When he arrived at the University of Miami, Shane Larkin was known as the son of Barry Larkin, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop and baseball Hall-of-Famer.
Less than two years later, it’s rapidly turning around.
Oh, yeah. He’s the father of Shane Larkin, star guard for the Hurricanes.
For on a team that starts four seniors and brings another off the bench along with a couple of juniors, Larkin, just a sophomore, has become the catalyst that has sparked the Hurricanes to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
He’s the one that even senior guard Durand Scott, a four-year starter, defers to in handling responsibilities at the point, a crucial role in college basketball today.
“He has that look, that thing you call ‘it’,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said after the Hurricanes had beaten his Seminoles 71-47 Sunday evening to go to 15-3 overall and 6-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “Sometimes you can’t describe it. Sometimes there’s not words in the dictionary to describe what they’re giving you. But he has it.”
And this was after Larkin had posted rather mild (for him) numbers, just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. He had only two 3-pointers in six attempts and actually missed one of three free throws.
Four nights earlier, he had scored 18 points and was 8-of-14 from the field in Miami’s 27-point thrashing of then-No. 1 Duke.
But the value of a player like Larkin isn’t always measured in numbers, which, by the way, included 10 rebounds and five assists against Duke and nine rebounds and six assists against Florida State. He had only five turnovers in the two games combined despite playing 70 minutes.
“He has that ‘it’ — the confidence, skill, talent, and the ability all wrapped up in one person,” Hamilton continued. “Sometimes you can be physically gifted and sometimes you can be gifted mentality, but the emotional part, the ability to stay cool, calm and collected, and have vision to make a decision is something that is a gift that you have that is not really taught.
“It’s a savvy that you have.”
Even with Miami’s impressive front court, Hamilton thinks Larkin has been the key to the stunning run that not only has the Hurricanes a two-game cushion in the lost column in the ACC standings but also has earned them their highest ranking — No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, No. 15 in the USA Today/coaches poll — in 11 years going into Wednesday night’s game at Virginia Tech.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to him,” the Seminoles’ coach said. “You have a guy like that and surround him with pretty good players, they’re a dangerous weapon.”
He’s not the first to make that observation.
After his team lost 54-47 to the Hurricanes, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was effusive in his praise of the 5-11 guard. Larkin scored 10 points, handed out six assists, and came up with three steals against the Terrapins in making up for his teammate Scott’s rare off night (six points, less than half his average coming into the game).
“Shane Larkin is off the charts,” Turgeon said. “He makes the whole key. I know Scott really wasn’t himself tonight, but Larkin — six assists, no turnovers, and I don’t know how many more assists he could have had. He’s just spoon-feeding guys.”
When the Terrapins cut a 10-point deficit in half late in the game and seemed ready to make a move, Larkin got the ball to Julian Gamble for a key basket to get the Hurricanes going again.
“He made the play of the game when it was five and Gamble got the dunk with one second on the shot clock,” Turgeon said. “That was all Larkin. And he hit the jumper the possession before that.
“The kid’s good. He’s really good. I haven’t seen the whole league yet as far as point guards go, but I can’t imagine a better one than him.”
Larkin said the key to his success has been the work he put in during the offseason improve his game. In particular, he worked on his shot and studied game tapes to learn when to shoot and when not to.
“Last year I didn’t have great shot selection,” he said “I shot like 33 percent from the field (33.6 to be precise and 32.3 on 3s) and this year I’m up in the 40s, something like that (44.8 overall, 39.7 on 3s).”
Among the areas of emphasis: “Being in the lane and using the floater and pull-up jump shot instead of going in there up against all the trees and trying to make a crazy layup. Shooting better 3s, just knowing what you need to do and when to do it has definitely made me a better player this year.”
Oh, yeah. He also is getting the job done on defense. He has had at least one steal in 17 consecutive games, getting shut out only in the opener, and leads the ACC in steals per game (2.2 in all games, 2.0 in the seven conference contests).
For a while, he also was leading the conference in minutes on the court but has since dropped to second overall (36.0) and seventh in league play (35.9). That’s still quite a load, but his teammate Scott, who is averaging 34.5 minutes a game himself, doesn’t see that as a potential problem as the season wears on.
“He’s a basketball player,” Scott said. “He loves to play basketball. I don’t think that will really affect him at all.”
Larkin said it’s just a matter of being mentally tough and staying in top physical shape.
“I love playing,” he said. “I would play 40 minutes if coach wanted me to. I love playing basketball.”
Just as his father obviously loved playing baseball. It may be a different sport, but, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.