After eight years and five second-week losses in the NCAA Tournament with his Arizona Wildcats, coach Sean Miller knows the conversation can be different now.
“You say, ‘Coach, what are you getting asked every day?’ It used to be, ‘Were you on the Johnny Carson show?’” Miller said at a UA fan event last week. “Now it’s ‘Can you get to the Final Four any time soon?’”
Since Xavier upset Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen six weeks ago, Miller has had time to reflect and start preparing a team that will likely be a preseason top five pick in 2017-18.
Miller started by shutting down his Twitter account in the wake of the Xavier loss, then hired veteran former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar as his associate head coach while watching four players declare early for the NBA draft — even though only one (Lauri Markkanen) is assured of being a first-round pick.
During an interview with the Star during Pac-12 basketball meetings in Phoenix last week, Miller discussed some of his spring so far:
He said he shut down his @uacoachmiller Twitter account not because of criticism over the UA’s unexpected tournament exit but in order to set an example for a good team framework.
“I didn’t really look at it anyway but Twitter … as I look at our own team, one of the things we’re really trying to emphasize is respect the University of Arizona, like you came here to be a part of something that’s bigger than just you. Although all of us have our own personal goals and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be an NBA player, a first round pick, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to do that in a short period of time — but never at the expense of not being a great teammate, caring about the fact that we’re in the tournament, or we’re getting to the Final Four.
“That has to be at the forefront. To me, Twitter and some of the social media outlets is just counter to that. You can’t say (there’s a team focus) when somebody’s completely and totally obsessed with their phone, retweeting things that have been said that are good. It’s a self-absorbed time in their life. And we’ve felt a little like that in the NCAA Tournament. So with that, I think for us it’s to have a culture that’s really truly about that (team mindset). I can’t be the guy who’s doing the other thing, too.”
Miller said the UA’s official @aplayersprogram Twitter handle, which is run by some of his top staffers, tweets out the messages he needs sent. While he has relaxed his former policy to have players stay off social media during the postseason, that policy could stiffen up again.
“We might do it differently next year. It’s a work in progress.”
Miller was bullish on how Romar’s personality and experience could benefit the Wildcats off the floor.
“Lorenzo, he has a voice of reason. He’s great with our current players. He’s been through any situation in basketball you can think of. He played in the NBA. He’s from Compton (Calif.). He went to a junior college. He won a national championship as an assistant coach (at UCLA). He’s been there and he’s done that. So when you have somebody on your staff with that type of experience there’s not (just) one thing that he’ll add.
“I think he’ll bring his personality, and I want him to bring his personality. He’s going to make us better. We’re allowing him to come in and impact us really in every way possible. The biggest way is just who he is as a person. You feel that in the recruiting. You feel that in talking to your own players within your own staff, the chemistry there, (with) the parents of players. So it’s nice to have him.”
On the floor, Romar could have an impact on the UA’s offense, though his role and influence are still unknown. While friendly Pac-12 rivals in recent seasons, Miller and Romar have been different philosophically, with Romar’s Husky defenses gambling more than Miller’s Wildcats, and his offenses typically running at a faster pace.
“We haven’t really delved into the basketball part as much. But when we do, of course, a lot of the things that he brings to the table as a coach, fresh ideas are great. But we also believe in what we do. From a defensive perspective, especially, that won’t change a whole lot.”
Among Romar’s Washington accomplishments: The Huskies beat Arizona five of the first six times they played after Miller took over the Wildcats in 2009-10.
“We’ve talked about that and just the pace that his teams play with. They’re as good as any at getting the ball up and down the court. We want to do that and we want to be smart with it as well.
“It’s amazing. Sometimes it’s just one thing you’re able get from a coaching perspective that really makes a big, big difference. You’re not in search of 15 things or 20 new things, it’s just one. Of course with his experience, all those ideas will be welcomed. But we haven’t talked a whole lot about that so far.”
Instead, much of the Miller’s focus this spring has been on roster management — figuring out who’s staying, who’s going and who might come in — all while keeping an eye on academics. Miller said both Chance Comanche, who opted to stay in the NBA draft pool, and Rawle Alkins, who still has the option to return, have kept up with their coursework, suggesting they won’t cost the UA an Academic Progress Rating hit.
“There’s so much that goes on in the spring academically. You have some younger guys who are leaving and you certainly want them to finish up strong and leave eligible and respect our program. And then you have a guy like Kadeem (Allen, departing senior) turning in his final papers, taking his final tests to graduate. It’s been a long journey for him. And then you have players either moving from their first to second year or second to third and in Parker’s (Jackson-Cartwright) and Dusan’s (Ristic’s) case, they’re going from their junior to senior year so they’re trying to finish up academically this semester.
“In college basketball, we’re still the only sport that goes through two semesters, so the pressure isn’t just on the fall semester, but it’s also on the spring semester. This is the time of year where there’s so much going on, not only the NCAA Tournament, but the Pac-12 Tournament, the pressure to finish our regular season and as soon as it ends, (they deal with) their own life — do they consider leaving for the NBA, or are they going to come back? As those discussions and that mindset changes, the one thing we want to be cognizant of is academically — are we on top of them? Are they being responsible? We want to make sure we’re communicating with them.
“So as much as you talk about who’s going to be on the team and recruiting, the academic component to me is a really big part of our program. It’s something we have to get right because the consequences of if you don’t are not very good.”