ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nick Johnson sat in the middle of a locker room that would never be the same, but he wasn’t ready to contemplate that.
For the last month, he had successfully pushed to get six other teammates to live together and was at the center of the Wildcats’ chemistry during their 33-win season.
So when he was asked how tough it was to consider who might be gone (including him) he didn’t answer it.
“We’re not really thinking about that right now,” Johnson said. “This is what our whole lives have been working for, for this moment, especially this time we came together with one goal in mind: To work hard and progress so we would get to this point and get past it.”
Similarly, Johnson declined to say much about what his plans would be in the future, though he is projected to jump into the 2014 NBA draft.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” he said. “When it gets down to it, I’ll talk to my family, talk to coach and see what’s best for me. I’m a finisher. I don’t like setting my mind on something and not doing it. So this one definitely hurts.”
Players will have until April 27 to privately explore and declare for the NBA draft (although if they declare publicly, they only have until April 15 to state they will return to school), and Miller said he intends to help his underclassmen that will be thinking about leaving.
That includes, most likely, Aaron Gordon, Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“The protocol that I would like them to go through is certainly make the best decision for them,” Miller said. “But we're lucky we have great families surrounding our players. We have a coaching staff, and I just want to make sure that they have all of the information, and if that information checks out and they'd like to go, great. But don't make a rush decision one way or the other, because it's too important.”
Gordon, who declined to say what he is thinking, is widely expected to leave as a mid-lottery prospect but Miller said he expects Gordon and those around him would think carefully.
“Aaron has an incredible family,” Miller said. “He's very bright, and I know that he'll take his time with his family. And when they get the right information, they'll make the best decision for Aaron, which is what they should do.
"I don't know if you could ever coach a kid that you love more than him. For somebody who comes in at the age (18) into Arizona, for how he practiced every day, how great of a teammate he is, it's remarkable. ... he's the ultimate winner, the ultimate teammate.”
Through all the pain of Saturday’s finish, Johnson and several of the Wildcats said they still believed they had a successful season, winning the Pac-12 and 33 total games while having to re-create themselves after the midseason loss of Brandon Ashley.
Their coach made sure of that, telling them the positives during a postgame speech, according to several players.
Of course, Miller said during postgame interviews, that doesn’t make the immediate reality much easier to bear.
“It takes some time” to get over, Miller said. “I wish I could say that on the flight home ‘I'm good,’ but when you get to this level, you have a lot behind you, seven months of hard work and a great team, a team that we all know can get to a Final Four. You get to that overtime and you're right here, it's disappointing. It's not just disappointing for the coach, it's disappointing for the players too.
“So I think it will take some time for us to get over it. But this year has done nothing but brighten our future. Again, I'm so proud of the effort we had, and we lost to a really, really good team. I hope they win it all. I really do.”