|The Son Also Coaches|
It's not uncommon to see a son follow in his father's footsteps as he begins his professional career. But in the case of George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga, basketball is unquestionably a part of the family business, and right now, business is good.
In his first season as head coach, his oldest son, Jay, has led the Erie Bayhawks of the NBDL to their best season in franchise history and a spot in the playoffs. It's there where they face the Reno Bighorns tonight in a winner-take-all first round game at 10 p.m. eastern.
The seeds for Jay's basketball coaching career were planted early, through his childhood which mirrored his dad's rise through the ranks in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Jay has had basketball in his blood since he was a little boy," the elder Coach L explained. "He was the ball boy at the University of Virginia in the early 1980s. When we moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, Jay was in the sixth grade and after every day of school he'd ride his bike to Anderson Arena where we were practicing and play one-on-one with my manager, Todd Rinehart, and the two of them became best friends. Todd beat him every day until the eighth grade when Jay grew taller and was able to start winning - it really helped him develop as a player."
All the while, Jay was paying attention to the action on the court, even when he was watching from afar.
"One of the things Jay would do is sit there next to me watching video and I would point out things to him," Coach L said. "He learned the fundamentals from watching video constantly. We would talk about it in the car going to school and he would go on the road with me recruiting. I remember one time we went to see a kid named Todd Leary in Indianapolis. Watching the game, Jay said to me, "That guy is pretty good, but you should really recruit the big guy - Eric Montross ."
Jay went on to become a standout basketball player, graduating from St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo as the school record holder in a number of categories. He then matriculated to join his dad at BGSU, completing a four-year career which saw him play alongside future NBA lottery pick Antonio Daniels and finish among the top 3-point shooters in program history. From there, Jay moved onto a 12-year overseas professional career, including time spent as both a player and coach on the Irish National Team, where he got to play alongside his younger brother Jon, a standout in his own right for the Patriots from 1999-2003, for the first time.
"Jay and Jon never had a chance to play together as kids but they had the wonderful opportunity to play together on the Irish National Team," Coach L said. "It was a real thrill for my wife and I to see the two boys playing side-by-side in the starting lineup and representing the country of Ireland."
Even when Jay was far from home, he still kept an eye on his father's career and even made sure to offer some helpful hints.
"One of my fondest memories was in 2006 when we earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and were preparing to play Michigan State," Jim Larranaga said. "Jay was playing pro ball in Italy and he wanted to be a part of it, so he did his own evaluation of how we could beat Michigan State. He and Jon were on the phone and they each gave me their own scouting report that was very helpful.
"After we beat Michigan State they did the same thing for the North Carolina game. The night before we were having our team meeting and when the meeting ended, Jay gave me a call. It must have been around 4 a.m. in Italy and Jay asked if I got the e-mail he sent me. When I said I hadn't, he asked if we could pull it up to talk about his report. When I suggested it might be too late, he barked into the phone, 'Do you want to win or not?'
"After that, I went downstairs, printed it out from the business center in the hotel - which was closed at the time and I had to get the hotel clerk to let me in - we went through it. He had two very astute observations -- first was that UNC was terrific at everything except that their freshman point guard Bobby Frasor was prone to turnovers and we really needed to scramble against them.
"Then, Jay warned me not to do it in the first half," added Coach L. "When I asked him why, he explained that Roy Williams is a great coach and he will be able to adjust to it at the half. So that's what we did, we held off until the second half and ran off eight straight points to take our first lead of the game. At one point, UNC was running a high-low offense and we were switching the post men. Jay was on the phone from Italy to Jon, who was at the game inside the University of Dayton Arena, and Jay started barking, 'Tell Dad to quit switching the high-low!'"
"A few minutes went by - Jay asks again, 'Did you tell him?'" Coach L continued. "Jay got so mad when Jon said he couldn't and after a while, like a good younger brother, Jon just appeased him, saying "Yeah, yeah I told him."
Mason, of course, went on to win that game and two more as the Patriots made their historic run to the Final Four in Indianapolis. With the five-year anniversary of that run just passing, it's symbolic then that in his first year at the helm, Jay Larranaga is looking to lead his Erie Bayhawks deep into the postseason.
Once Jay became head coach of the Irish National Team, he knew he really wanted to make coaching his career, his father explained. "We are very, very proud of him and what he's been able to accomplish in just his first year of coaching in the United States."