Saturday, May 7, 2011

Arizona coach Sean Miller says the Wildcats are 'hungry'

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Just over a month ago, Arizona's Sean Miller became just the fourth coach since the Pac-10 formed in 1978 to win the conference regular-season title within two years of his hire.

  • Sean Miller says he is excited about what lies ahead for his Arizona Wildcats.

    By Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

    Sean Miller says he is excited about what lies ahead for his Arizona Wildcats.

By Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Sean Miller says he is excited about what lies ahead for his Arizona Wildcats.

The Wildcats came within a missed three-pointer of advancing to the Final Four, and Miller was selected by conference coaches as Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Miller, along with athletic director Greg Byrne and football coach Mike Stoops recently toured the state, as part of the university's "Arizona Road Trip."

I caught up with Miller at the Phoenix stop. The obvious question: How do you replace Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams?

"With balance," Miller said. "We have seven of our top 10 guys back and it's those seven improving and having a great summer, coming in and using (last season's experience) to their advantage. ... This spring, summer and fall is an important time for a lot of guys. When you hear so much about Derrick in a positive way, I think if you're a returner on our team, you want to be able to prove that we have the ability to win without him. I think that's something very fair to say and I think we have a lot of guys working toward that."

After a golf outing, Miller addressed about 100 Arizona alumni. He talked about the importance of the "white-out" at McKale Center (watch video). He also discussed Williams, the player and person, Arizona's incoming freshmen and why he thinks it's important to play man-to-man defense.

On the effect of last season: "Any time you can win 30 games and a Pac-10 championship and get to the Elite 8, it's very fulfilling and I'll you what it does: It strikes a hunger inside of you to get back there as fast as possible and take that next step because for me, when Jamelle Horne shot that shot from the right corner in the Elite 8 game against UConn, I really thought it was going in. If it would've gone in, that would've been an incredible scene, and to be in the Final Four, I'm not so sure that there was a big difference between the other three teams and Arizona. That's what's burning in our players' insides right now as they work this spring."

On the Pac-10 Player of the Year: "Derrick Williams is the greatest kid that I've ever coached. I may never coach anyone better. There may be a tie, but I just don't think there can be a person better than him. Right now he's attending every class. At this point, he hasn't missed one. He works out every day with our team. Two days ago, I had to work a group out, and Derrick was in the group. He had Arizona stuff on. He lifted weights with the team. In today's day and age, when you sign with an agent, people are talking about $20 million, Derrick can be in any state, in any city in the country right now. Really, the world. Free of charge. But he's in Tucson because he's finishing up his second semester and he's just a great person. As much as we'll miss him as a player, we'll miss his leadership and who he is every day even more so. But he signed with an agent, and I'd conservatively say he's in the top five (of the NBA draft) and optimistically, he might be the top pick depending on how those balls bounce."

On playing zone: "People ask about that a lot. One thing I just want to say: You can play man-to-man and be versatile. I'll give you a great example. When we played Texas (in the NCAA Tournament), we trapped Tristan Thompson every time that he caught the ball. When they (dumped) the ball in the post to another player, we didn't. If you watched us play Duke, and you watch us play ball-screen defense, which all of these teams set a million ball screens, you saw us play a completely different way. We switched because Kyle Singler was on the court, so we're not much straight vanilla man-to-man. Sometimes we can be very versatile in how we play it. And I really believe that to win the national championship and to win a conference championship, to be at your very best, you have to have a team that can really be hungry playing man-to-man."

On the incoming freshmen guards: "I don't know if there's two more talented young guards in the country than Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. We're going to have great competition at the guard spot. When you watch us play, there will be times when you see three guards on the court at one time, which will really be exciting to watch. It'll be a faster pace for our offense. Josiah is a pure point guard, (and) Nick is as great of an athlete as I've ever seen at the two guard."

On incoming freshman forward Sidiki Johnson (At the time, Miller couldn't discuss forward Angelo Chol because Arizona has not yet received Chol's National Letter of Intent:) "Sidiki Johnson is a 6-foot-9 power forward/center from New York. You know, Kevin Parrom gives us toughness. Sidicki is just as tough. Sometimes when you watch us play, you need a guy who's not afraid to knock someone down or battle or do the dirty work, and you'll appreciate Sidiki being able to do that."

On next year's team: "Keep in mind that in the second half against Duke, we scored 55 points. Derrick scored three of them. A lot like I said last year, it won't be the new guys that necessarily make us a great team. It'll be the returning players. We have quite a few players who are hungry and very experienced, so I think it'll be interesting to watch the development of Solomon Hill or Kevn Parrom and even Kyryl Natyazhko. I think you'll find they'll be better players a year from now."


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