Arizona senior Kadeem Allen was asked Monday how the Wildcats managed to go 27-4 through a regular season filled with adversity.
He didn’t hesitate to answer.
“We have a man upstairs in the big office who knows what he’s doing,” Allen said. “We all believe in coach (Sean) Miller. He’s been doing this for a while. We do what we do, and what we do works.”
Apparently, Miller’s coaching peers in the Pac-12 agree. They made him the Pac-12’s coach of the year for the third time in his eight-year UA stint, in an announcement the conference made Monday.
In awards voted on by the league’s 12 coaches, UA forward Lauri Markkanen also made the Pac-12’s 10-man all-conference first team, while Allonzo Trier and Allen made the conference’s five-man second (effectively third) team.
Trier is the Wildcats’ leading scorer (16.4 points per game) and Miller said he’s “had a big impact on our success.” But he missed 19 games because of a suspension for a positive PED test, including seven in Pac-12 play, which may have hurt him in voting by the coaches.
Meanwhile, Allen was also named to the Pac-12’s five-man all-defensive team, while both Markkanen and forward Rawle Alkins were named to the Pac-12’s almost-NBA-ready all-freshman team along with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s T.J. Leaf and Washington’s Markelle Fultz.
In the conference’s other major awards, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks was named Player of the Year, Ball the Freshman of the Year and Oregon’s Jordan Bell Defensive Player of the Year. USC’s Chimezie Metu was named most improved.
None of the major awards was much of a surprise. Even though Ball led UCLA to a remarkable turnaround, Brooks’ clutch play and seniority likely gave him an edge among the coaches, while Bell’s shot-blocking, experience and athleticism have made him an intimidating defender all season.
Then there was the job Miller did dealing with two torn ACLs (Ray Smith and Talbott Denny), Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s sore ankle, three missed games by Allen (knee and dislocated pinkie) and Trier’s 19-game suspension.
All that may have given Miller the nod over Oregon’s Dana Altman and UCLA’s Steve Alford.
Miller declined to say which coach he voted for because he said there were many deserving ones. He cited the turnaround UCLA made under Alford from a 15-17 team to a national champion contender this season while noting of Altman that “you get bored talking about him because he does it every single year.”
Miller also said Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak deserved credit for going without two of his best players until December and then incorporating them into what became a fourth-place team, while adding that USC’s Andy Enfield also overcame two early departures last spring and went without standout forward Bennie Boatwright for two months because of a sprained knee.
Earlier Monday, Miller and Markkanen also received national recognition. Miller was named Bleacher Report’s national Coach of the Year, while Markkanen received third-team All-American honors by USA Today, Sporting News and NBC Sports.
While the Pac-12 awards were released after Miller was available for comment at his weekly news conference, he dished credit all across McKale Center when talking in general about the Wildcats’ success this season.
“This is by far the proudest I have been of our coaching staff and our team since I’ve been at Arizona,” said Miller, who will receive a $20,000 bonus for winning the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. “We’re in the catbird seat in terms of being 27-4 and Pac-12 champs but there were so many times from October on where we didn’t know our outcome, we really didn’t know our future, and we got hit with a lot of different things that could have derailed us but it didn’t.
“If I give my honest answer on why, it’s because of the incredible foundation and support we have here at Arizona.”
By that, Miller said he meant the athletic department and former AD Greg Byrne, associate AD Mike Ketcham, his assistant coaches, his managers, strength coach Chris Rounds, athletic trainer Justin Kokoskie and his players – especially Allen and his three talented freshmen.
“Highly recruited freshmen bring a lot of unnecessary drama; it’s just the way of the world in college basketball,” Miller said. “They brought a lot of talent with very, very little drama – Kobi (Simmons), Rawle and Lauri … and we have one senior on this year’s team and he deserves a lot of credit.
“Kadeem Allen embodies all of the qualities you would want as a coach to lead your team.”
There was one other factor Miller cited, too. That would be the Wildcat fans who sold out McKale Center for the final eight home games of the season and showed up at road games often in four-figure numbers.
“The support we have at McKale, and how we hear that U of A chant on the road, that allows us to move through some of this adversity,” Miller said.
“But we have to keep that. We can lose it from one season to the next but that’s why we’re here and hopefully it elevates us to having a great march this week and next week.”