Where might the Miller brothers go? Might they end up hurled into the same bracket? It’s one of the themes of March, circa 2015.
Yet even while lumped in biologically, they’re at separate stages chronologically, because they always have been. Sean Miller, at 46, is the one who has nibbled at the Final Four enough that last March he said, “I know I’m the coach that’s been to three Elite Eights, but I have been to three Elite Eights, and I’m really proud of all three of them. It’s not easy to get to the Elite Eight.” And Archie Miller, at 36, is the one who said of last March, “I mean, it gives me the confidence that what we do works.”
That’s when Dayton came disguised as a No. 11 seed yet didn’t get pruned until it slammed into overall No. 1 Florida. That’s when people other than college basketball intellectuals found out about Archie as a coach, with perhaps some normal people remembering he played point guard at North Carolina State until 2002, but few keeping track of his assistant stops at Western Kentucky, North Carolina State, Arizona State, Ohio State and his brother’s Arizona before reaching Dayton in 2011 at age 32.
That’s one thing about the Miller brothers: They aren’t brothers who scrapped growing up. That would have been irresponsible.
“We didn’t grow up in the house together two years apart and the backyard,” Archie Miller said. “He’s 10 years older than me. He went to Pitt when I was a youngster coming up in grade school and middle school, and I basically look at him sort of as the role model, the guy whom to be like, the guy who to call when you need something, the one that helped you get to where you wanted to get to.
“So it’s a much different relationship in that way. Now that we’re both head coaches and he’s been doing it for so long, to me he speaks to me, and I think he encourages me to do a lot more positive things with our team, and stuff, just thinking back to his early years. He’s a great reference. But no, we’re not that brotherly relationship that’s like that. We’re much different. He’s much more of a guy that I look for wisdom and knowledge from than anything else.”
They also ply the obsession they picked up from their father, the Pennsylvania high school coaching Rushmore figure John Miller. So if there was one impression that settled in last March, it’s that there wasn’t a whole lot of phone-to-phone chitchat going on. (“It’s been very difficult to communicate with anybody right now,” Archie Miller said last March.) For one thing, that could detract from film study.
“And Archie just, he really works hard at scouting,” said Dyshawn Pierre, Dayton’s Canadian forward. “He’s really a part of everything. He’s part of us. He scouts. He does everything. He’s not one of those coaches who just kind of, he’s not just out there coaching, calling the plays. Behind the scenes, he’s really caring . . . He knows what’s going on all the time.
“And I think that’s what really sets him apart from some other coaches. He’ll literally sit in a room and watch film for hours and hours and break every little thing down, tell us what this guy likes to do well, what they like to do well as a team. It’s on us to listen and we try to listen as much as possible. We have a lot of respect for him and he has a lot of respect for us.”
“You know something,” guard Kyle Davis said, “I think Coach is good at this because he’s been in good situations, you know. Coming from Ohio State and then being with his brother at Arizona, then coming here, just getting a group of guys ready.”
Through attrition that included the dismissal of two players for rules violations in December, this Dayton team has come all the way to 25-7 as of Sunday morning, to a No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10, to an NCAA Tournament “lock” status regardless of what happens against Virginia Commonwealth in the final. It fought through gooey tournament tussles with St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island.
“What you have to do at this time of year,” the veteran Archie Miller said, “is you have to be so stubborn in your way is better, you can win, but you can’t panic if it’s not. And that’s where a hard-fought win, doing what we do, just doing it better every day, we’re playing harder in certain areas: ‘Don’t change. Don’t react. Don’t panic. Get better at what you’re doing.’”
As Sunday reached New York, Saturday kept going in Las Vegas, with Arizona looking very much the titan its fans have come to expect. Its 80-52 obliteration of Oregon in the Pac-12 final made Arizona 31-3, with Brandon Ashley as tournament Most Outstanding Player. “It seems like everybody is just clicking, and we’re all starting to develop extremely great chemistry,” Ashley said in Las Vegas.
So Sean Miller lives at a different plane, as always thus far. He coaches a team that has Ashley while following the team that went 33-5 last year without Ashley. Archie Miller said last March, “I was sick to my stomach when Brandon broke his foot. I thought they had a chance to win the national championship.” Instead, they went to overtime with Wisconsin in the West Regional final, after which Sean Miller who, as a Miller, appreciates coaches, began with, “I’m really happy for Bo Ryan.”
In the Las Vegas wee hours, Sean Miller said at the press conference, “Listen, we talk a lot about last year’s team. We had a great team. You think about it, we were a bounce away from being in the Final Four. Our record was 33-5 . . . We were a man short last year with Brandon going down. If you can imagine Brandon playing like this on last year’s team, what we could have done. But that’s last year. We’re healthy this year, and some of the things that we know we’re very good at, we have to be ourselves and take them into this (NCAA) tournament.”
And with that, attention shifted back to Brooklyn, Miller-wise.
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