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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sean Miller keeps grinding for Arizona basketball

Tyler Baker

Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller throws his arms up following the Wildcats’ last-minute victory over California in McKale Center on March 3, 2016. Miller has a top-10 recruiting class this season and is seeking his first Final Four.

Many may not remember the state of Arizona basketball in 2010, but the program has come a long way from what Sean Miller inherited.

The hangover from legendary coach Lute Olson was still in full effect as Arizona had gone through Russ Pennell and Kevin O’Neill before Miller. The former Pittsburgh point guard was shining with the Xavier Musketeers at the time, as Miller led them to back-to-back seasons with a top-10 ranking. 

Miller actually led them to Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearances.  Xavier reached the Elite Eight in 2008, only to be knocked off by UCLA. The Musketeers’ Sweet Sixteen run in 2009 included a win over Wisconsin in what would turn out to be Miller’s last year with Xavier. His alma matter, No. 1 seed Pittsburgh—which included future NBA players Sam Young and DeJuan Blair—booted Miller from the tournament. 

Arizona struggled in Miller’s first season with the Wildcats, finishing 16-15 in the 2009-2010 season. But that was the first and only time Arizona has won less than 20 games with him at the helm.

Miller has given Wildcat fans countless big-time players in a short period of time that have made their mark on the Pac-12 Conference. From Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill to T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, his players have been tough, energetic winners in the conference.

   Related: Video: Miller talks legacy and coaching fabric

Miller has had the Wildcats ranked in the top 15 every year—exluding that 2009-2010 season—and in the top 10 in five of his last six seasons. The Wildcats are consistently among the best defensive teams in the nation, and the stars buy into Miller’s system. 

What made McConnell, Johnson, Aaron Gordon and others so special was that they bought into his defensive mandates. If your star players are diving for loose balls and harassing ball handlers, why wouldn’t you?

Sure, Miller still has not reached a Final Four. But most sports pundits would tell you it has to happen soon. Miller keeps bringing in top class after top class; the bounces just keep going the opposite way come tourney time. 

The Wildcats ran into Kemba Walker and a determined UConn team in 2011, and who can forget Wisconsin? Twice.

Badgers vs. Wildcats Round One featured a Brandon Ashley-less team that saw the Wildcats almost reach that elusive Final Four—until the final seconds. Badgers vs. Wildcats Round Two saw Sam Dekker—a career 34 percent 3-point shooter—go 5-for-6 from beyond the arc while Wisconsin went an uncharacteristic 12-for-18 as a team. 

    Related: Is Arizona ready to justify preseason top-10 ranking?

He has won three conference Coach of the Year awards and six regular season championships in just 12 years of coaching. His successes have not been flukes, and one must think Miller’s turn will come in the near future.

The 2017-2018 Wildcats team has the potential to outshine the current one with the recruiting class Miller is slated to bring in. Led by top-ranked recruit DeAndre Ayton, Arizona’s 2017 class is currently first in the nation with four-stars Brandon Randolph and Alex Barcello also in the fold.

Miller will look to take the next step for Arizona basketball this year.

Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.

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