Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Why Sean Miller Belongs Among Elite Coaches

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Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Why Sean Miller Belongs Among Elite Coaches
John Miller

These were the major concerns about Sean Miller's hire at Arizona five years ago this month:

— No West Coast recruiting ties.

— No experience as a head coach at a major program after coming from, what is considered a mid-major, Xavier.

— No history of generating high-level talent that was selected in the NBA's first round.

Seems like that was more like 15 years ago instead of only five. Miller has reached third base, knocking the ball almost out of the park by answering those three significant questions without any doubt of his capability. Not even a hint. He has not reached home (a national title) yet, but how many coaches go that deep only 10 years into their career?

For every Kevin Ollie (who won the title with UConn in only his second season) there are countless others who took at least 10 years to win a title, including John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski (each of whom won their first title in their 16th year as a coach), Bob Knight (11 years), Lute Olson (24 years) and Jim Boeheim (27).

Miller's ability to recruit and lead Arizona's program like a successful CEO of an elite company has provided the players a system to develop for the next level. In today's age of instant gratificationthe era of the one-and-donesMiller's ability to produce NBA talent is one of his greatest attributes.

Nobody believed that could be written when Miller was hired April 6, 2009.

Tuesday's announcement by Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson that they will enter the NBA draft likely increases Miller's draft production to five players in his first five seasons in Tucson.

Derrick Williams was the second overall pick in 2011. Last year, Solomon Hill was a first-round pick and Grant Jerrett was a second-round selection.

Gordon will likely be Miller's second lottery pick at Arizona. If Johnson elevates his stock in workouts for NBA teams from now until the draft on June 26, he can become the coach's fourth first-round choice overall.

Lenny Ignelzi

In five seasons at Xavier, the only NBA talent Miller produced was guard Derrick Brown, a second-round choice by Charlotte in 2009. Brown lasted three seasons in the NBA, mostly with the talent-strapped Bobcats, before having to play professionally in Russia this season.

Miller's NBA production next season most likely will include four players—Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson.

That means Miller can realistically have nine Arizona players drafted in only six seasons.

The late Fred Snowden produced five NBA draft picks in the first two rounds (the standard today) in his 10 years with Arizona. Why that feat is significant: The highest an Arizona player was drafted in the NBA before Snowden's arrival in 1972 was Warren Rustand in the fourth round in 1965.

Olson produced 32 NBA draft picks in the first two rounds in his 24 years at Arizona (although Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger concluded their Arizona careers in 2008 and 2009 under interim coaches).

Olson's most significant run of NBA production in a six-year span was 13 players drafted in the first two rounds from 1996 to 2001.

Arizona is tied with Duke and Kentucky with the most draft picks (36) since 1988. Arizona should stay near the top of that list with Miller as coach.

The product of that success: Recruiting at the highest level. Kids who are in the eighth and ninth grade will want to be the next Gordon. Tyler Dorsey, a Class of 2015 5-star guard from Los Angeles, has already pledged to Arizona despite not experiencing the entire recruiting process, including official visits.

Denis Poroy

That's because fellow California headliners Gordon and Stanley Johnson are NBA players in the making with Miller as head coach.

John Calipari is not who he is because of a roster full of seniors or role players. The best coaches of today reload instead of rebuild. Miller belongs in that group along with Calipari, Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, etc.

Miller is in uncharted territory with Gordon being his first one-and-done (or "succeed and proceed" as Calipari puts it) talent.

Believe it or not, Miller has more versatility with Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson playing the inside-outside game in which Gordon played in dominating fashion late in the season.

Gordon said appropriately Tuesday during a press conference at McKale Center in Tucson: "Arizona is going to be successful with or without me. That's just the nature of the program."

Arizona is no longer sink-or-swim after losing talented players like the Wildcats were after losing Williams after his sophomore season in the 2011 draft. After that season, the Wildcats lost in the first round of the NIT.

"One of the things that Derrick Williams did for us is somebody like Aaron Gordon came here because of Derrick Williams," Miller said in the press conference. "He watched what happened to Derrick in two years, how much he improved. He became the No. 2 pick. He's part of the NBA. Same thing for Solomon.

"And in our case, the same thing for so many players. You watched Channing Frye play last night in a real pivotal game. He's one of ours. You're going to watch Andre Iguodala play in the NBA playoffs. Solomon Hill can win the NBA championship with the Pacers.

"All of that is a big picture and that's why you talk about a player's program. If you do it right by those guys, they may leave early but they're gonna have far more of an impact if they're successful than whether they stay here for an extra year. It's up to us to continue to recruit, to make sure we know they're not going to be here very long in certain cases."

Miller and his staff know they are in that situation. Miller also knows he is now in position of going to the batter's box each year with the confidence of touching them all.

 

Read Javier Morales' blogs at AllSportsTucson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JavierJMorales

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