Maturity, intensity are hallmarks of Larkin athletes
Son of Hall of Famer gives up baseball, finds success on basketball court
Barry Larkin remembers all too well the day his son, Shane, told him he no longer wanted to play baseball.
"That was an interesting one, for sure," the Hall of Fame shortstop said with a laugh, since it's OK to laugh about it now.
Shane Larkin, the kid who gave up the game that his father played with such passion, is a budding star in basketball, and his team, the University of Miami Hurricanes, is one of the biggest success stories of this college season.
They finished the regular season with a 27-6 record and went 15-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They also won the ACC Tournament, with Shane, the starting point guard, scoring 28 points in the clincher against North Carolina.
And on Friday, the Hurricanes team that's ranked fifth nationally in The Associated Press poll will begin the pursuit of a dream. Miami is the No. 2 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament, and its first game will be played against the No. 15 seed, Pacific, in Austin, Texas, at 2:10 p.m. ET
"Watching the selection show was very emotional for us," Shane said. "Everyone knew we were in, but seeing your name up on that board was something I can't express, because we have worked so hard throughout the season and it was finally being rewarded.
"But now it's time for business, and we know Pacific is going to come out with a lot of energy. We've got to match it with intensity and try to throw the first punch."
For Shane, the transition from hardball to hardwood was a quick and decisive one. Although he had lingered around the batting cages and outfields of the big leagues during his father's storied 19-year career with the Reds, and he had received hitting tutelage from such luminaries of the craft as Pete Rose, that wasn't good enough for his Little League coach, who decided Shane's swing needed to be changed.
So Shane decided that his primary athletic pursuit needed to be changed, and here he is -- the 19-year-old sophomore and 2013 ACC Player of the Year on a team that's expected to make a big March Madness run.
"Everybody said, 'Play baseball, play baseball, because you're not going to make it in basketball,'" Shane said of his upbringing. "That motivated me."
Shane, who right now is projected as a sure-fire first-round pick in this year's NBA draft, plays as though he doesn't need much motivation. Entering Friday, he's averaging 14.6 points, 4.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and two steals per game. But more than the numbers, said his coach, Jim Larranaga, are the things that don't show up on stats sheets.
"The things you need to excel at the point guard position are speed, quickness and the skills to make plays, plus the ability to anticipate what's going to happen on the court," says Larranaga, who had recruited Shane since 10th grade. "There's so much of the mental side of the game.
"If you possess those mental skills, you're ahead of anybody on the court. And Shane's ability to anticipate plays and make decisions is far beyond his years."
Shane doesn't hesitate to admit that this maturity in the heat of intense competition is something he couldn't help but inherit from his father and other members of his family. His uncle, Byron, for example, was a two-time Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year Award winner at Xavier and remains that prestigious basketball school's all-time leading scorer.
And when Shane was lucky enough to attend his father's Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the summer of 2012, he could finally feel the weight of such a career accomplishment.
"That really showed me how successful and just how good he actually was," Shane said. "I mean, I knew all this, but I wasn't born yet when he was in the World Series [in 1990]. I was 2 when he was MVP [in 1995]. I was too young to really understand.
"The Hall of Fame brought everything to a new perspective. Seeing him around his peers, but also the real great players of the game's history … that was special."
Shane's growth in basketball and in life has been a special thing for his parents to witness, too. Barry said that he doesn't tell Shane what to do on the court.
"He's just a father," Shane said.
Barry's more than happy to let Larranaga handle the hoops, and the coach, who became famous for taking unheralded George Mason all the way to the Final Four in 2006, has done plenty of that.
On Feb. 13, for example, the Hurricanes were going for their 12th consecutive victory in a tight road game against Florida State, and Larranaga benched Larkin for more than two minutes very early in the first half. The coach sauntered over and the two had a discussion about Larkin's defensive work -- or lack thereof -- against the Seminoles' best shooter, Michael Snaer.
"I was guarding the other team's best player," Shane said, "and wasn't doing a very good job of it.
"Coach sat me down and asked me, 'Do you understand why you're sitting down? You're supposed to be guarding an All-American, and you're guarding him like he's the 10th man on a high school roster.'"
Shane agreed, and snapped out of the funk. He scored 13 points in the final eight minutes of the game to finish with a game-high 22 in 36 minutes and added four assists and a steal in Miami's 74-68 win. Snaer had nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
"The thing I love about Shane is, he's all about winning," Larranaga said. "He's going to help his teammates, help them play well. He'll make a pass, a shot, a free throw, get a defensive stop. He's all about winning the game.
"And his athleticism just sets him apart. If he's guarding you and you think you've beaten him, it turns out sometimes that he's let you do that so he can get behind you and steal your dribble. I don't encourage that, but if he can plan it right to the last second, I've got to let him do it. I can't hold him back. He's just got more capability than other players.
"Another guy does that? Bad play. Not smart at all. But we give Shane that freedom because he knows exactly what he's doing, and he proves it."
Hmm. It sounds an awful lot like the on-field leadership and in-game presence that became the hallmark of a certain Cincinnati shortstop with the same six letters stitched onto the back of his jersey.
"Point guard is supposed to be the extension of the head coach on the floor, and shortstop is the extension of a manager on the field," Shane said. "Watching him be a leader my whole life, with everybody calling him 'Captain,' it definitely sunk in.
"It wasn't a direct goal of his to instill leadership qualities in me, but it happened."
And it continues. Barry and Lisa, Shane's mom, attend as many 'Canes games as they can. They've noticed how the team has re-energized the campus, which was always known for football.
"It's exciting," Barry said. "I can't tell you how many people around Coral Gables say things like, 'Thank you for letting your son come to Miami,' or stuff like, 'I was in school in the '70s here, and we didn't even have a basketball team for a while,' things like that.
"People are truly appreciative of what is going on there. It's very rewarding."
But Shane has more in mind. Like six more games and a national title, for example.
"We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing all year," Shane said. "I need to get my teammates involved early. We need to always play hard on the defensive end.
"We had a very emotional weekend and we lived it up as much as we could and let it all sink in. But now it's time for business, and on Friday, we will definitely be ready."