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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    DNA of a coach

    Gordon Bates
    Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona Basketball victory against Humboldt State

    1. Brains

    He lures in top recruits. He develops unheralded players. He demands respect, but still relates to his young team.

    Sean Miller is the complete college basketball coach, and as he enters his third season as the face of Arizona basketball, the country is finally starting to take notice.

    “He’s just good at his job,” said ESPN analyst Dave Telep. “When you take a look around college basketball, he’s a guy who combines excellence as a coach, developer of players and a recruiter.”

    In 2009, Miller arrived in Tucson to a program in dissaray as the Wildcats’ fourth coach in four years. Could he return Arizona to where the team was during the Lute Olson era? Could the East Coast product recruit on the West Coast? With Arizona fresh off an Elite Eight run and boasting the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, Miller has more than answered those questions.

    “I’ve really tried to deal with the pressure at Arizona the same way and that is if you fear it, you probably shouldn’t be here,” Miller said.

    2. Endurance

    Miller demands hard work from his players. If he doesn’t get it, the players won’t play, no matter their star ranking or high school stats.

    “He doesn’t take a day off. That became evident the first day,” said freshman guard Nick Johnson. “He wants you to go full speed every single day. That’s a good thing. But also you have to get used to it.”

    While Miller is an intense disciplinarian, he knows how to relate to his players, which goes a long way. Highly touted freshman Josiah Turner said he came to Arizona because he “had faith in Coach Miller, just the fact that he had my back.”

    He may chew them out for making a mistake, but players trust in Miller.

    “When you have a whole team, you know, when a kid is in, treating him like family and telling him how much we want him here, that makes a big difference,” Fogg said.

    Miller does exactly that. When Kevin Parrom, who followed Miller from Xavier to Arizona, was shot in the Bronx in late September, Miller filled the role of a father figure. When Parrom’s mother died of breast cancer, Miller was there.

    “He’s so much more than just a coach to me,” Parrom said of Miller.
    Miller echoed the sentiment.

    “He trusted me when we left Xavier. We’ve been through a lot together and we all care about each other,” Miller said. “Nobody has any idea how much time we spent together, talking, meeting. Me trying to be hard on him knowing that it’s almost unfair for me to be hard on him but that’s what’s required for him to continue to forge ahead.”

    Telep called Miller a chameleon. With his players, he’s their leader who knows what’s best for them. With the media, he’s professional, straight-forward and savvy.

    He wears different hats when he needs to, but ultimately it’s his tireless work ethic that’s transformed him into one of the top coaches in the country.

    “He wants to bring a national championship to Tucson,” Fogg said. “He’s just always focused. I think that’s what makes him such a great coach.”

    3. Talent

    There’s more to Miller than knowing what buttons to push with his players. He understands talent, and how to maximize it.

    “He’s probably as good as there is anywhere, as a basketball coach period, but especially in that he develops players and puts them in positions to have success,” Everhart said.

    Miller would never take credit for Derrick Williams getting drafted second overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’d credit Williams’ work ethic and willingness to get better.

    But in reality, Miller turned a non-ESPN Top 100 player into one of the best players in the country in a matter of two years. Williams came in as an under-the-radar recruit without a position. Now he’ll be a Rookie of the Year frontrunner when the NBA starts after the lockout.

    “A lot of people made a big deal about how good Williams got last year,” Everhart said. “Well, Sean put that kid in a position to do that. He worked hard and developed that young man and put him in a position offensively to do the things that he does well.”

    4. Genes

    Miller’s passion for perfection is unquestioned. His measurements are precise and his scouting is superb. The 42-year-old head coach has dark circles under his eyes every day for a reason.

    The Ellwood City, Penn., native never stops preparing for his next move, something that’s earned the respect of his players over the course of his three years in Tucson.

    “I think he’s the hardest working coach in the country,” said senior guard Kyle Fogg. “He’s the only guy I know that will watch the same game seven times and pick up different things.”

    Miller knows more about his opponents than the opponents know about themselves. He’ll do as much work possible to gain a competitive edge, something that has been in his DNA since he was a youngster learning from his father, John Miller, who was a legendary Pennsylvania high school basketball coach.

    “Competitively, you could tell he had whatever that is … where you’re just never satisfied with anything but the best,” Duquesne head coach and longtime friend Ron Everhart said. “That’s something that I don’t think a lot of guys have. It’s very evident with him that he’s never going to stop until it’s his best effort, best showing, best job.”

    5. Foresight

    While Miller has proven to be stellar as a coach and at maximizing talent, he also may be the best recruiter in the country. One year after turning in the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, Miller developed the top 2012 class in the country by nabbing three ESPN Top 10 recruits and the No. 36 overall recruit.

    Miller has been stealing recruits from coaches like Kansas’ Bill Self, UCLA’s Ben Howland and Kentucky’s John Calipari. Sure, there’s a lot for recruits to like about Arizona, between the history and the facilities. But Miller is the difference-maker.

    “When I first came here I got a lot of questions about recruiting,” Miller said. “Can a guy who’s never lived in the West recruit in the West? Now that coach Olson’s not here and we’ve had four coaches in four years, how are we being received out there?”

    Miller’s answered all of those questions. Freshmen Nick Johnson, Turner, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson all said Miller was the reason they came to Tucson.

    Miller most recently landed Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York, a feat that led Telep to call the Wildcats a national recruiting power.

    And it’s mostly because of Miller, who went through the life of the NCAA athlete as a starting point guard for Pittsburgh.

    “It’s just the fact that he’s one of the younger coaches around and he’s easy to relate to,” Ashley said.

    According to former UA great Miles Simon, Miller simply lays down the law and tells kids what they’re getting in Arizona. If they want a chance to compete, get to the next level and play in a former college basketball mecca, Arizona’s the choice, and Miller portrays that.

    “He’s personable, and he’s a straight shooter and he tells it like it is,” Simon said.

    Former Arizona point guard and Jerrett’s high school coach, Eric Cooper Sr., said it’s Miller’s personality that allows him to out-recruit basketball powerhouses.

    “He’s down to earth. He’s a big-time guy but he doesn’t come at you like a big-time guy,” Cooper Sr. said. “If you didn’t read about him, you would never know he was a multi-millionaire. You would just think he’s a good coach because he talks to you at the level you’re at and he doesn’t bring the aura with him that usually comes with big-time guys.

    “He does bring ‘Hey man, this is what it is. This is what it is that we’re trying to do,’” Cooper Sr. added. “You understand that whatever he says he’s trying to do. He usually does it. That automatically makes you want to be a part of his team.”

    A few years ago, Miller was a top coach in the Atlantic 10, leading Xavier to the NCAA tournament in four of his five years as head coach. He was well respected, but not recognized on a national level.

    But three years after leaving Xavier, Miller is on the verge of being named with the college basketball greats. If he can continue to thrive in every area that comes with being a top-notch college basketball coach, Arizona may soon add more national championship hardware to the trophy case.

    “He’s a tremendous guy and a tremendous coach,” Everhart said. “By the looks of this last recruiting class, it’s only a matter of time before there’s another national championship here.”

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