NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were among the capacity crowd that watched the University of Miami take apart North Carolina 87-61 Saturday, but it was the third member of the Miami Heat’s Big Three that Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga spent more time talking about at his post-game press conference.
After joking that he had sent them back the message that the game in the BankUnited Center on the Coral Gables campus was sold out when the two Heat leaders asked for tickets earlier in the week, Larranaga brought up Chris Bosh.
In the summer of 2011, he said, after the Heat had lost its NBA Finals series against the Mavericks, Bosh had spent some time playing pickup ball with some of the players who would form Larranaga’s first team at the U.
He asked Bosh what he thought.
“He said, ‘Can I be honest?’ I said, ‘Please.’ He said, ‘Your guys don’t run the floor and they don’t work very hard. I barely break a sweat against them. I end up just shooting jump shots because there’s no real physicality and no real speed in the game.’
“I asked him if he would mind sharing that with the team.”
And so one day with the whole team in the weight room lifting, Bosh came in and Larranaga asked him to say a few words. Again, remember, this was shortly after the Heat’s flame out in the finals against Dallas.
“He started out with an emotional message that was the best five-minute talk I’ve ever heard,” Larranaga said. “He talked about how disappointed he was that he didn’t play better in Game 6, and how disappointed he was that they didn’t win the world championship and he didn’t want to live with that kind of regret.
“And that he was killing himself that offseason so that the Miami Heat could win the world championship. He told the guys, he said, ‘You don’t work hard enough. You don’t deserve the kind of success you’d like to have. You can’t compete at the highest level of college basketball with the effort that you are giving.
“And it was just music to my ears because that was the message we were trying to deliver. But coming from Chris Bosh, it meant a whole lot to the team.”
Bosh and the Heat got their reward last summer when they beat the Thunder in the NBA Finals.
And now the Hurricanes are reaping rewards of their own after taking Bosh’s message to heart and dedicating themselves to the weight room and offseason program after the 2011-12 season ended somewhat in disappointment with no NCAA bid.
“It wasn’t the same last summer,” Larranga said. “Last summer they were killing themselves.”
Larranaga said he can show you photographic evidence of the difference the extra work has made in the physicality of the Hurricanes, who have become one of the great success stories of the 2012-13 season.
They lead the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 10-0 record, have won 11 games in a row to improve to 19-3 on the season and could move to their highest ranking ever in the national polls after moving to No. 8 in the Associated Press voting last week.
“Julian Gamble lost 20 pounds. Kenny Kadji lost 22 or 24 pounds,” Larranaga said. “Those guys are in great shape, and that’s why you see Kenny Kadji blocking those shots. His quickness, his determination, his strength, to go up and battle is so much better after a year-and-a-half of work.”
Certainly North Carolina can attest to that.
Gamble and Kadji combined to block five shots against North Carolina, which seemed completely lost trying to cope against the defensive pressure it faced.
The Hurricanes scored the game’s first nine points and never trailed in sweeping the two-game season series with the Heels.
“They were hitting on all cylinders, and all those cliches that you want to use,” a subdued North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We didn’t have many answers for them.”
A month earlier, the Hurricanes had beaten the Tar Heels 61-52 in Chapel Hill.
“They’re playing better,” Williams said when asked to compare the two performances. “Even before today’s game I watched them on tape. And I thought we were playing better.”
The Hurricanes guard like crazy and can do so without fouling, Williams said, and on offense they’ve got shooters who can shoot from the perimeter and score inside as well.
“People talk a lot about their experience and how old they are,” Williams said of the Hurricanes, who start four seniors and bring another off the bench. “But they’re also talented.
“So I think they’re really good.”
Top five caliber?
That may be shooting low. There is even talk now of a No. 1 ranking in the making, as unlikely as that might have seemed back in November when a Miami team playing without Durand Scott lost to Florida Gulf Coast on the road.
The Hurricanes have made huge strides since then.
The Elias Sports Bureau reported after the 26-point over North Carolina that the Hurricanes are the first ACC team to post wins of 25 points or more against North Carolina and Duke in the same season. They beat the Blue Devils 90-63 on Jan. 23 in this same arena.
Who knew what Chris Bosh’s talk was going to inspire?