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Men's College Basketball

Jim Larranaga
Head Coach, George Mason University
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 1:00 PM

George Mason men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga was online Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. to discuss his team's Final Four run last season and his goals for this year.

A transcript follows.

Larranaga led the Patriots to a 27-8 record and NCAA tournament wins against Michigan State, No. 10 North Carolina, Wichita State and No. 2 Connecticut last season. He has a 157-97 record in nine seasons at George Mason, and is the winningest coach in Colonial Athletic Association history.

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Jim Larranaga: Thanks for joining me today.

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Austin, Tex.: Hello from Longhorn Country! You're obviously trying to build George Mason into a perennial power, shunning offers to go elsewhere, but I've never heard you talk about your personal goals for your program. Are there any other schools that you are trying to emulate, or are you on your own path?

Jim Larranaga: We have tried to emulate the top programs and coaches in the country, starting with my high school coach, Jack Curran of Archbishop Molloy high school in New York. I am also a big fan of John Wooden, Dean Smith and Dave Gavitt. I learned a lot from Terry Holland, the former University of Virginia coach, when I was his assistant at UVa.

Dick Bennett has also been a big influence, as well as Coach K. at Duke.

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McLean, Va.: Hey Coach L, how long do you anticipate it'll be before this year's team begins playing with the same chemistry as last years? That's what I loved most about the Final Four team... they all seemed to play with this sixth sense - knowing where teammates were at all times. I've never seen a more well-oiled machine than last year's Patriots. I'm hopeful that it won't take too long to reestablish some of that magic since we've only got one "real" newbie in the starting five.

Jim Larranaga: Our November and December schedule will put a great deal of pressure on this team to come together quickly. However, I anticipate it will be some time in January before we are really playing at the top of our game. With three talented recruits learning our system, it will take them awhile to be both comfortable and confident.

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Columbia, Md.: Coach L,

How much of the scramble D are we going to see this year? It seems that we have the guards and quickness to really cause some problems and turnovers with the trapping scheme. Will its use be limited early on because of the newcomers (Smith, Monroe, and Birdsong) having to learn and get used to its principles?

Jim Larranaga: We will use the scramble periodically in every game. The more success we have, the more we will use it.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, Coach L. Thanks for lots of great seasons - especially last year's.

It seems like one of Jai Lewis's main contributions was to be a closer. You would go to him especially late in the game and wear down the opponent, draw some fouls with his quick, big body. Do you have anyone this year who can fill that role?

Thanks

P.S. Does GMU have any thoughts about renaming Patriot Center the Larranaga Center?

Jim Larranaga: We believe Will Thomas will be an excellent go-to-guy in the low post. He and Folarin Campbell are both great options at the end of close games.

As far as renaming the Patriot Center, we would love for a big-name corporation to purchase the naming rights.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Coach,

There has been a lot of reports in the press about improvements to your facilities. Are you able to give us a glimpse of what is to come?

Jim Larranaga: There is a $16 million project that will begin next month that will revitalize the Patriot Center. It is already the biggest arena in the CAA and soon it will be the most luxurious.

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Manassas, Va.: Coach,

How's Darryl Monroe coming along? Will he be a major factor on this year's team? He went to my high school in Virginia Beach, and I'm glad he's playing in the area for Mason.

Jim Larranaga: Darryl is in our starting lineup and doing a great job. He has a world of potential and will be a key player for us for the next two seasons.

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Burke, Va.: Will you be able to land some of the top local talent? Too many of the local stars are leaving home.

Jim Larranaga: Recruiting local talent has always been a top priority. Last year's starting five that helped us reach the Final Four were all from within an hour/hour and a half from our campus. This season, we have five players from Maryland and three from Virginia high schools.

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Fairfax, Va.: Coach,

Where do you think Wichita State will challenge Mason the most on the court Saturday night?

Jim Larranaga: Wichita State is one of the premier basketball programs in the country right now. Mark Turgeon and his team will be highly motivated coming into the Patriot Center. We anticipate a sellout crowd and they should be wildly entertained by a very competitive game. Wichita State really has no glaring weaknesses but a ton of experience from last season's Sweet 16 run.

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Fairfax, Va.: Many people around the country are impressed with your ability to motivate and communicate to your team. These skills are also enormously important in politics.

Would you ever consider running for governor of Virginia?

Jim Larranaga: I never dreamed about running for public office. I've always seen myself as an educator first who loves working with the young student-athletes in our program. However, after moving to George Mason and seeing the political world up close and personal, I have thought about trying to do something on a much more global level. Running for governor would not be my goal, but being involved in state education would be of interest to me.

I already feel like we play a major role as an institution for educating college students in Northern Virginia and throughout the state. My real interest would be in helping youngsters in elementary school and high school to be better prepared for the college experience.

My wife and I raised our two sons, Jay and Jon, to know that education was the foundation for all future successes. They both became academic All-Americans in college. This was not an accident. If our country is to continue in its role as a world leader, then educating our youth properly must become a greater priority. To this end, I consider myself to be interested in the educational opportunities offered in the state of Virginia. Our George Mason basketball players visit elementary schools to encourage students to read more. It is our responsibility to set the right example.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Coach L,

Last year was the league's best, but it didn't happen overnight. What has been the biggest change in the CAA since you arrived at GMU?

Jim Larranaga: The level of basketball being played in the CAA is higher than its ever been before. When we won the CAA Championship in 1999, our championship team had an RPI in the '90s. Last year, we had six CAA teams with an RPI of 88 or better. Our final RPI of 15 is the highest in CAA history. The only way to accomplish the great improvement in the CAA is through the recruitment of outstanding student-athletes. Basically, there are more good players and more good teams. I'd like to think that the coaches (and administrators who brought in six additional programs to our league) have made a great contribution to both. Our league will again be very competitive and this will create a very exciting race to the CAA Tournament Championship.

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Manassas Park, Va.: I have been a big fan of college basketball for a long time and have had aspirations about coaching. What would suggest to someone who would like to one day coach at the college level?

Thank you for your response.

Jim Larranaga: Network, network, network. The whole key to becoming a college coach is to develop relationships with coaches at all levels. We use a very simple approach to networking. We call it the ABCs of networking. "A" is network Above you. Above meaning people who are where you would like to be. "B" means Below you. People who aspire to be where you are, because some day, they will be. And "C", network in the Center, or in the same level where you are. You need a network of friends who can provide you with information about all that is going on in basketball. This includes friends in high school, AAU, junior colleges, Division I, II and III, and the NBA. Working summer camps will give you the opportunity to meet and get to know coaches from all different levels. Good luck and good hunting.

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Kensington, Md.: Coach Larranaga,

You are the president of the NCAA; what's the first change you make to college athletics?

Jim Larranaga: I'm a big believer that a college scholarship for a student-athlete should be five years. It takes the average student five years or more to earn his or her degree. It only seems natural that a college scholarship should be five years as well. We are always trying to make the college experience for student-athletes similar to the non-athlete. However, a four-year scholarship normally leaves a student-athlete short of graduation and needing to pay for that fifth year or remain on scholarship but not be able to compete during that fifth year. This to me seems unreasonable. If we truly want our athletes to graduate at a higher rate, this solution should be seriously considered.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: Coach L,

You've mentioned that scheduling is one of the hardest parts of the job. Is there anything that can be done to help schools outside the so-called "power conferences" get home games?

Jim Larranaga: Good question. My solution, however, would not be well-received by any schools in the BCS. If you examine closely the NCAA handbook, which is more than 450 pages long, you will find rules governing every aspect of college athletics but one - scheduling.

The major advantage for high-profile programs is that they can schedule a large majority of their non-conference games at home. They do not feel the need to play most opponents in a home-and-home series. They are willing to pay a guarantee to a program that needs the money so they do not have to return the game the following season. This creates a great imbalance. Guarantee games do help provide great revenue for the high-profile programs. It also provides great financial support for the lower-level programs that need it. But this advantage has created not only an unfair advantage in the win-loss column, but a greater advantage for those high-profile leagues to get multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament, everybody's ultimate goal.

I would recommend that a committee be formed to address this issue and a set of scheduling rules implemented for all of Division I. These rules should include a minimum number of non-conference road games (not neutral site) for a team to be considered for an at-large bid.

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Ashburn, Va.: Jim - What thoughts/feelings will you have when the Final Four banner is raised at the Patriot Center on Saturday?

Jim Larranaga: The raising of the banner is symbol of last year's success. I will be focused, and so will my team, on playing Wichita State.

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McLean, Va.: Do you plan to end your career (hopefully 20 years from now) coaching at GMU? Please!?

Jim Larranaga: Yes.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Coach,

Thank you for taking my question. What is the key to the game Saturday against Wichita State?

Jim Larranaga: Great defense and rebounding are normally the keys in games like this. We will also have to handle the ball better than we did last Saturday against Cleveland State.

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Fairfax, Va.: How are you going to prepare yourself and your players upon entering Cameron Indoor to play Duke? Will you do things a bit differently considering the (outrageous) circumstances?

Jim Larranaga: The bigger the game the more important it is to stay in your normal routines. What allowed us to play so well in last year's NCAA Tournament was this simple attitude - it doesn't matter who we play or where we play, what does matter is how we play. When we go to Duke, we must be confident and relaxed to play a great game and avoid all of the off-the-court distractions.

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Washington, D.C.: After seeing Joakim Noah run through tourney, is he the best player in college basketball?

Jim Larranaga: Yes. But Greg Oden at Ohio State will get most of the media attention by the time this season is over.

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Bristow, Va.: Coach how do you avoid having the team being complacent after the amazing Final Four run from last year?

By the way, congratulations on that.

Jim Larranaga: Success has a way of leading you in one of two directions: you can become complacent or you can become hungrier. From my observation of this team, we are hungry to prove that last year was no fluke.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hello Coach,

What do you expect this year from Louis Birdsong? He appears to be an extremely talented athlete.

Jim Larranaga: Louis is a tremendous young man and a great addition to our program. He is adjusting nicely to the college game. We expect that before this season is over, he will play a major role in our success.

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Bethesda, Md.: I am an American alum and was at the game between AU and GMU last year at the Comcast Center. You guys won by around 40. I thought, "Wow, American is awful," but in all reality you guys were unbelievable. At what point in the season last year did you know you had a special team?

Jim Larranaga: My coaching staff and I thought before the season began that this could be a very special year. I told the team before the season that this could very well be the best team in school history if we were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to be the best that we could be. The beauty of last year's team was how well they handled adversity and never stopped believing in themselves despite the criticism we received from many experts.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think that other NCAA schools will try and raid your staff of assistants in the near future due to all your success?

Jim Larranaga: I hope some smart athletic director will recruit my guys away. They all deserve to be head coaches one day. Our success over the past nine years has been based on the tremendous contributions of many outstanding assistant coaches. Scott Cherry, James Johnson, Chris Caputo and Joe Barrer deserve a lot of credit for what we accomplished last year.

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Jim Larranaga: Thanks to everyone for all your questions. Sorry I couldn't answer all of them. Thanks to the Washington Post for having me on as a guest. This was fun.

And remember, a few tickets are still available for Wichita State. We hope to have a sellout crowd. Don't forget to wear your gold.

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