Over the course of five Sundays this fall, the University of Miami men’s basketball team becomes 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.
Cane Nation was started in Miami two years ago by Coach Jim Larrañaga, who wanted to give kids an opportunity to get excited about the Hurricanes, the players that are going to be their coaches and basketball in general.
"When I was a youngster, I loved following college basketball," said Coach Larrañaga. "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."
Youth play basketball in the Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Miami from 4-6 p.m., but the interaction doesn’t end at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The UM players interact with the Cane Nation participants throughout the season, at games and in the community.
"It gives us an opportunity for the Miami players to coach these kids, who they look up to so much," said Adam Fisher, director of operations for men’s basketball. "Coach L is great in giving back to the community."
At Cane Nation participants are divided into age groups and evaluated by UM players on the first day of camp. 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.
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.
Coach Larrañaga 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.