COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — By joining USA Basketball’s U18 coaching staff, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller has been essentially working on three teams this month.
There’s the U18 team, which cut down to 15 on Thursday, and may trim all the way down to 12 in the next day or two before competing in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship next week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Then there’s the 2014-15 Wildcats team, which he began working with as new players dropped into Tucson for the early presession and first full session of summer classes this spring.
And there’s the recruitment for his 2015-16 team, which received a decommitment Saturday from guard Tyler Dorsey just a week after Miller offered a scholarship to a similarly skilled guard in Allonzo Trier.
With all those focuses in mind, Miller spoke to the Star about the USA experience, and the Wildcats during a break in the U18 trials this week:
Is working with these guys (at U18 camp) what you expected so far?
A: “I know a lot of these guys through recruiting. Some of which we didn’t get — (Duke-bound) Justise Winslow being an example — but obviously having Stanley (Johnson) here is nice because he’ll be playing with us this year.”
Where do you use Stanley next season?
A: “It’s hard to say because I haven’t looked at him with our entire team, but Stanley is a basketball player. You can put him at a number of places and he’ll do well.”
How many (2015) signees are you looking for in the fall?
A: “We don’t have that worked out yet. I think a class of five, of which Ryan (Anderson, a transfer from Boston College who will sit out next season) is one, is probable. Then as the year moves forward we would have the opportunity to add one. … This is a pivotal class, like all six of the previous ones were at one point. One particular class might not be as big as the next, but in this case it’s not true. The way it is now, you generally are bringing in classes of four and five (every year).”
Do you feel you’re where you’d be at after five years?
A: “In one sense, yes. I think I said this a long time ago — you want to compete for Final Fours, compete for national championships and that’s what Arizona did so well with coach (Lute) Olson forever. It’s not just the fact that it happened X number of times. It’s the fact that it could have happened 15 times. Now you can make the argument that we’re in the mix; we can make a run competing for Pac-12 championships, etc.
“With that, recruiting is the lifeblood but also development, with Nick Johnson being a great example. As much as it was about the incoming group of players last year — they were a big part of the story, with T.J. (McConnell), Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) and Aaron (Gordon) — just as important was Nick Johnson’s development, going from his sophomore to junior year and just taking a huge step forward.
“So simultaneous to recruiting it’s also that the most important players are the ones we already have. Who will be that guy from last year’s team that makes that significant jump? Maybe there’s a couple that will, and I think that would be as pivotal to next season’s success as the new class.”
Will it be T.J.’s team or will somebody else help him out as a leader?
A: “I think a lot of guys can. Kaleb (Tarczewski) and Brandon (Ashley) for sure. They’re in their third year, they’ve been in huge games, and they have a lot at stake. Both guys are working hard in different ways to have a great summer.”
Can you break down what you’ve seen of the new guys such as Dusan (Ristic, the Serbian freshman big man)?
A: “Dusan’s the only one I’ve really seen because he was at presession. The thing that stands out about Dusan is he loves the game of basketball. With big guys, sometimes they play basketball because they’re supposed to. I would say Dusan is a gym rat. He’s somebody who wants to be great. He loves the game. He’s very, very coachable, and the second thing is he’s skilled. He can really shoot it. It’s not just that he can’t function around the basket — if you watch him shoot he would give you the feeling he can make shots.”
How physically ready is he to help?
A: “I think he’ll be one of a number of guys who will contribute. I think our team has all the makings of being deep, and chemistry will be a big part of it. Because when you say that there’s always individual players who have to sacrifice – maybe it’s taking less shots, maybe it’s not starting, maybe it’s not playing as much, but there’s going to be sacrifice like there is on any team that has depth and talent.”
Could Dusan be the third man for the two post spots?
A: “I think in his first year, he might be able to get on the court a little bit with Kaleb, but I think for the most part we’ll have kind of a one-two punch there (at center).”
Do you really think Brandon Ashley will be 100 percent by November?
A: “I think so. This week he’s starting to shoot. His foot is in good health from a rehab perspective. All that has really gone well. Now it’s a matter of just him progressing and getting back out there.”
Rondae came on strong last year. Will he be more of a go-to guy this time around?
A: “No question. Rondae made a significant jump from the beginning of his freshman year to the end, and I think he’s really begun to make that same jump from the end of his freshman year to the beginning of summer, where he’s a better shooter.
“He knows how to work harder. He’s physically stronger. I think, of all our players, he might have as big of an upside from the end of last year to the beginning of this year. He’s one of a number of candidates to make a big jump. We’re anticipating him being able to do that.”
Have you seen his new tattoo (modeled from a photo taken by the Star’s Kelly Presnell?)
Do you like that he’s wearing an Arizona jersey in it?
A. “Yes. He appreciates Arizona. He enjoys being with us.”
Of all the guards you have, where does (junior college transfer) Kadeem Allen fit in?
A: “I don’t know yet. We’re not there.”
What about his offensive game in general? He had big numbers in junior college.
A: “He can score and he has a really good feel for the game. He doesn’t come to us as being physically superior and that’s why he played so well in junior college. The reason he played so well in junior college was he was a good basketball player.”
Anything new with Gabe York?
A: “Gabe had a great beginning to the summer. He was here for presession. You forget he started for the majority of the year and was a big part of our success. Gabe’s one of those guys who could certainly improve and get better.
“The starting positions are up for grabs. For me to determine that now wouldn’t be smart. Part of having good chemistry is when players know it’s been well earned, that people who start and play have really earned it.”