By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Shane Larkin was told he was too short to be an elite college guard, a theory he debunked with ease.
So now he’s taking on a new challenge.
After leading Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships this past season, Larkin announced Sunday that he’s forgoing his final two years of eligibility with the Hurricanes and entering the NBA draft, where he’s projected to be chosen possibly as high as a mid-to-late first-rounder.
“I can honestly sit here and say this is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Larkin said. “I’ve probably gone back and forth on this 100 times, just because I love the university so much.”
After all that, he’s going forth, as are so many others who played big roles for the Hurricanes in their 29-win season that saw them climb as high as No. 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. Despite rarely looking for his own shot, Larkin led the Hurricanes in scoring at 14.5 points per game — and the next five names on that list are all departing seniors.
Still, Miami coach Jim Larranaga was beaming after Larkin broke the news that had been expected for some time.
“This is another first for us,” Larranaga said. “We’ve had a lot of firsts this year. You know, a lot of things went really, really well. And this is another milestone. If someone we’re recruiting in the future says ‘Hey, have you ever had somebody go one-and-done or two-and-done?’ we can now say, ‘Yes, Shane Larkin did.’ Before that, we couldn’t. Shane’s going to be the first.”
Larkin, who lists his height at 5-foot-11, is the son of Baseball Hall of Fame player Barry Larkin, who said Friday that his son was turning pro unless there was some sort of epiphany over the weekend.
That didn’t happen. Larkin said he finished his decision-making process on Saturday, then texted Miami teammates around 2 p.m. Sunday so they could hear the word from him.
“It really just came down to what was in my heart and what was in my gut,” Larkin said.
It also came down to what he saw.
When Miami lost to Marquette in the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament, Larkin — who spent the day before that game fighting through an illness — thought he would absolutely return to school because he didn’t want his college career to end on such a bad note.
He then saw the devastating leg injury that ended the season for Louisville guard Kevin Ware, and Larkin’s mind began to waver.
“I just thought to myself, if I did come back to school and something horrific happened — even though it’s a one-in-a-million chance — if something horrific happened to me like that, would I be able to live with myself, seeing that my dream was right here for me to take,” Larkin said. “That was just one of the main things I was thinking about.”
The Hurricanes were 48-20 with Larkin in their lineup.
Larkin was selected as the ACC’s player of the year in balloting by the league’s coaches, and picked up no fewer than 24 individual awards during the season and postseason. He’s now going to have a hectic few days while interviewing agents — the first step in figuring out pre-draft-workout plans — and trying to finish his academic requirements to close the semester at Miami.
Larkin said he will get his degree, which would fulfill a promise he made to his mother, and even after making the announcement on Sunday he was huddled with Larranaga to discuss his future academic options.
“I’m missing him already,” Larranaga said. “I told him, I just want him to be happy and I want him to come back here a lot.”