AMELIA ISLAND — Jim Larranaga didn’t go home after a long week at the ACC spring meetings north of Jacksonville. He spoke along with Mark Richt at a Hurricane Club event Thursday in Atlanta, then flew north for a special celebration.
Larranaga will receive George Mason’s highest honor, the Mason Medal, at the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
“I see the award as being won by a host of people,” Larranaga said. “It’s about so many people who helped us. I might be the one who is being honored, but it’s about the team effort we got from the time we arrived.”
Larranaga, who will be joined by his wife, Liz, his two sons Jay and Jon, and daughter-in-law Elyssa at the ceremony, deflected credit to his assistant coaches and players. Most importantly, he said, then-school president Alan Merten supported his program and “included me in ways basketball coaches usually aren’t.” For that reason Larranaga — who said he receives plenty of support at Miami — was nervous about leaving George Mason in 2011.
Reflecting on the honor while sitting on a deck at the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton, he also spoke of “The Insiders,” a group of dedicated basketball boosters who helped raise money for amenities the Patriots had never had: charter flights, a golf cart to shuttle recruits around campus, a renovated locker room.
“We were busing to a lot of games,” Larranaga said. “When we went from Northern Virginia to UNC-Wilmington, that was an eight-hour bus trip. It became a one-hour flight, so we weren’t fatigued. The first year we did it was the first year we beat Wilmington at Wilmington.”
Larranaga went 273-164 in 14 seasons in Fairfax, winning more games than any coach in Colonial Athletic Conference history. His time included five NCAA tournament appearances and, of course, the 2006 Final Four run, the first time a mid-major advanced that far in 27 years. Before he arrived in 1997, the Patriots had seven consecutive losing seasons.
The George Mason Medal is designated by the George Mason University Board of Visitors to be the university’s highest honorary award. This medal is for those with “a record of service to their community, state, or nation consistent with the level and quality of George Mason’s public service in his own time,” according to a UM release.
Though not a Revolutionary War figure like Mason, Larranaga led enough progress in his area of expertise to be worthy of the honor. Before 2006, much of the country didn’t think about George Mason much. Now they’re the shining example of the Mid-Major That Could.