The college basketball landscape is shifting dramatically heading into the 2021-22 season. Two of the sport’s most iconic coaches — North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — announced their retirements in the span of eight weeks.
Meanwhile, other veteran coaches with old-school values are trying to adjust as relaxed NCAA rules opened the floodgates for 1,600 players to enter the transfer portal this spring; and proposed name, image and likeness rights will permit athletes to cash in on endorsement deals.
Coaches are trying to pitch the value of a college education while the new Overtime Elite League woos teen prospects with $100,000 salaries.
Despite the challenges and changing culture, University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga, 71, and Florida State University coach Leonard Hamilton, 72, say they are sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Larranaga is under contract through May 2024. Hamilton in March agreed to a five-year contract extension through the 2024-25 season.
“Don’t expect me to hang up my whistle any time soon,” Hamilton said by phone Thursday afternoon, breaking into his trademark hearty laugh. “I’m having more fun now than ever. I feel good. I enjoy coming to work every day. I love what I do. As long as I can see the scoreboard and read the names on the back of the jerseys, as long as they can roll me out of the tunnel and I don’t accidentally go sit on the other team’s bench, I’m hanging around.”
Larranaga feels the same way.
“I have three more years on my contract, and I have no intentions of not fulfilling that,” said the UM coach, who is entering his 50th year of coaching and 11th with the Hurricanes.
“When you’ve been at it this long the one thing you can look back and realize is that you’re very lucky to be able to do the thing you set out to do and keep doing it for 50 years. Most guys don’t get that opportunity, their careers are cut short. Either they get burnt out or they can’t sustain the success.”
Larranaga and Hamilton are both adapting to the sport’s new culture but concerned about the direction the sport is headed.
“When you’ve worked in a certain environment for 40 or 50 years and that environment and culture changes, I think you look at it, I know I have, and say, `Am I willing to make the change with the culture?’’’ Larranaga said.
“There are a lot of coaches that are wondering if it’s going to be worth it. I’m wondering to myself how well we can make the adjustments and I don’t know. Only time will tell if name, image and likeness will actually be a good thing for the athletes. And whether coaches can adjust to it. Only time will tell if all the constant transferring from one school to another is going to be beneficial or will it be a detriment?”
Hamilton understands there are some elite players for whom college is not the preferred option, just like tennis, golf and music prodigies. But the vast majority, he said, would benefit from a college education, as he did.
Hamilton grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, sharing a room with three brothers. The bathroom was on the back porch and had no hot water. His father had a ninth-grade education and his mother a seventh-grade education.
“My parents always complained about the ceiling on their lives because of the lack of education they had,” Hamilton said. “The only way out for me was to get an education and set an example for my brothers. Education was paramount to a better way of life, and I still believe that is true.”
Educating and molding young men is what keeps Hamilton in the coaching profession.
“I still get excited taking teenagers to young adulthood, it is more important than fans understand,” he said. “If I only have watches and rings and trophies and Coach of the Year awards to validate my coaching career, then I would be shortsighted. When these guys call me on Father’s Day, send me Christmas cards, want me to meet their fiancees, and call and ask me for advice on personal things, that means a whole lot more than just about anything in the world.”
Hamilton worries that lack of communication between the NCAA, high school coaches, college coaches, AAU coaches, NBA and the new emerging leagues will hurt the game and the athletes. He hopes Williams and Krzyzewski remain involved and help lead the sport through these unchartered waters.
“I absolutely agree that education does not sell well right now,” Larranaga said. “The idea that you can go make money as a 16-year-old is very exciting to someone that young. And even to parents if their families have never earned $100,000 in a year. They’re able to make that as a 16-year-old, 17-year-old, that’s so attractive.
“The problem I see is that people don’t realize the value of a college scholarship because a college education in the long run can produce a far more successful adult life than a few hundred thousand dollars when you’re 16. When you’re 25 and done with basketball, are you going to go back and get a college degree? Probably not.”
Hamilton still believes there are enough good players who want a college education.
“I will look under more rocks, knock on more doors and work harder to find those guys who think education is a high priority,” Hamilton said. “I will not give in to the negative stuff.”
Larranaga remains just as passionate. Like Krzyzewski, Larranaga dotes on his grandchildren, and has found ways to balance being a grandpa with being an ACC coach.
Last Saturday, he and his wife, Liz, spent all day in their Sarasota vacation home watching livestreams of their grandson, Jon, playing in a youth basketball tournament in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and UM recruits playing in the Gym Rat Challenge in Albany, New York.
On Thursday, he spent the day with new assistant coach DJ Irving scouting Miami-area restaurants for potential recruit visits. “As long as I can coach and teach, I am happy, Larranaga said.
Hamilton can relate.
“I don’t golf. I don’t fish. I don’t have hobbies,” Hamilton said. “I love gospel music and I listen to the same songs over and over and over. I admire those guys that feel they can move on to another phase of life. I wish them well. I haven’t had the good fortune to do what those guys have done, go to the Final Four, win national titles. That’s missing from my resume, and I’m sticking around.”