Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga said Wednesday that he has never had a recruit ask for money.
That was one of the few comments Larranaga made at ACC Operation Basketball on questions concerning the FBI investigation into fraud, bribery and corruption in college basketball – a scandal that has brought Larranaga and Miami under scrutiny.
While not named or charged last month in the FBI investigation, Larranaga has been near the center of the storm, his name used in connection with a recruit – said to be UNC commitment Nassir Little – alleged to have been offered $150,000 to play for Larranaga and the Hurricanes.
Little has not been named in the FBI’s documents.
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Larranaga, in a prepared statement he read Monday to media in Miami, said he does appear to be “Coach-3” referred to in the FBI documents. “Coach-3” is said to be a part of the plan to have an adidas executive help pay “Player-12” – believed to be Little – the $150,000.
Miami has an apparel contract with adidas, and adidas executive Jim Gatto was charged last month by federal authorities as part of the FBI investigation.
Little, a 6-6 forward from Orlando, Fla., and a five-star recruit, committed Oct. 4 to play at UNC, a Nike school. Little and his father have signed affidavits saying they never entertained or requested payments from Miami or any shoe company.
Asked Wednesday if he was aware of any kind of financial inducement to “Player-12,” Larranaga said, “I understand and appreciate your question but I would like for you to just refer to my statement from Monday, because it’s an ongoing investigation and we really can’t go into any of the details or any of the circumstances.”
Asked why he allowed himself to be identified as “Coach-3,” given the allegations in the FBI documents, he said, “At looking at the complaint and talking to my legal representation, they decided that was the best course of action.”
Larranaga, as he did Monday, said he has cooperated with the FBI, saying, “I just answered questions.”
As Larranaga was leaving an interview session Wednesday, he was quietly chatting with former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
“Hang in there,” Cremins told Larranaga, patting him on the back. “Hang tough.”
For Larranaga, beginning his seventh season at Miami, the past month may have been the toughest, most stress-filled in his 40 years as a college coach.
“It has been a strain, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” Larranaga said Wednesday. “But I have the support of my wife, my family, my university, my coaches, my team. We’re just going to move forward. We have a season to prepare for and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Larranaga said being on the court with the team has offered a respite from the speculation about what’s next, what may or may not happen.
“I love coaching,” he said. “I love working with the kids, teaching them fundamentals. … It’s just fun to be around them.”
But the accusations remain. The Miami Herald reported there were two calls made Aug. 6 between Gatto to “a cellphone believed to be used by Coach-3.” According to the Herald, Larranaga’s attorneys said the calls concerned an adidas Nation showcase in Houston that Little attended.
The Herald reported that in one phone call that was recorded, former sports agent Christian Hawkins can be heard telling Merl Code Jr., a former Clemson player who worked for adidas, that “Coach-3 knows everything.”
Code was arrested in September and faces federal charges.
Larranaga, 68, won an ACC championship in 2012-13, his second season at Miami and has 609 career wins. The Hurricanes, 21-12 last season, have reached the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons.
Larranaga wasn’t aware that ACC commissioner John Swofford said Wednesday that an ACC task force had been formed to look into college basketball issues. He did like hearing the task force would be chaired by Craig Littlepage, the retiring athletic director at Virginia and a former coaching associate with the Cavaliers.
“There are people a lot smarter than I am who need to weigh in on this and decide what needs to be done,” Larranaga said.