Before Arizona beat Stanford on Sunday evening, Sean Miller walked undisturbed from McKale Center to the dedication of the $16.5 million Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center. A few heads turned — “isn’t that Sean Miller?” — but as through most of his 10 seasons in Tucson, Miller was alone in a crowd.
That’s the way he likes it.
In recent weeks, however — and especially at his Tuesday news conference — Miller mentioned how much he loved his wife and three boys, and said his 4-year-old nephew was undergoing heart surgery in Texas.
It was a brief, rare glimpse into Miller’s private life.
This is a different Miller than Tucson has seen since he arrived on campus in the spring of 2009.
He was never going to be Lute Olson, riding on a stagecoach as the grand marshal of the Tucson Rodeo Parade. But as a featured speaker at Sunday’s dedication of the Davis Center, Miller spoke from the heart about his friendship with Cole Davis, a former executive in the RV industry who has become the No. 1 donor in the history of UA sports.
“In the darkest of times over the last two years, Cole and Jeannie Davis have never left my side,” Miller said. “They have never flinched. I don’t know where I’d be or my family would be without Cole and Jeannie.”
The darkest of times. That’s a fitting and defining description of Arizona’s basketball program since the No. 2-seeded Wildcats were stunningly bounced from the 2017 Sweet 16 by Xavier.
Blowing a lead and losing a Sweet 16 game now seems like kid’s stuff.
Since then, a darkness has enveloped Miller and the UA’s $30-million-a-year basketball operation. The latest: Miller will be subpoenaed to testify in April’s basketball corruption case against Christian Dawkins, a former low-level agent/runner who has already been found guilty of multiple felony fraud charges in a previous trial.
Predictably, Miller has declined comment. Some might wonder if a better strategy might be for him to say, “I look forward to testifying in April; I’ve got nothing to hide. It’s time to put this behind us.” That’s clearly not going to happen.
After discussing Miller’s options with two Tucson attorneys this week, it appears that the postseason legal maneuvering has three components.
1. It’s not the federal government that subpoenaed Miller, it’s Dawkins. Dawkins likely believes Miller would use his skill as a public speaker to deliver powerful testimony that (a) there were never any discussions between him and Dawkins to pay players or (b) Miller would use the platform to explain that college basketball’s system is broken, a systemic problem, not something caused by Dawkins alone.
That seems to be Dawkins’ best chance at exoneration.
2. If Miller is telling the truth, being subpoenaed would go a long way to exonerate him. Not only would he be able to testify under oath that he has done no wrong, but the government would then be forced to produce whatever evidence it has against Miller.
If a tape of Miller discussing a payment exists, as Yahoo and ESPN claim, it would immediately blow up Arizona’s basketball program. If nothing comes to contradict Miller’s testimony that he’s done no wrong, the UA would surely move on without penalty — at least until an NCAA investigation is completed.
3. If Miller’s attorneys use extreme caution and instruct him to plead the fifth, he has the ability to decline. If he does take the fifth, it will look like he has something to hide. The reputation of Arizona basketball would then become something like that of Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV program of the early 1990s.
Miller’s attorneys have no right in this case to discover what evidence the government does or doesn’t have on the coach. There is significant unknown: Has Miller told his attorneys he is clean, or do he and his attorneys strongly suspect the government has some dirt that could implicate him?
If it’s the latter, Miller would be apt to take the fifth.
And beyond that, if Miller told his attorneys he is clean, do they believe him? Do they let him testify to find out what — if anything — the government has?
The government can’t compel Miller to testify, but if he does so voluntarily, all is fair game.
If Miller’s attorneys advise him to take the fifth, will he follow their advice? If he knows he’s clean, will he testify anyway knowing that taking the fifth puts a cloud over him forever?
Miller and his basketball team are in Oregon this week, playing two games that ordinarily would be considered make-or-break events.
But this year, the real make-or-break event will come long after the Wildcats play their last basketball game.