While the sun is setting on many programs across the college basketball landscape at this time of year, Arizona and Dayton are just getting started.
The No. 7 Wildcats (27-4, 16-2 ) wrapped up another Pac 12 regular season crown under head coach Sean Miller, now in his eighth year at the helm, and are poised to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. Likely to be no lower than a third seed, it will mark ‘Zona’s fifth straight appearance in the Big Dance. Sean was named the league’s Coach of the Year.
Roughly 1800 miles east, younger brother Archie Miller’s Dayton Flyers (24-6, 15-3) claimed the Atlantic 10 regular season title and are a lock for the school’s fourth straight NCAA berth. And, you guessed it, Archie was named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year.
With a combined career coaching record of 474-173 between them (Sean 335-112, Archie 139-61), suffice it to say they’re two of the finest in America — you don’t get tabbed to coach with USA Basketball if you’re not.
As both prepare their squads for NCAA Tournament play, I caught up with Archie Miller who shared his thoughts about Sean’s ‘Wildcats, similarities in coaching styles, mutual respect for each other’s players, and more:
Chris DiSano: You and Sean are enjoying terrific success at Dayton and Arizona. What similarities do you share in terms of your approach to coaching?
Archie Miller: If you take the names off of the chests of the jerseys and you don’t know Arizona or Dayton, the one thing you would take from both programs is there’s a constant edge to development of the players. It’s year round. There’s a constant quest to try to find a way to make a guy better every day. Whether that’s in the weight room, film room… you’re constantly on a quest to develop the player. Sometimes that’s just talking to him. There’s a development aspect that Sean has brought to the table that he and I both believe in because of where we came from. Sometimes it’s not about the opponent. Sometimes it’s not about the scout. Sometimes it’s only about the player. And you have to find a way to make them better.
When you look at our teams, typically we play better at the end of the year because the players have gotten better, and if you look at his teams they’ve been better at the end of the year.
That’s not about putting pressure on the team. It’s about putting pressure on the staff to make guys better.
CD: Are there any philosophical differences between you two, where perhaps you get to the same place but do it in a different way?
Miller: I don’t know. I think we’ve had some success doing things our way and he’s had a lot of success doing things his way. I can’t be him, but I can bounce things off him and he can bounce some things off me. In general, from a grand scope, we’re both very similar because of our Dad [legendary high school coach John Miller], and because I’ve worked for him [Sean]. You have to apply the things that you’ve been taught, what made you better, and motivated you… Can you apply them to your own team in your own way? In many ways his way is different than mine because the players are different than mine. But at the same time, we’re trying to accomplish being at your best when it matters the most.
CD: Is there any particular player of yours that he comments about appreciating that player’s game?
Miller: He’s followed us for a while and looks at us in a similar way to the team he coached at Xavier. Most of our guys aren’t five star guys, they’re not guys looking to come in and leave in six months and he appreciates the development of guys like a Scoochie Smith (13.5ppg, 4.4apg) or a Kendall Pollard (14.2ppg, 5.1rpg).
He’s watched them over a couple of years and says to me “You’re fine, you have Scoochie”, or “You’re fine, you have Kendall.”
He’ll marvel at our guys and I’ll laugh at him and say “I wish I had a couple of your guys.”
a guy like Lauri Markkanen…he’s the way the NBA game is going.
CD: Along those lines… any of his players whose games you really appreciate?
Miller: I know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to win a national championship. The recruits that they get and the guys that they bring in… They’re a young team. At the beginning of this year, he was really up against it with his numbers. A couple of years ago we were really up against it with our numbers. And I told him if you hang tough, keep things short, and get those guys going, you’ll find that later in the year that your chemistry will be unbreakable.
When I watch a guy like Lauri Markkanen (15.2ppg, 7.5rpg, 42.8 percent 3-pt FG), I can’t think of a freshman in the country that makes more sense in the NBA than him. I think he’s the way the NBA game is going.
Kadeem Allen (9.4ppg, 4rpg), he’s a guy you’d throw back to 10 years ago and say “that’s a Xavier guy.” Sean has some of that mix to him as well where he appreciates the guys with great talent and guys with a chip on their shoulder.
CD: Speaking of guys with a chip on their shoulder who have had tremendous success, let’s bring it home discussing your senior class, the “winningest” in school history. Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis and Charles Cooke. What’s on your mind in getting to coach these guys for a final run?
Miller: I put a lot of pressure on myself. You think back to Kyle Davis, you think back to Scooch’, you think back to Kendall, and you think back to Charles Cooke… these guys are on their last run and have given everything they’ve ever have and never questioned anything. When you have that type of buy-in, you have to give them more than anything — And you don’t want them to not enjoy it at the same time. So there’s a balance between enjoying the wins and also continuing to push them so they can have great moments.
What’s important to me is trying to push them – even in the late stages of their career – to be better than they’ve ever been before. At the end of the day, the greatest moment could be in front of them and you don’t want to let that pass.