University of Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller, held a virtual press conference on Thursday, Oct. 22 for the first time since June. Here are some highlights.
No update on notice of allegations
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated reported earlier that the school was expected to receive a formal Notice of Allegations from the NCAA Thursday.
UA has been under the spotlight since 2017 when the first investigation started. Former Wildcat assistant coach Book Richardson was arrested and pleaded guilty for accepting bribes from agent Christian Dawkins. Richardson was an assistant coach under Miller for eight seasons at Arizona and two years at Xavier.
When asked about if the university has received any allegations against its basketball program, Miller didn’t answer any questions in his virtual press conference.
“I am not going to comment on anything that is around an investigation,” Miller said.
The question still remains what the consequences will be for this basketball program after people within the program violated many NCAA rules a few years ago.
Lack of experience
This year, coach Miller has had to take a totally new and different approach going into the season. The Wildcats only have two returning players from last year’s team, meaning that there are 11 new scholarship players that are new to the program this season.
“For us that’s what we don’t have this year, great experience,” Miller said. “It might be the least experienced team I’ve ever coached.”
Four of the seven incoming freshmen have never played any basketball in the United States. It is going to take time for these guys to learn the rules of NCAA basketball and to mesh with their teammates varying styles of play.
“The reason we got so many this year is because of our high number of turnovers, three freshmen declare for the draft,” Miller said. “I love the international guys we have, they all come from basketball backgrounds. This class will impact our program's future in a big, big way.”
A strong statement from Miller as he has coached a lot of incredible recruiting classes through his time in Tucson. This year’s recruiting class is a very talented group while being very inexperienced while playing together. Over the past five years, it has shown in college basketball that experienced and older teams will end up winning and going the farthest in the March Madness tournament.
“Experience plus talent usually rises to the top,” Miller said.
Multiple ball handlers
The Wildcats have a lot of versatile guards/wings who can play different positions on the court — and Miller would certainly agree.
“We have the ability to play three guards, but we aren’t married to a lineup,” Miller said.
Miller said that redshirt junior, Jamarl Baker, will see most of his time at the shooting guard position this season but will still handle the ball sometimes on offense. It also sounds like James Akinjo and Kerr Kriisa will handle most of the point guard duties this year while they will look towards Terrell Brown to complement them with his scoring ability.
“When I talk about a three-guard lineup — It’s Jamarl Baker, James Akinjo, and Terrell Brown,” Miller said.
Lute Olson’s impact on the team
Back in late August, the Arizona and basketball communities mourned the loss of legendary coach Lute Olson. Olson was the heart of not only Arizona basketball but the city of Tucson.
Olson displayed what it was to be a winner and great coach at the highest level. He coached the Wildcats for 25 years and made the NCAA Tournament every year besides one, while making it to four NCAA Final Fours, three elite eights and leading Arizona to their first National Championship.
Coach Miller has always looked up to him as he was a reason to continue his legacy after leaving his job at Xavier. Olson set a very high standard for the Arizona basketball program that the players, coaches and fans still look up to today.
“I think coach [Olson] was one of the great coaches of any sport during his lifetime,” Miller said. “What he did here for three decades it’s hard to believe that it can ever be repeated. It’s not just the final fours, it's the family atmosphere he cultivated between all the players he coached and throughout the community here in Tucson.”
Home court advantage
Arizona has led the Pac-12 in attendance for over 30 years and it will hurt this Wildcat team more than others while missing out seeing their fans in the stands this season. It will certainly be weird to not see a packed McKale Center with 14,000 plus fans going crazy for their beloved Wildcats this season.
“I feel incredibly bad for our players,” Miller said.” Young players want to come to a community where they care about college basketball. It’s a big reason you want to come be a part of our program,” Miller said. “Home court advantage in college basketball is really important.”
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