Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/13/2006 04:49:00 PM
My Sportsman: Jim Larranaga
Under Jim Larranaga, George Mason became the first mid-major team to make the Final Four in more than a quarter-century.
By Bill Trocchi
Discipline vs. winning. Doing things the right way vs. playing your best players. The debate is constant in sports.
But consider the situation George Mason coach Jim Larranaga was in when faced with the decision to discipline one of his best players for an unprovoked, on-court punch he threw at an opponent. Larranaga was 56, coaching a mid-major program and had been in college basketball his entire professional life without having won a NCAA tournament game as a head coach. Was this the time for a life lesson?
Larranaga didn't feel like he had a very difficult decision at all. The man has lived and coached by a set of principles ingrained in him since he played high school ball for Jack Curran at New York's Archbishop Malloy. When Larranaga was an assistant at Virginia in the 1980s, Michael Jordan and North Carolina came to Charlottesville one night for a mammoth showdown with Ralph Sampson & Co. In the car on the way to the game, Larranga's son, Jay, a ballboy for the team at the time, mentioned he had not done his homework. When father and son arrived at the arena, Larranaga called his wife, Liz, and asked her to come and pick up their son.
No homework? No Michael Jordan.
So when Larranaga suspended Tony Skinn for George Mason's conference tournament final (which it lost) and its NCAA first-round game (which it won), he didn't feel like he was doing anything extraordinary. Live by principles, and those around you will learn to do the same.
Larranaga then famously led his team to tournament wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and UConn, which itself would merit a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year nomination. But he's my choice for the decision he made prior to his historic run, before the national cameras came, before he was ABC's Person of the Week and before he was a hot shot motivational speaker on the Washington circuit.
With little fanfare, Jim Larranaga set an example every coach at every level in America should follow. He symbolized in character and performance the ideals of sportsmanship.
Those happen to be the words on SI's Sportsman of the Year award.
I'll go you one better.Brian Leonard of Rutgers is the hands down sportsman of the year.He turned down Notre Dame to attend Rutgers because when Brians older brother went for off-season surgery every single college except for Rutgers pulled their scholarship offers.Because Rurgers stood by his brothers side,Brian went to Rutgers. His first season they went 1-11.It was so bad that some students smashed a berr bottle on his car because they found out it belonged to one of their football players.Still Brian stayed.Last year when Brian had eye-opening statistics and was considered a third or even second round pick in the NFL draft,this young man turned down literally millions of dollars to stay at Rutgers for his senior year.Why?Because it was more important to help the Rutgers football program realize their dream of becoming a great program.This season when newcomer Ray Rice became the backfield stud and a Heisman Trophy candidate instead of Brian he went beyond being graceful.He took Ray Rice under his wing and has mentored him.He has taught him about hard work.He has taught him about teamwork.He has taught him about very real and honest humility.Most important of all he has taught us all what true sportsmanship REALLY means.He walked away from the prestige of Notre Dame,he has walked away from literally millions of dollars since he no longer has high draft choice numbers for one reason and one reason only....to help the school of his choice and to help everyone that will come after him.He IS the word SPORTSMAN!
Larranaga is the anti-Bobby Knight, a man with convictions in life as well as in the game he coaches and loves. His inspiring work with George Mason in the 2006 NCAA Tournament is a tale of perseverance, determination, and fundamental play. Larranaga is definitely a laudable Sportsman of the Year for 2006, but more importantly, he is a laudable candidate for Man of the Year as well. Good luck in the voting process, and may you get even more deserved recognition in the future...
I also support the author's nomination of Jim Larranaga as Sportsman of the Year. I would also point out that, in contrast to the previous poster, I believe that there is evidence that Bobby Knight has convictions about doing things right--unfortunately these are lost on the general public because all this they see is his inability to control his anger.
I agree, Coach L should definetly win Sportsman of the Year award. While sports is serious to many, some take it way too far and values as well ethics get lost in the equation. Some coaches also don't make it fun for the players anymore, and put way too much stress on these young kids. Larranaga should pave the way for how coaching should be done, by instilling values and principles into our players, while playing for the love of the game and having fun while doing it.
Jim Larranaga is an outstanding coach, but more importantly, an outstanding man. He teaches his players how to succeed in life, not just hoops. He epitomizes what we want to see in those who lead young people. There is no compromising of values with him. He would be a great choice for sportsman of the year.
Coach Larranaga is everything SI should be looking for in determining a Sportsman of the Year. Not only did George Mason win, they won with class and honor and it all starts with the head coach. His suspension of Tony Skinn was immediate regardless of the implications it had on the team. Coach K was quoted as saying he hoped the basketball gods would look kindly down on Larranaga. I guess they did.
Quite searching for feel-good stories like Coach L and Brian Leonard and give it to the obvious choice: Joe Paterno of Penn State. While others doubted him and pushed him to retire, he remained firm in his decision to help educate and coach the young men of Pennsylvania State U, and returned Penn State to where they belong: back on top of the college football world.
This is what is wrong with American sports fans in this era. We tend to ignore the true champions and legends of sports. Jim Larranaga is great candidate, and so is the Rutgers football program. But Roger Federer should be the choice for SI's Sportsman of the Year. Federer has won three of the four Grand Slams and was a set away from accomplishing a true Grand Slam, the first since Rod Laver in 1969. Federer currently has not lost a match since the Cincinnati Masters in August. And currently has a yearly record of 87-5 will 11 tournament wins. We as American sportsfans need to look beyond our cultural borders and embrace true feats of greatness.
Are you kidding? Larranaga suspended the kid for one game for a premeditated sucker punch to an opposing player's groin in the middle of the conference tournament (he didn't retaliate for anything - he just up and punched him). It was as dirty a cheap shot as you will ever see. A one-game suspension was the absolute bare minimum of what he could have done. He could have thrown the kid off the team - or at the very least left him home for the first trip so he didn't get to experience the NCAA Tournament at all.
One game? Please. That was a cop out suspension and you know it. Tony Skinn didn't deserve to be along for that feel-good ride - he was a dirty thug.
Sportsman of the Year? Give me a break. He did the absolute least he could have done in that situation.
I went to GMU, way back in the 70's when the athletic program was "Conditional Division I" & hoops played in the old gym with a couple hundred fans. Followed the great run in March w/ enthusiasm.
But the guy/person is right. As much as I love watching Skinn play, that punch to the privates is the kind of act that should ban somebody for life. It's the absolute definition of a cheap shot.
I am very excited that Larranaga is staying. I'll still be a Big fan, that won't change much, but again the last comment is correct.
To the writer of the article, for the record, GMU did not make the CAA title game. They lost to Hofstra in the semis. In the last minute or so of that game, when it became apparent that Mason would lose, Skinn deliverd the blow to their best player overall & best that night, who he was guarding. Coach immediately yanked him.
Coach L deserves it. What he did will be remembered as one of the most amazing stories in sports history. Sports is not all about how many titles you win or the players you send of to the next level. It's about winning with pride, showing respect, and showing a love for the game that so many teams forget about.