On a summer day in 1976, 14-year-old Ron Everhart laced up his high-tops at a local Fairmont, West Virginia basketball camp. The camp scheduled a special guest for the day to put on a ball-handling exhibition for the campers.
A 7-year-old kid from Ellwood City, Penn., came in and put on a show as he dribbled through his legs and around the back like few other players at that age.
“I just remember him being a phenomenal ball-handler,” Everhart recalled. “He was really young. It was a real interesting deal. He used to do halftime shows and stuff.”
That 7-year-old boy is now 42, Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
Everhart is now 49, and the head coach at Duquesne.
And since that first encounter in 1976, Everhart and the former dribbling sensation have developed a longstanding friendship as they came through the ranks as coaches and players in the Northeast.
“There’s a lot of admiration and respect for Sean and what he’s done,” Everhart said. “Not just as a basketball coach but earlier on as a basketball player.”
After successful playing careers — Miller at Pittsburgh and Everhart at Virginia Tech — Miller and Everhart both shot up the coaching ranks. They both had short stints at several programs, but ultimately ended up in the Atlantic 10 Conference, with Miller at Xavier and Everhart at Duquesne.
Miller’s Musketeers were the more heralded program, and won the majority of their games against Everhart’s Dukes. But the last time Miller and Everhart faced off, Duquesne got the best of Xavier, upsetting the No. 9 Musketeers on Feb. 7, 2009. Those battles against Everhart from 2006-09 left a lasting impression on Miller.
“He’s a really good coach. You’ll see that first hand,” Miller said of Everhart. “It’s never fun to play Duquesne and when we were at Xavier, we had some great teams, teams that could have gone to the Final Four and Duquesne has always played us very, very tough.”
Tonight in McKale Center, Everhart and Miller will meet again. Miller has more talent than he did at Xavier, and Everhart is working with a young, undersized squad.
“It’s going to be a war,” Everhart said on Monday. “Like going to the dentist with a bunch of cavities. It’s going to be hard as hell. It’s always tough.”
A Miller look-a-like
Arizona will have to deal with a Duquesne team that employs a full-court press for the entire game. While the Wildcats need a solution for the constant ball pressure, they’ll also have to deal with sophomore point guard TJ McConnell.
“I think he’s one of the best point guards in the country,” Miller said. “He’s the consummate point guard. He makes his team better. Just my familiarity with Duquesne and the success they have in the Atlantic 10, he’s a really good player that will test our point guards.”
Miller knew of McConnell, a Western Pittsburgh product, at a young age. And it’s no coincidence that Miller likes the 6-foot-1 point guard, and his style of play.
“I’ll be honest with you. TJ reminded me a lot of Sean when I first saw him,” Everhart said. “TJ comes from the same sort of family environment that Sean does, and I’ll tell you that was very attractive to me as a coach because I had seen how successful Sean and Archie have been.
“If you go back and you watch old University of Pittsburgh clips, there are a whole lot of similarities.”
McConnell, who averaged 10.8 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 steals last season as a freshman, said he models his game after the Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash. But he certainly knows of Miller, and his father John Miller.
McConnell, like Miller, is a perfectionist. He’s out to one day live up to the title Miller gave him as the top point guard in the nation, a determination that stems from his lack of recruitment out of high school.
Duquesne was the only school to recruit the point guard, leaving a chip on his shoulder that won’t come off. McConnell first talked about how only getting one college offer didn’t bother him, before he said, “Actually I go out there every night and play like I have something to prove.”
Between the Miller-Everhart connection and the Miller-McConnell comparison, tonight’s game is more than just an early-season game.
But if Everhart had it his way, his Dukes would have stayed as far away from Tucson as possible.
“If it was up to me, I would never play Sean again,” Everhart said with a smile. “That’s my take on it.”