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When it comes to Colorado's budding star, Archie Miller's loss is Sean Miller's pain
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Arizona Basketball

When it comes to Colorado's budding star, Archie Miller's loss is Sean Miller's pain

A day after Colorado freshman guard McKinley Wright dropped 21 points and six assists on Iowa last month — and just five days after Indiana lost at home to Fort Wayne — a long thread started growing on the “Hoosier Sports Nation” website.

It was titled “Why didn’t Archie go after McKinley Wright?”

It’s a question that probably haunts Archie Miller, the former UA associate head coach who was then just 7-6 in his first season with the Indiana Hoosiers … and it’s a question that now also haunts his brother, Sean.

Because Wright, a Dayton signee who flipped to Colorado after Archie left for Indiana last spring, had 16 points and 10 assists while leading the Buffaloes to an 80-77 win over Arizona on Jan. 6 in Boulder.

Wright also provided some pretty instrumental glue and passion in what was the Wildcats’ only loss in their past 14 games.

“McKinley Wright, for such a young kid, it’s amazing, you can just see in his face how he plays,” Sean Miller said. “He’s just that special player who can make his teammates better. Usually you say that about an older guy, but for such a young player, that’s a great characteristic. You can really feel that when you play Colorado.”

Sean Miller said this week only that he didn’t “know the dynamics of it all” regarding Wright’s decision to play for Colorado, but the bottom line was that Wright was supposed to be in his brother’s care this season, far away from his Wildcats.

If he wanted to, Sean Miller could blame it on Archie for leaving Dayton, or even for the longer deadline college players were given in 2016 to decide whether or not they want to turn pro.

When Archie Miller took over Indiana, he inherited a crowded roster with no departing seniors and three incoming signees. He persuaded all of the signees to stay with Indiana, and the Hoosiers had four players who had stuck their toes into the NBA draft pool.

That meant there would be room for Wright if they all left for good, and Wright told a Minneapolis reporter in late March he had a spot at Indiana if he wanted one.

Eventually, all of the Hoosiers on the fence did leave for pro ball. But the new rule gave them until late May to decide, and Wright said he didn’t want to wait that long.

Meanwhile, his stock was rising after winning Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award as a high school senior in Minneapolis. Some 15 schools were in his ear, and Colorado’s Tad Boyle had a particularly compelling pitch: The Buffs had just helped develop Derrick White into the No. 29 pick of the 2017 NBA draft and needed a new point guard, badly.

At Indiana, even if roster spots opened up, guaranteed playing time might not.

Colorado could virtually guarantee both.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to go there,” Wright said of Indiana. “They had (guard) James Blackmon and (center) Thomas Bryant enter the draft, but they didn’t sign with an agent, and they were eligible to come back. And I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity like this, so I just took the best opportunity.”

He took it and ran. Wright’s Dec. 6 performance was only one data point: He also had 19 points, five assists and two steals in the Buffs’ Dec. 4 win over ASU, and the two performances earned him the Jan. 8 Pac-12 Player of the Week award.

Overall in Pac-12 games so far, Wright is No. 2 in assists (6.1) behind only USC’s Jordan McLaughlin, while he’s also averaging 12.1 points.

“He’s been a great addition to Colorado and the Pac-12,” Miller said.

Boyle was counting on it happening, especially after seeing the way Wright played and behaved during an exhibition trip to Italy last summer.

He told the Star in August that Wright was “going to be a big, big part of this year’s team,” and that he could be one of Colorado’s best-ever guards.

A day before Colorado beat Arizona earlier this month, before CU wing George King began accelerating his production, Boyle was leaning particularly hard on Wright for that role.

He was not disappointed.

“He’s better than expected,” Boyle said then. “His intangibles. … it’s just all the little things. He can pass, he can dribble, he can shoot. He’s still learning the game obviously, but I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.

“He is our engine. Our guys feed off him, and when he’s not good, we’re not good. Now, it shouldn’t be that way.

“That’s a lot of stuff to put on a freshman’s shoulders, but he embraces it, he accepts it. He understands it.”

Immediately, he did. King and guard Dom Collier, the Buffs’ senior combo guard, made his role clear when Wright visited Boulder during his re-opened recruitment last spring.

“George and Dom and those guys told me if I came here, the ball’s gonna be in my hands,” Wright said in Boulder on Jan. 5. “They said they were gonna trust me, that I’m the point guard. Those guys believed in me from Day 1, and that just made my confidence go from 50 to 100.”

At the time, Wright was also considering Tennessee, Butler, Western Kentucky and a few other schools, but he didn’t bother to visit any of them.

He was sold.

“It was a very fast recruitment,” Wright said. “I didn’t really get a chance to get to know (Boyle), but he told me I had a chance to make an impact as a freshman. So I put my trust in him, and he’s put his trust in me so far. It’s what I expected from his word from the first day I met him.”

Wright doesn’t have any complaints off the court, either. Sure, it’s cold in Boulder sometimes, but Wright is from Minnesota, after all.

“These people here are very friendly, they’re loving, and the city’s amazing,” Wright said. “You get to wake up to the mounts every day. It’s a beautiful sight. I’m very happy I made the decision to come to Colorado.”

The Miller brothers will just have to deal with the consequences.

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