Patriots Harness Power of the Sons
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Larranaga relatives were everywhere last weekend: cousins, siblings, in-laws and grandparents. Elyssa Larranaga, a deputy director of scheduling in the office of Vice President Cheney, had arranged a Saturday evening tour of the West Wing for some of those family members, who were in town to watch the George Mason basketball team become the biggest sports story in the country. But shortly before the White House tour, her husband, Jon, arrived home and said he needed at least an hour to prepare a scouting report for his father.
"She looked at me like, 'You're kidding,' " Jon Larranaga said yesterday. " 'We're going to tour the White House, the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the most powerful building in the world. And you want to get on the computer to e-mail your dad stats about Connecticut?' "
Like Florida, LSU and UCLA -- the other participants in the men's Final Four -- George Mason has three full-time assistant coaches who have stopped paying their utility bills and doing their laundry while somehow coaxing George Mason to the most unlikely Final Four berth in NCAA tournament history. But the Patriots also have Coach Jim Larranaga's two sons, Jay and Jon, who have spent hours this month preparing in-depth statistical analyses and filling their father's inbox with unsolicited advice.
Before the Patriots' first-round game, Jay, 31, noticed that while Michigan State was excellent at shooting free throws, the Spartans had attempted 16 or fewer free throws in most of their Big 10 losses.
"If you know that, you just don't let them shoot 16 free throws and you win," he said yesterday. "Something like that's so profound." (The Spartans shot five free throws against George Mason and lost.)
Jon, 25, noticed that Connecticut's statistical rankings were impeccable in virtually every category, but that the Huskies had made very few three-pointers and that only Rashad Anderson was a true long-distance threat.
"Besides that, they didn't have anybody," he said. "If you're playing against a team that only has one shooter, maybe you play a little more zone that game, you shade the great shooter and keep them off the glass. Know when they shoot the three if it's not Anderson, they're probably going to miss."
Before the White House tour, Jon hurriedly prepared a brief scouting report. He sent off 467 words of advice and a statistical attachment to his father, whose reply consisted of five words: "I think you are right." (The Huskies made 2 of 13 three-point attempts in the second half and overtime against George Mason and lost.)
This is not a typical procedure, even for two sons who both call Jim Larranaga their role model. Jay, who played for his father at Bowling Green, is a professional basketball player in Italy and has two young children. Jon, who played for his father at George Mason, works for the Meltzer Group, a financial services company in Bethesda. Jay aspires to a career in coaching, and Jon is a volunteer coach for a group of eighth-graders in Northern Virginia, but neither made a habit of preparing scouting reports during the regular season.
"We do have jobs," Jon Larranaga said. "This happens to be one of the most unbelievable runs in the history of sports in the U.S., so we're trying to do everything we can to help our dad."
The family always had been obsessed with basketball; the sons took recruiting road trips with their father, and Jay thought nothing of inviting his high school sweetheart and future wife to watch the NBA playoffs with his family early in their courtship.
"They weren't cheering for anyone; they were just watching the game," Andrea Larranaga said. "After the third game that night I was like, 'All right, I'm out of here; just call me tomorrow.' And they all looked at me like, 'What? You're not going to watch the end of the game?' That was my introduction to the family. They love to watch basketball, and they love to be together."