At the door
These were the words that Sean Miller finished his final press conference with last season, after the Arizona Wildcats lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16:
“Sometimes you have to knock at that door a few times to break it in, and I like the group that we have coming in,” Miller said. “I like some of the opportunities that we have to add to the guys that we have. Hopefully we’ll be a mainstay in this tournament like Arizona has been for 25 years.”
Three days later, Aaron Gordon committed to the Wildcats, who are now, thanks in part to Gordon, knocking at that door again.
Today’s game will be the third Elite Eight game of Miller’s head coaching career. He lost in the Elite Eight in 2008 with Xavier and in 2011 with Arizona,and left no doubt about the notion of breaking through this time.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “Probably it would mean no more or no less for me than any coach who is coaching in this round. Everybody knows the two words ‘Final Four’ mean a great deal to programs and universities.
“I follow like everybody does, the reaction of our fans and fans of other programs, and it’s just amazing to see the outpour on campuses when you see a team get closer and closer to a Final Four.”
For those who believe in superstitions, the Honda Center might not be the best place for Miller and the Wildcats to reach the Final Four though.
The Wildcats are 0-3 in Elite Eight games at the Honda Center. Their 1997-98 defending national champions were shockingly blown out by Utah and it’s triangle-and-two defense, while the 2002-03 Wildcats lost to Kansas after spending most of that season ranked No. 1.
Then, in 2010-11, Arizona smashed Duke in a memorable Sweet 16 game but lost to UConn by two points when a final three-pointer from Jamelle Horne was off the mark.
Fire and ice
Miller has spoken a lot about the cold and gray he grew up with in the Pittsburgh area, but when he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin, he realized there was another level of winter out there.
“I was driving into work about 7:30 in the morning,” Miller said. “I looked out on the lake and I saw a bunch of fires, camp fires on the lake. I had to pull over and say, ‘Is that really a fire on the lake?’ I guess I was welcomed to a Wisconsin winter that you could burn a million fires on that lake, but it was frozen so thick, there was ice fishing. They were camping out, going on vacations.
“The cold of that winter, wow, I can still remember it. It’s a little bit like the opposite in Tucson.”
Miller has actually been to Madison, Wis., as a child basketball trick artist. But while Miller isn’t wild about rehashing those stories over and over, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan wanted to talk about the old days.
“I was an assistant at Wisconsin in the 70s, and I thought Madison was a little conservative,” Ryan said. “I wanted to try to stir things up with the public and get people interested in Wisconsin basketball as an assistant.
“So I created this evening, ‘round ball for youth night.’ So I called Crazy George. Crazy George Schauer was a guy that could dribble and spin eight balls at one time, and Tanya Crevier who was the woman’s version of being able to spin eight balls at one time and do all kinds of tricks. But I wasn’t finished. I said we’ve got to get something. So I called up Coach (John) Miller, his dad and said, ‘Hey, can we get Sean out here to Madison? So in one night in Madison in the Fieldhouse, we had Crazy George, Tanya Crevier and Sean.”
That’s not all.
“One of the assistant coach’s wives had made a Superman cape and he came out in the Superman cape and had to follow the act of George and Tanya. And Sean more than handled himself. … Sean was unbelievable. Ball handling, shooting, 9 years old, running up and down, he was great.”