- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

George Mason coach Jim Larranaga’s interest in running a team goes even further back than when he became an assistant to Terry Holland at Davidson in 1971.

The 56-year-old was a captain at Providence, where he played for legendary coach Dave Gavitt, who later founded the Big East Conference.

“He always wanted to coach,” said Gavitt, who is in town doing radio for the NCAA tournament. “He would come in my office and say, ‘Let’s talk coaching.’ I would say, ‘Well, it is kind of hard to divorce myself of the situation since you are one of my players. So we’re not going to talk long.’”

Larranaga left as the Friars’ fifth all-time leading scorer and led Providence to a 20-8 record and an NIT appearance in his senior season. He was selected in the sixth round of the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, but spent only one season playing professionally, and that was in Belgium where he was a player/coach.

He became a college head coach in 1977 at American International College in Springfield, Mass.

It was during the two-year stay at American International that Larranaga got a little education on the business side of basketball from current Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who was coaching at Northeastern. Larranaga was trying to put together a schedule when he gave Calhoun a call to see if he could set up a home-and-home with Calhoun, a graduate of American International.

Calhoun initially said he would play Larranaga, but only at Northeastern’s home in Boston.

“I said, ‘Come on, Jim, you’re an AIC graduate, you’re an alumni, you have to come back and play your alma mater. We stink, you’re great. Come on, play us,’” Larranaga recalled of the conversation. “Well, I think that appealed to his ego and he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. OK, let’s play home-and-home.”

Northeastern won the first game at home, and was ahead by six the next season in the rematch in Springfield.

“We scored the last seven points and won the game,” Larranaga said. “I liked that a lot better.”

Back in the Elite Eight

Under Jim Calhoun, Connecticut is in the Elite Eight for the seventh time. The Huskies are 2-4 in regional finals. Calhoun was asked about his first trip to the round of eight — March 1990 when they lost to Duke 79-78 in overtime on Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater.

“I still remember the tears, the anguish, the disappointment, and eventually, the celebration of how far we had come,” Calhoun said. “Now, at 30-3, we get questions daily — and I guess rightfully so — about what’s wrong with Connecticut? What aren’t you doing? The questions are different, but is the atmosphere different? I’m as excited as I was in 1990. If you can’t get excited, you need to hang the whistle up.”

George Mason is playing in its first Elite Eight. Larranaga was on the Virginia coaching staff in 1984 when the Cavaliers defeated Indiana to reach the Final Four.

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