Video by AJ Ricketts, UMTV

Over the course of four Sundays this fall, the University of Miami men’s basketball team became heroes for 120 kids during Cane Nation, a once in a lifetime experience, providing boys in grades K-6 the unique opportunity to interact with Hurricane basketball players in a true basketball setting.

“When I was a youngster, I loved following college basketball,” said Coach Jim Larranaga. “It was a real thrill for me to meet college players. They were my heroes. Cane Nation provides that for youth in the Miami area.”

Cane Nation was started last year by Coach Larranaga, who wanted to give kids an opportunity to get excited about the Hurricanes, the players that are going to be their coaches and just basketball in general.

“Cane Nation is amazing,” said Elizabeth Schepis, a parent of two participants. “My kids have been doing it for the last two years and they absolutely love it, because it teaches them basketball skills and they love that the coaches are the players from the team.”

Justin Cardoza says that his son looks forward to Cane Nation all of the time, largely because of the interaction with UM players. “It makes my son pay attention to the game a lot more because it is guys he’s been around and he gets to maybe see himself as them down the road,” he said.

The interaction doesn’t end at 6 p.m. on Sunday, though. The UM players interact with the Cane Nation participants throughout the season, at games and in the community. 

“My kids can go out to the games and say ‘oh there’s my coach!’ It means a lot to them. My kids wouldn’t let me not let them go to the games and see their coaches play!” Schepis says.

At Cane Nation participants are divided into age groups and evaluated by UM players on the first day of Cane Nation. From there, UM players - acting as coaches - draft their own teams and the young campers are sent their draft status and signing bonus in the mail.

“A lot is invested in doing well and having a good team,” said current Hurricane Julian Gamble. “If your team doesn’t play well, it’s your own fault because you picked them. It’s bragging rights for weeks and months, and it’s why we become so invested in it and so intense.”

After teams are formed, each day of Cane Nation involves a session of personalized instruction to learn some of the fundamentals of the sport, followed by three competitive games.

According to UM player Trey McKinney Jones, Cane Nation is also a way for the team to de-stress. “We have pressure from ourselves as well as everybody from the outside just to perform on a high level on a daily basis,” he said. “So here we get the chance to relax and have fun and to be around the kids. It’s a great environment.”

Coach Larranaga has a history of growing fan support at schools where he has coached (previously at Bowling Green and George Mason), and he intends to build from the ground level with Cane Nation.

“We have to put a great product out there on the court, we always have to do that,” said Mike Summey, director of operations for men’s basketball. “But Cane Nation is a great way to get it jumpstarted. Cane Nation is important to the kids, it’s important to our program, and it’s important to our players.”

by Darci Miller, UM communications intern