PHILLY –Just a couple of months ago, Sean Miller was the head coach of a Xavier team that had become a perennial NCAA Tournament fixture.
But in April, Miller shifted addresses, moving from Cincinnati to Arizona, where he became the heir to a program Lute Olson built into a perennial national powerhouse.
Arizona won the 1997 NCAA championship under Olson and has appeared in three other Final Fours.
“I’m fortunate,” Miller said at the recent Reebok All-American Camp. “One thing about college basketball, it changes so dramatically with winning and success. And our success at Xavier and so many of the players that did it, they’re the people that really helped me and our staff get the opportunity at Arizona.”
Miller becomes the fourth coach in four seasons at Arizona, following Olson, Kevin O’Neill (now at USC) and interim coach Russ Pennell.
“I don’t know a whole lot about our team at Arizona for obvious reasons,” Miller said. “We have an incoming class that I feel good bout but none of those guys have ever played college basketball.”
That class includes five players: small forward Derrick Williams of La Mirada, Calif.; New York guards Kevin Parrom and Lamont “Momo” Jones (pictured); Los Angeles small forward Solomon Hill; and Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy center Kyryl Natyazhko, a native of the Ukraine.
Three of those players — Williams, Jones and Hill — initially committed to Southern Cal, but Jones and Williams changed their minds in the wake of the O.J. Mayo scandal that saw former USC coach Tim Floyd step down.
“Our focus right now is to continue to build our program through recruiting the right people and balancing one class after the next and hopefully adding depth to our team,” Miller said.
Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson also recruited Brooklyn star Lance Stephenson, but Stephenson ended up choosing Cincinnati.
It appears that Miller was more guarded about recruiting Stephenson, who carried a lot of baggage with his sexual assault case, Internet reality series and highly involved father.
“We’re trying to take a broad scope of being smart,” Miller said. “Sometimes the mistakes that can really haunt you are the ones you make in a rush or right when you first get to a place.
“As best we can and it’s imperfect we’re trying to have a plan for three years, five years to make sure the decisions we make take care of us at that point.”
Richardson gives the ‘Cats entree to the fertile New York/New Jersey recruiting ground, but Miller was quick to emphasize that A) Arizona recruits nationally; and B) Richardson can flat out coach.
“The Arizona brand established through Coach Olson in an unbelievable 25-year run has allowed Arizona to have players from all places in our country,” Miller said
“Khalid Reeves was from New York City, Michael Wright was from Chicago and Jordan Hill is from Atlanta.”
On Richardson as a coach, Miller said:
“Book is an excellent coach. He’s great with people. Just to label him as a recruiter or to specifically give him New York, his relationship goes well beyond that. I think he’s going to be an effective recruiter anywhere in the country and particularly back here because of his strong ties. But he’s also a very good basketball coach and there’s nobody better at guiding players as part of Arizona.
“He has a gift in really being able to make them feel comfortable and helping them and guiding them.”
Arizona lost Chase Budinger and Hill to the NBA, but returns senior point guard Nic Wise, who made himself eligible for the NBA Draft on April 16 but did not hire an agent. Wise averaged 15.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in 35 appearances this past season.
“Nic Wise is the most established player that we have and I think he’ll be one of the better point guards in our conference,” Miller said.
Jones, out of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, is skilled enough to spell Wise at the point or share the backcourt with him.
“He’s physically mature enough right now as a freshman to have an impact as a freshman,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “I think he fits in with their plans. If they want him to score he can do that because he shoots it so well. If they want him to run their team, he can do that, too.”
Arizona also returns 6-6 junior forward Jamelle Horne, who averaged 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“You have several players that just haven’t had the opportunity to play but any one of them could blossom,” Miller said. “There’s just a lot of newness, a lot of unknowns. All of them are going to have to adjust to a new coach and new staff.”