Sean Miller's phone blew up today and he wasn't about to ignore it.
The Arizona Wildcats coach said he appreciated every one of the congratulatory text messages he received over Arizona's No. 1 ranking, even while trying to keep it all in context.
They came from “you know, friends, coaching friends, a lot of people in the community who recognized that we worked very hard last five years,” Miller said today, during his weekly news conference. There were “quite a few and it’s nice to receive.
"All the texts kind of say the same thing -- it’s just kind of a quick congratulatory message -- but it’s not as if we just won our bowl or the Pac-12. What we’ve done is solidify our team as being good, and we’re off to a good start."
Of course, it’s more than just that. Not only did Arizona establish itself as being good this season but the Wildcats also earned their first No. 1 ranking since March 10, 2003.
In between that ranking and today’s, the Wildcats had recruiting slumps, snapped their NCAA tournament streak, had two interim coaches and rode some ups and downs during Miller’s first seasons.
Now, after all that, they’re back on top, at least in a December poll. When asked about that big picture, Miller said:
“Tremendous satisfaction. No question. That’s why I said embracing the fact that we’re ranked No. 1 is something I’m doing, something our staff’s doing, and our team’s doing. It’s an honor that I think a lot of teams would love to have.
“It’s something -- no matter what happens in our future – that at one point this season (we can say) we were ranked No. 1 in the country. But how long we keep that ranking, how that plays out down the road, how much better we get, those are things in early December every coach, every team has in the forefront of their minds. And whether we’re ranked No. 1 or not ranked at all at this time of year it’s about growing and working because there’s so much basketball in front of us.”
Another reason for Miller’s satisfaction: He’s never been a part of a No. 1 team in college basketball. Ever.
The highest Miller rose to as a player at Pitt was No. 2, which the Panthers spent two different weeks at during their seven-loss 1987-88 season, when Miller was becoming the Big East’s Freshman of the Year and playing alongside future NBA first-rounders Charles Smith and Jerome Lane.
“We had a great team,” Miller said.
As an assistant coach, Miller has worked for Wisconsin, Miami (Ohio), Pitt, N.C. State, and Xavier. None were No. 1.
And the highest Miller went as a head coach with Xavier was No. 7, the week of Dec. 15, 2008, four months before he took over Arizona's program.
“Coach was saying that in his 28 years of coaching and playing, he’d never been a part of a No. 1 team,” guard Nick Johnson said. Considering “his successful career, that that’s the first time that’s happened, that just shows you how significant this is.”
Miller joked that “maybe our guys won’t be able to run or play hard” after receiving all the accolades this week but he said that New Mexico State, on Wednesday, is even better than UNLV if you consider the numbers.
The Aggies are 7-4, having swept UTEP and lost by only two at Colorado State before giving Gonzaga a minor scare in a 12-point loss at Spokane, Wash., on Saturday.
NMSU are shooting 47.7 percent from the field, averaging 77.3 points per game and outrebounding their opponents by an average of nearly four per game.
They have a unique combination of size and athleticism, with 6-foot-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe and 7-5 Sim Bhullar inside. (Anyone wondering if Bhullar is a legit 7-5 should check out the way Bhullar makes Gonzaga’s 6-foot-2 Kevin Pangos look in this photo -- Sim is on the left and his redshirting 7-3 brother is on the right of their fellow Canadian).
Miller said forward Aaron Gordon received a “few stitches” after taking an inadvertent elbow from Brandon Ashley in Saturday’s game but is otherwise fine.
Colorado's Askia Booker was named Pac-12 player of the week.