Larranaga opens practice -- and with special guests
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- Practice opens at Miami on Friday, when 48 hopefuls will hit the floor trying desperately to impress Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga.
None will make his team. They'll all have packed up and left by Monday. And they paid handsomely for this privilege.
When the Hurricanes start practice for the coming season, they won't be alone. Larranaga is marrying the formal start of Miami's workouts with a fantasy camp for adults, and believes there are many benefits to running the events simultaneously. Larranaga's players will draft and coach the 48 adults, splitting the group into six teams of eight players.
The campers will also be invited to watch Miami practice.
"Players tend to play better in front of audiences," said Larranaga, whose Hurricanes were 20-13 last season and are expected to contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. "They tend to play harder. I was at a high school gym last week and the football team stayed around because they couldn't get on the practice field. The level of intensity increased dramatically because of the way the football players responded. The same happens with our players."
The cost: $2,500, which might be considered a bargain in this growing fantasy-camp world.
Other schools that offer the experience to fans at various times during the year include Duke, Syracuse, Kentucky, West Virginia and Kansas. Michael Jordan offered one in Las Vegas for years; Dwyane Wade has lured people to spend $12,500 to play with him and his friends for a few days in Miami over the past two summers.
Several of the campers who paid to be with Miami this weekend also signed up for most, if not all, the other major camps offered this year, treating it all like a circuit.
"These guys know their basketball," Larranaga said. "And for the players, it makes you aware that the things that you're doing, people are evaluating you all the time. No matter what you do, you're almost always being observed."
When Larranaga coached George Mason into the Final Four, he met one of the prerequisites for getting into what was then the can't-miss fantasy camp, the one Jordan hosted in Las Vegas. Only certain coaches are invited to work that camp, and getting to a Final Four earned Larranaga his call from Jordan to be part of it all.
Larranaga was hooked. He developed contacts, saw how the campers used the weekends to interact with one another, and quickly realized it's about more than basketball. He's worked plenty of camps since, and is a key part of how Wade operates the day-to-day schedule at his fantasy camp.
"These guys are in business with each other, they become very good friends," Larranaga said. "Our players see that."
It's loaded with perks for players. At Kentucky, coach John Calipari gives out $150 Armani ties to all campers, some games are held at Rupp Arena and members of the winning team win $2,500 Armani suits. At Syracuse, Jim Boeheim made sure campers got something they surely needed after Day 1 -- massages. At Kansas, there's a huge photo of a businessman named Rick Schnall talking with Jayhawks star Thomas Robinson on the school web site; Schnall will be one of the players at Larranaga's camp this weekend as well.
"They all love it," Larranaga said. "They're serious about it."
Larranaga's "real" players may just put on a show for the campers as well. Miami has big expectations coming into the year, and senior center Reggie Johnson isn't shy about saying the Hurricanes expect to be an NCAA tournament team.
He thinks there's a simple reason why many may be overlooking the Hurricanes at this point.
"We're Miami," Johnson said. "If we were at North Carolina or Florida State, we'd be a Top 25 team, without a doubt. But we're Miami, so that's that."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)