- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

The phenomenal run of the George Mason Patriots to the Final Four came with a trans-Atlantic assist.

Coach Jim Larranaga was in his hotel room in Dayton, Ohio, late the night before the Patriots’ second-round NCAA tournament game against North Carolina when his cell phone rang. On the other end was Jay Larranaga, the coach’s son and a professional basketball player in Italy. He wanted to do more than just congratulate his dad on his team’s upset of Michigan State in the opening round.

“One night just before we played Carolina at 11 o’clock our time, which is 5 o’clock [in the morning] his time, he sent me some e-mail information about Carolina,” Jim said. “He asked me if I had read it yet. I said, ‘No, not yet.’ He said, ‘Well, go down to the computer and read it. I said, ‘Jay, it’s 11 o’clock. I’m going to bed.’ He said, ‘Do you want to win or not?’ I went downstairs, read it and we talked for an hour.”

The lateness of the hour — late for his dad, at any rate — didn’t worry Jay.

“I told him, ‘You have plenty of time to sleep in another couple weeks,’” Jay said from his home in Naples, Italy. “You’re in the NCAA tournament. You can go to the Sweet 16.”

Jim’s sons, Jay and Jon, received an education in basketball as they were growing up. They went on recruiting trips with their father and learned the game from him. Each played college basketball for his father — Jay at Bowling Green and Jon at George Mason.

And now the siblings are helping their father — even if didn’t ask.

Both have provided scouting reports on the Patriots’ opponents in the NCAA tournament, and they have offered invaluable information to help the coach and his three full-time assistants.

“Jay and Jon both research the Internet and come up with statistical information that allows us to make important decisions,” Jim said. “A couple hours after we were selected [to the NCAA tournament], Jay e-mailed me with statistical information. It was great stuff. It has continued every day.”

One day this week, Jim spoke to Jay in Italy four times by mid-afternoon. Jay has been getting up in the middle of the night, not only because he has a 1-month-old son, James Joseph Larranaga III, but also to watch on the Internet as his father’s team plays half a world away.

Jay’s analysis proved on target in George Mason’s first-round victory, which was the school’s first in four tries in the NCAA tournament.

“I just looked on the Internet for certain trends and if anything pops out in the games that Michigan State lost,” Jay said. “I think when they attempted less than 16 free throws, they lost every game, and they are a great free throw shooting team. I think there was also was a great discrepancy between wins and losses and how their inside player Paul Davis played. When he played well and scored over 18, 19 points, they usually won.”

Michigan State shot only five free throws in the loss, and Davis was limited to 10 points.

Jon, who played at George Mason from 1999 to 2003, works for the Meltzer Group, a financial services firm in Bethesda, and provides his own analysis.

“The more people you have sending information the better, especially if the people sending you information have knowledge and know what to look for,” Jon said. “Growing up in a basketball family, Jay and I have a pretty good idea of what my dad wants to see and what he is looking for.”

Even if they don’t always know the best time to deliver that information.

Jay called Jon while Jon was in the stands at the North Carolina game and insisted he go down to the bench to give their father advice on how to stop the Tar Heels’ screen and roll play.

“How was I going to do that?” Jon said.

Today, Jay hopes to have the chance to offer any tips to his father in person. He had a game to play in Italy last night but plans to be in Indianapolis today for the Patriots’ game against Florida.

Jay went on a recruiting trip to Fairfax with his dad when he was about 8 to see Dennis Scott, a future NBA player, playing a high school game for Flint Hill. Jim recalls his analysis being, “Dad, he has the biggest feet I have ever seen.”

Another scouting report helped the coach land Antonio Daniels, now a guard for the Washington Wizards, at Bowling Green. Jay played against Daniels in a Christmas tournament and reported back home: “He’s the one you want. Will you just trust me?”

Said Jim: “It is just very, very natural for him and I to communicate on basketball related things. When he was at Bowling Green playing for me, it was like I had another coach.”

Jon showed his basketball IQ when he played for George Mason, helping the Patriots to the 2001 NCAA tournament and to a near-upset of Maryland.

“I think it’s in our blood,” said Jon, who was a strong defender. “We know basketball. That’s kind of our bread and butter.”

Both Jay and Jon in their own ways helped the Patriots engineer the upset of top-seeded Connecticut that sent 11th-seeded George Mason into the Final Four.

“First thing [Jay] said was, ‘Marcus Williams is the key to the game. He is their quarterback. He is the head. If you cut off the head, the body will die,’ ” Jim said of the Huskies guard. “I asked him if he had any suggestion of how we could do that. He said, ‘No, you’re the coach. You figure it out.’”

Jon pinpointed the players the Patriots should foul if they fell behind, identifying one of the Huskies’ few weaknesses — they are turnover-prone — and suggested how to mix defenses to take advantage of it.

It is all just part of the family business, a business that will open on college basketball’s biggest stage tomorrow.

“Basketball has always been a way to combine my dad’s job and my family,” Jay said. “It is basically the same thing. It may sound strange, but that is really my dad. He has two important things in his life, and that his family and his work. The amount of hours he put into work, he wanted to include us as much as possible.”

And this week, that means being special consultants at the Final Four.


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