Jay Larranaga has an unavoidable conflict Saturday evening.
An assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers, Larranaga has a game at New Orleans at 8:30 p.m. ET. Three-hundred-fifty miles away in Houston, the Miami Hurricanes, coached by Larranaga’s dad, Jim, will play Connecticut in a men’s Final Four semifinal game.
“We’re in a big playoff battle,” Jay Larranaga said of the Clippers, who are in fifth place in the West with the chance to move up or fall in the standings.
He may get in-game updates from team staffers. Otherwise, his focus is on the Clippers.
“But I’m ready and have my flight booked for Sunday morning if they’re fortunate enough to make the national championship game. I’ll definitely be there for that one.”
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The Clippers have a break in the schedule after Saturday’s game and don’t play again until Wednesday, a big game against the Lakers.
“Just really so happy for my dad and my mom (Liz) because they’ve been on this long journey together,” Larranaga said of his dad’s second trip to the Final Four, the first coming in 2006 with George Mason’s surprise run.
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He’s especially happy for Hurricanes associate head coach Bill Courtney, who was an assistant for Jim Larranaga at Bowling Green, when Jay played there from 1993-97, and George Mason. Courtney recruited the core players on George Mason’s teams but left the year before the Final Four appearance to take a job at Providence.
“For my dad and Bill to reconnect and to really do the same thing again, to help my dad build a team good enough to compete at the national level is just awesome,” Larranaga said.
After a pro basketball career overseas, the younger Larranaga followed his dad into coaching, starting with Ireland’s national team, then a job in the G League. He’s been an assistant with Boston and the Clippers since 2012. Larranaga has been a candidate for several NBA and college coaching jobs.
Over the years, he has taken his dad’s coaching philosophies. Don’t make the game more difficult than it needs to be. Let players do what they’re best at. Adapt to players’ skills. Be a disciplinarian but be positive with players. As his dad, now 73, has aged, his sideline demeanor has mellowed.
“Jamie Young (a Philadelphia 76ers assistant) texted me and said, ‘I love your dad’s sideline demeanor,’ ” Larranaga said. “Well, that wasn’t his demeanor when he coached me.”
In 12 seasons at Miami, Jim Larranaga has taken the Hurricanes to six NCAA tournaments (four Sweet 16s) and the school is now playing in its first Final Four game.
Last season, Miami finished 26-11 and reached the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller returned for this season, and Miami added Nigel Pack.
Last summer, Larranaga spent time in Coral Gables, Florida, with his parents and had a chance to spend time around the Hurricanes players.
“I got to see some of their summer workouts,” Larranaga said. “And then just seeing the skill level and the togetherness that they had, or from early on, I’ve always felt like they were good enough to get to the Final Four.
“So many things have to go right for you. But to win the ACC regular season, that’s a special team. And, when you get to the tournament, a lot will depend on your matchups getting a little bit lucky. And they’ve fortunately been able to do both.”
During the season, father and son try to watch as many of the other’s games as possible. Jay Larranaga concedes his dad might not make it to the end of the Clippers’ Pacific Time games.
“I think he probably falls asleep. He’s not a fan of those West Coast games,” Larranaga said.
And if the Hurricanes reach the title game?
“Regardless of the stakes, watching my dad’s games is way more stressful than watching our games or being a part of our games, or when I was a head coach in the G League,” Larranaga said. “Watching someone you care about, competing and knowing how hard they’ve worked to get to this stage and just wanting the best for them, that’s definitely stressful.”
Since he can’t watch Saturday, he’s hoping for one more stressful game on Monday.