The Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team (23-3, 14-2 ACC and No. 5 in the AP poll before Saturday’s three-point loss at Duke), had never beaten a No.1 program, never been in contention for a top tournament seed and never won an ACC championship before this season. Why does all this success feel so familiar? In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Luke Winn examines how second year Miami Head coach Jim Larranaga prepares his team through visualization techniques that make all of this success for the Hurricanes seem like it has happened for them before—because it has in all of his players’ minds
“I want you to sit on your bed, close your eyes and visualize yourself in tomorrow’s game…You’re running through the plays, you’re guarding the man you’re going to guard, you’re getting back and getting stops…in your mind you are making big plays,” says Larranaga (PAGE 36).
The 63-year-old head coach tells this to his players the night before each game. The psychologist in him believes that this is an essential part of preparation. Durand Scott, the 6’5” senior combo guard who has the most career starts in Hurricane history has visualized the experience of winning big games, of students’ storming the court at BankUnited Center and his surfing atop the crowd.
“I’ve dreamed of going to a lesser known school in a major conference and beating the top dogs,” says, sophomore point guard Shane Larkin-The ACC Player of the Year favorite. (PAGE 39)
Larranaga, who coached at George Mason for 14 years and took them to the 2006 Final Four, is not solely a psychological coach. The former econ major is equally obsessed with analytics. Last April in a team meeting he wrote the numbers 9, 4, 2 and 1 on a whiteboard—they were the adjusted defensive efficiency rankings of the 2012 Final Four teams. His message to the team:
“You need to be in the top 10 to have a shot at a national championship next year.” (PAGE 38)
This season, the Hurricanes were 10th at week’s end and have certainly fooled themselves into becoming college basketball’s most surprising team.