Considering the current temperature of college basketball, maybe it’s not so good a time for the Arizona Wildcats to be playing at their in-state rival’s sold-out place on Friday.
Then again, things can always get heated anytime, anywhere.
UA coach Sean Miller saw it happen as a player, and he has guidelines for handling incidents already in place with those he now coaches.
It’s just that today, when Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart is shoving a taunting fan and an ASU fan is spitting on Oregon staffers, things get a little more talked about.
That wasn’t always the case, Miller said, when he played for Pitt in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Things happened “all the time,” Miller said. “Today, part of what you deal with is the moment something happens it’s seen by the world almost immediately. A lot of the incidents back then would happen and it would be very difficult to recall it or have any proof that anything happened.”
So in order to steer the Wildcats free of ugly incidents, he has a code of ethics and behavior called “All-In” that players are held to in order to stay part of the UA program.
“It’s the culture in our program that we try to live by,” Miller said. “As you grow inside of our program and become an upperclassman, you learn to embody those qualities and when you see teammates make mistakes and people make mistakes outside, you learn.
“Part of it is when you go on the road, you only have each other, and it’s about the task at hand and you really have to block everything out, whether it be the criticism or the noise level, or sometimes maybe a call that you don’t agree with. You’ve got to stick to that system. What’s going to make us successful is to not be distracted by anything that we can’t control.”
It’s something all players need to deal with, the way UA’s Nick Johnson puts it.
“I think pretty much every player has been through some sort of thing like that,” Johnson said. “It just comes down to being responsible. You’re representing your program, the University of Arizona, your team and your family. So we’ve gotta hold back and try to come to a calm, just try to respect your team in a first-class manner.”
At the same time, Miller said some of the recent incidents have been difficult.
“It’s unfortunate sometimes that the age of a player and the experience level that he has can be compromised by a fan or something that’s said that shouldn’t be,” Miller said.
“That’s all part of growing and learning and you hope when that situation presents itself that we have each other’s back and all the things we talk about on a daily basis hold true in that moment, so we can make good decisions instead of ones we regret. With the heat of the battle in sports, especially at this level, situations are going to unfold, unfortunately.”
The Smart-fan incident has made national waves this week, with the Cowboys’ star being suspended for three games after shoving a Texas Tech fan who taunted him. Smart apologized at a news conference, while the fan drew scrutiny for his actions.
After Oregon’s loss at ASU on Saturday, Ducks assistant Brian Fish told the Oregonian that he and an Oregon trainer were spat on, and players were spat on at halftime. He declined to press charges, but said it was “completely uncalled for.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman said ASU has a “security issue” because the Ducks had to enter and exit the floor next to ASU students.
“It’s not a good situation,” he said after the game. “They need to address it.”
But at ASU, the Wildcats have had no problems in four games at Wells Fargo Arena under Miller so far.
“Our times at ASU, we’ve come in, we’ve played the game and we’ve left,” Miller said. “I can only go on my own experience, and that hasn’t been part of the equation.”
Meanwhile, as the nation’s No. 2 team, the Wildcats also are subject to another problem this season: Fans rushing the court.
Not only did fans storm Haas Pavilion on Feb. 1 after Cal upset Arizona, but they did so before the buzzer and had to be forced off the court. They did it again afterward — but the Wildcats escaped without incident.
“Court-storming has its own issues,” Miller said. “Once the court is stormed, you have to show great restraint ... and get off the court. There’s not much you can do other than try to stick together and understand there’s consequences for things and move into the locker room.
“But (at Cal), when they stormed the court I didn’t recall anyone being out of line. I think they were just excited about their win.”