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The Daily Tar Heel

Hurricanes adjust to new coaching style

North Carolina hasn’t forgotten its last encounter with Miami.

A buzzer-beating Tyler Zeller layup was all that prevented an early UNC exit from the ACC tournament at the hands of a team that has perennially occupied the conference’s bottom tier.

This season, though, Miami returns with a new coach, last season’s leading scorers and a fresh attitude.

Yet the Miami basketball program still remains under the radar.

The fans that flock to see the Hurricanes compete on the gridiron have always been largely absent from the school’s basketball arena. Last season, the average home game attracted slightly more than half the bodies required to fill the school’s 8,000 arena.

To make matters worse, allegations have surfaced that former coach Frank Haith knew about a $10,000 donation from a booster to help recruit DeQuan Jones.

Haith left the Hurricanes last spring after the team’s NIT quarterfinal loss to Alabama to coach at the University of Missouri. His seven seasons at Miami included just one trip to the NCAA tournament and a middling 43-69 record in the ACC.

Now, former George Mason coach Jim Larranaga leads Miami, having proven himself capable of leading a small-time program to big-time success. Under Larranaga, George Mason earned five NCAA berths and one trip to the Final Four in 2006.

“Coach Larranaga is the leader,” junior guard Durand Scott said. “If you follow the leader, how can you go wrong if he’s been where you want to go?”

Following the leader, especially for Scott, will mean a greater focus on discipline. Larranaga described an interaction in which he demanded that Scott ride the exercise bike to remind him to come prepared for practice. Scott was incredulous.

“It’s not about the big things, it’s about doing all the little things well,” Larranaga said. “If we pay special attention to all the little details, we’ll be successful. If we ignore all the little things, we’ll never get to the big things.”

Top rebounder Reggie Johnson’s recovering meniscus has sidelined him until mid-season, but Malcolm Grant, Miami’s top returning scorer, said he believes that his team’s backcourt will make a definite impact despite his absence.

“At times, you’re probably going to see four guards out there until Reggie Johnson comes back,” Grant said. “But we’re going to be a team that’s hard nosed on defense, put a lot of pressure on the opposing team and trying to cause a lot of turnovers.”

UNC found itself at the other end of this tactic last season, as Miami forced 20 UNC turnovers in the ACC Tournament matchup.

As team leaders, Grant and Scott will attempt to continue to find ways to do the little things right as Miami enters the Larranaga era.

“This is my last year,” Grant said. “I told the guys, ‘Look. I’m getting on you hard because I get on myself hard. I’m my hardest critic, and I dedicate myself to this game of basketball. So If I’m getting on you, it’s not personal. I just want to win.’”

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