CORAL GABLES, Fla. — He’s a Baseball Hall of Famer, a 12-time All-Star, an MVP and a World Series champion.
But in South Florida, he’s sometimes an afterthought.
Former Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Barry Larkin rarely misses a University of Miami home basketball game. His son, Shane Larkin, is a star point guard for the Hurricanes and a strong candidate for ACC Player of the Year.
Shane is getting plenty of adulation these days for the surprising Hurricanes, who won the ACC regular-season title and will play their first conference tournament game Friday in Greensboro, N.C. He’s unexpectedly this winter become the big star in the Larkin family.
“They like ignore Barry,’’ said Hurricanes center Reggie Johnson. “I’m like, ‘That’s an MLB Hall of Famer.’ But right now they know Shane better than Barry. We go to the Sports Grill (in Coral Gables) after games and I remember (patrons) gave Shane a big hand clap and Barry just kept walking. They weren’t paying any attention to him. I’m like, ‘That’s crazy. Hall of Famer. MLB millionaire.’’’
That’s what happens when a team comes out of nowhere to rise to No. 2 in the nation, although the Hurricanes (24-6) since have slipped to No. 9. That’s what happens when a sophomore emerges to become the leader on a senior-dominated team.
As for Barry Larkin, he’s quite content to watch it all unfold. Who cares if few are paying attention to him?
“I think it’s great,’’ Barry said of the adulation of his son, averaging 13.7 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 48.2 percent, including 40.3 on 3-pointers. “After games, I kind of sit back and watch him go through it. It was always him following me around and watching me. Now, the tables have turned 180 degrees. And I love to see not only the fact that he’s being recognized but how he’s dealt with the success. I think, growing up in a Major League clubhouse, he’s seen guys be successful and he’s seen how they deal with success.’’
The University of Miami declined to make Shane available for FOX Sports Florida for a one-on-one interview. Commenting on the sudden change of celebrity in the Larkin household, Shane did tell ESPN.com last month, “As awkward as it sounds, I’m not Shane Larkin, Barry Larkin’s son, anymore. It’s Barry Larkin, the father of Shane Larkin.’’
It never will be known what it would it be like had Shane, 20, chosen baseball. But Barry never put pressure on his son to follow in his footsteps.
One way was for Barry to move the family out of baseball-crazy Cincinnati when Shane was very young. The family also includes Shane’s mother Lisa and sisters Brielle, 22, and Cymber, 17.
“He was born in Cincinnati, but I moved to Orlando because I didn’t want him to grow up the son of Barry Larkin,’’ said Barry, who hit .295 with the Reds from 1986-2004, a tenure that included winning a World Series in 1990 and being named National League MVP in 1995. “I wanted him to kind of make his own way. And he’s certainly done that. His dad was a baseball player, but he loved basketball.’’
One wonders if that might have been different had it not been for one incident. When Barry was starring for the Reds, Shane became friendly with Tony Perez, who was than a Reds coach and now works for the Miami Marlins.
Perez is a Baseball Hall of Famer. But he did have an awkward batting style, one Shane had picked up as a kid.
“I went up to hit one day and my (Little League) coach is like, ‘Whoever taught you how to swing like that didn’t know what they were talking about,’’’ Larkin has told the Palm Beach Post. “It really killed my love for the game. After that season, I never went back.’’
Baseball’s loss was basketball’s gain. It helped that Shane’s uncle Byron Larkin, Barry’s brother, once was a star guard at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
The 6-foot-3 Byron scored a school-record 2,696 points and gained All-American recognition. Hampered by being undersized for a shooting guard, Byron was unable to make the NBA but did play six years overseas.
“Barry wanted me to take an active role with Shane and as much as I could I helped him,’’ said Byron, now a financial adviser in Cincinnati and Xavier’s radio analyst. “I really embraced it… During summer AAU games, Barry would record every one of them and then we would go back to the house and we would watch the games and critique them (with Shane).’’
The 5-11 Shane developed into a star at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. One of the first coaches to recruit him was Jim Larranaga, who was then at George Mason in Fairfax, Va., and is now Miami’s coach.
Accompanied by his mom and dad, Shane went on a recruiting visit to George Mason. But he eventually opted to attend DePaul in Chicago.
That didn’t last long. In August 2011, before classes even had begun, Shane sought to leave the school.
“He was OCD,’’ Byron said about Shane and referring to Obsessive-compulsive disorder. “He was a hand-washer. We had found that out when he was young and he went to a therapist and it got taken care of… Flash forward 10 years later, when he was in an urban environment (in Chicago) and it resurfaced. He was taking like six or seven showers a day brought on by it… Being there had brought back his symptoms. So he was able to get a medical release from DePaul.’’
Remembering how well his recruiting visit with Larranaga had gone at George Mason and with the coach having relocated to the ACC, it made it an easy choice for Shane to attend Miami. And the NCAA eventually ruled he would be eligible as a freshman rather than having to sit out a season.
Shane’s freshman year had its ups and downs. He averaged 7.4 points and 2.5 assists but shot just 36 percent.
“I think when he came in as a freshman, he was very respectful of the upper classmen and he really deferred to them,” Larranaga said. “Quite frankly, I told him at the beginning of this year that you’re no longer a freshman, you’ve worked yourself very, very hard to get in great shape. I expect you to lead us now.’’
The point guard has done just that, having said he’s become “more comfortable with everybody on the team.” He’s also improved his shot selection and his passing.
Put it all together and Shane has been a completely different player.
He’s averaged 21.5 points in two games this season against now second-ranked Duke, including 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a resounding 90-63 win Jan. 23. He had 18 points and nine assists in a 87-61 Feb. 9 walloping that featured Shane throwing the ball off the backboard on a fast break to trailing center Kenny Kadji for a dunk.
Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were at that game and whooped it up courtside. Wade then made the same play to James in the NBA All-Star Game and a regular-season game and credited the Hurricanes for inspiration.
Shane made the key play in a 54-50 win over Virginia on Feb. 19. With the score tied 50-50, he forced the defense to him and deftly passed to Johnson for the decisive layup with 5.7 seconds remaining.
“I love him,’’ Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, a former NBA point guard, said of Shane. “He’s got the whole package… So quick… He has a good feel and I just love his change of pace… To be that young and that good is impressive.’’
It is translating into plenty of honors. Shane on Monday was named All-ACC, to the All-ACC Defensive Team and was tabbed one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation’s top point guard. Soon, the ACC will announce its top award.
“That would be a great thing to accomplish, ACC Player of the Year,’’ he told reporters last month. “But all the individual accomplishments don’t mean as much as the team things.’’
The Hurricanes, who have never advanced farther than the Sweet 16, have a chance to do something special in the NCAA tournament. Most observers believe they’re in line for a No. 3 seed but they certainly could improve that with a strong ACC Tournament showing.
Next year, though, might be very different. The Hurricanes will lose five key seniors in Johnson, Kadji, forward Julian Gamble and guards Durand Scott and Trey McKinney Jones.
The cupboard could be rather bare if Shane returns. But it’s not out of the question he doesn’t.
“He could play right now in the NBA. He’s about the same size as John Lucas (III), but he’s better than Lucas,’’ said a noted NBA scout, referring to the steady Toronto Raptors point guard.
Bryon Larkin, who attended NBA camps out of college, said it’s premature to determine if his nephew is ready now for the pros. But he would recommend Shane at least submit his name for the draft with the option to return to school in order to gauge his standing.
“It would be smart to test the waters,’’ Byron said. “Even if he put his name in and it doesn’t work out, he could still come back. I think it would make him a better player just going though the process and and gaining knowledge and experience.’’
For now, though, Shane has plenty of unfinished business this season. The Hurricanes will open ACC Tournament play at noon Friday against the winner of Thursday’s Boston College-Georgia Tech game. They’ll learn Sunday where they’ll go to start the NCAA Tournament.
During tournament play, expect to see plenty of TV shots of Barry Larkin in the audience. But he knows his son will be getting most of the family’s focus.
“I’m absolutely fine with it,’’ Barry said. “I’m very proud of him. I’m just the guy (in the stands) supporting my son.’’
So what if that guy just happens to be a sports legend.