his team stepped off the bus in Coral Gables on Sunday after they returned from Houston.

But the consensus from all of the Hurricanes is that this season and last, they’ve helped set a new standard for Miami basketball, a standard they believe will only keep rising.

“The sky’s the limit for this program. You know, each year, the program’s only going to keep getting better,” said third-year sophomore guard Nijel Pack, who was named the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player during Miami’s run. “There’s a certain expectation for this group now and I’m glad to be a part of this, be a part of Miami history. It sucks that we weren’t able to finish it, but we’ve done some great things for this program and now, each year, I expect us to do even better.”

Said Miller, “It means a lot to have been able to transfer in and just build a foundation for other players to look up to. That banner’s going to be in the arena forever and the hope now is that the next team that gets this far can win it all. When they do, I’m sure I’ll be in the stands with a ‘U’ shirt on and cheering for them, like all the alums were cheering for us.”