Jim Larranaga: FBI college hoops scandal has grabbed ‘a lot of very innocent people’; Lonnie Walker draft status

Jim Larranaga (Getty Images)

Jim Larranaga (Getty Images)

[Brown turns pro, will not hire agent]

In a Sunday morning radio interview with Hurricanes broadcaster Joe Zagacki, Jim Larranaga made his first comments in several months on the college basketball pay-for-play scandal that ensnared Miami and multiple other big-name programs, saying the situation has affected “a lot of very innocent people.”

Larranaga denied any wrongdoing in the days after the Sept. 26 release of Department of Justice report of a federal sting that exposed a tangled web of shoe company executives, coaches, street agents and high-level recruits.

Miami was revealed to be ‘University-7’ in the federal report. Larranaga later stated he was ‘Coach-3,’ who in the report was said to have known about other men engaging in a bidding war for a high-level recruit.

UM was not named in subsequent reporting by Yahoo, which last month published FBI documents implicating a host of top programs and players, including NCAA Tournament participants Alabama, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Texas.

The college basketball season has reached the Final Four, with the full extent of the investigation and any subsequent sanctions unknown to Miami and any other program involved.

“The distractions, they’re always going to be there,” Larranaga told Zagacki on WQAM’s Hurricanes Weekly show. “We don’t know how long this thing will last. It has now grabbed a lot of people, and brought a lot of very innocent people into the circle. Hopefully one day soon it will all be over with. But in the meantime, my staff and I are preparing for next season already.”

ESPN reported up to three dozen Division I programs could face NCAA penalties. Yahoo estimated as many as 50. It’s fair to wonder if this year’s champion will wind up vacating its title — or, far more importantly, if this will spur the NCAA to meaningfully address the relationship between the unpaid athletes who compete under its banner, the clandestine market that pays them, and the reason that market exists in the first place.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York dropped federal charges against Jonathan Brad Augustine, the former director of the Orlando-based 1Family travel team. He was accused of conspiring with other men, including a former Adidas executive, to pay high school players to sign with Louisville and Miami. One of the players was five-star wing Nassir Little, who later signed with North Carolina. Larranaga and Little’s family said they did nothing wrong.

 

Larranaga, 68, did not comment on the situation during Miami’s 22-12 season, which ended with a March 15 loss to Loyola-Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Zagacki said Larranaga “should be commended” for keeping his concentration on his team, “not knowing how hard it was or could have been, you couldn’t tell by the job you did during the year.”

“I appreciate your thoughtful comments,” Larranaga told Zagacki. “I think you know, I’m a very sensitive person. I’m very, very protective of my reputation and the reputation of our basketball program at Miami. When the big story, the scandal, broke back in September, I was more shocked than anybody, and did not feel that we should have ever been included in any of this. But because we were, we had to deal with it. But even though I was, I didn’t think this had anything to do with my players. So we tried to keep everything away from the team, and allow them to focus and become the best team they could possibly become.

“Bruce Brown’s quote early in the year said it best. When he was asked about me and how I was handling it, he said, ‘I think Coach L likes to be about the players. … He smiles most when he’s with us. And that is so very true.”

Asked about his roster entering next season — which may not include Brown, a sophomore who announced last week he will test the NBA Draft waters, or another NBA prospect, freshman Lonnie Walker — Larranaga said his belief is college teams have the most success when they are “old,” or laden with veteran players.

“We might try to do it with some transfers,” he said, “but we also have to open our options to signing high school players, guys that might stay three or four years.”

Walker’s father, Lonnie Walker III, told his hometown Reading (Pa.) Eagle his son was “50-50” on returning to Miami for another year. Larranaga said last week Walker had yet to make up his mind. Walker, who told the Post after UM’s final game he planned to take time off, was unavailable for comment.

In a top 100 ranking of NBA draft prospects released last Tuesday, ESPN rated Walker 15th. Brown was 29th.

Underclassmen have until May 16 to declare for the draft — and if they do not hire an agent, June 11 to withdraw and return to school.

The NBA combine is May 16-20. The draft is June 21.

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