For a guy who constantly preaches that team success will lead to individual honors, Sean Miller had to be a pretty happy coach today.
And he was.
“You have that start-to-finish special season that we’ve had to this point, and you always say to the players that the individual accolades will follow,” Miller said. “And it’s really nice to see that come true today.”
But Miller, whose Wildcats dominated the Pac-12 awards announced today, couldn’t help but notice that one of his key players was nowhere to be found. Miller was the coach of the year, Nick Johnson was player of the year, Aaron Gordon was freshman of the year, T.J. McConnell was second-team all-Pac-12, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was on the all-freshman team and Kaleb Tarczewski… wasn’t on the list anywhere.
“You want to be even greedier,” Miller said today, during his weekly McKale Center news conference. “I would have loved to have had Kaleb be a part of something. I think he was in the running for most improved (Stanford’s Anthony Brown), was in the running for all defensive team (McConnell and Johnson were among the five) and might have been close to being an all-conference player. But I think the best is yet to come for him and no question, he’s a big part of what we’ve done as well.”
Miller was also surprised that Gordon was not named to the all-defensive team. When told that McConnell and Johnson were, but not Gordon, Miller said:
“Wow. I didn’t realize that. We could have put four guys on that team. … Aaron and Kaleb could have clearly been on that. But you can’t put ‘em all on.”
Here’s the rundown of what Miller said about the honors for Johnson, Gordon and McConnell:
“Nick Johnson is very deserving. … There are Kyle Anderson and Delon Wright; there are a number of individually really talented players in our conference and statistically they may even stand out more. But Nick’s meaning to our team’s success, you can’t put a value on because it not only happens on the court but it also happens off the court. He’s our natural leader. And he’s had an outstanding season, not only inside the Pac-12 but if you think about what he did prior to the Pac-12, being the MVP of the NIT, for example. He’s been there from start to finish. So I’m happy that he’s being rewarded for his outstanding regular season.
“Same with Aaron Gordon. The reason you speak so fondly of him isn’t just his statistics. There may be some other freshmen in the country that statistically stand out even more but what Aaron means to our program in terms of his humility and unselfishness… coming in so decorated from high school to college and him being such an easy guy to coach, such a great teammate, has been one of the many things that heave helped us have such a great season. To see him rewarded is equally well deserving.”
With regard to McConnell, “The coaches in our conference recognize his value as much as anybody because he just makes the game easier for his teammates. I’m happy for him and ditto for Rondae Jefferson. No question not only in our conference but I think Rondae has established himself as one of the best freshmen in the country.”
Johnson said his goal entering the season was actually to win the Pac-12 Defensive player of the Year, an honor that went to ASU’s shot-swatting Jordan Bachynski, but instead earned an honor he was pretty happy about.
“It’s a great honor,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Gordon said he awoke to “a bunch of congratulatory texts and it just warmed my spirit,” but said it might take a while to sink in.
“Maybe next year or later down the road I can look back and know it was a great accolade I just acheived,” he said.
Johnson said the Wildcats still have “things to prove” in the Pac-12 Tournament this week, having never won it during his college career. But when Gordon was asked if he’s been told what to expect, he cracked up the room when said:
“I know he touched the ball,” Gordon said. “That’s pretty much the one thing I know about the Pac-12 Tournament.”
Gordon, of course, was referring to Miller’s postgame rant about a technical foul called on Mark Lyons against UCLA, leading to a technical on Miller, which later was tied to the officiating controversy that led to the resignation of officials coordinator Ed Rush.
Miller initially disputed a turnover call on Lyons with 4:37 left because he believed a UCLA player touched the ball.
The Wildcats ended up losing 66-64 after leading by 11 points in the second half, and Miller vehemently protested during and after the game.
“The reason I got a technical foul is because I said, `He touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball,’ “ Miller said after the game. “That's a hard one now when you work August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and here we are.”