Sean Miller's intensity fuels Arizona into the NCAA Tournament
Reporter: Jason Barr, Sports Director
TUCSON (AP) Arms waving in and out, eyebrows raising up and down, Arizona coach Sean Miller repeats the same line five times in rapid-fire fashion, his voice rising as he continues.
“He touched the ball, he touched the ball, he touched the ball, he touched the ball, HE TOUCHED THE BALL!” Miller said, pausing for a smile that was closer to evil than happy. “That’s a hard one when you work August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and here we are.”
It had been more than 20 minutes since Miller’s Wildcats had lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, plenty of time for the coach to cool off.
Yet, as he wound his way through the postgame press conference, Miller was still wound up about a technical foul he received for questioning a double-dribble call on senior Mark Lyons, a whistle he still believed wasn’t warranted.
The moment was quintessential Miller.
Raised by a hard-nosed basketball coach in hardscrabble western Pennsylvania, he played with an edge and coaches the same way.
Even in the high-intensity world of college basketball coaches, Miller stands out, a can’t-stand-losing mentality driving him to become one of the best in his business.
The Twitter bio of Miller’s wife, Amy, says it all: “Wrangler of 3 boys and wife to a very intense guy.”
“He’s a competitor,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said. “And that’s makes him who he is.”
It’s what Miller has always been.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., he grew up in a blue-collar area about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh where hugs were hard to come by and dirt under the nails was how things got done.
Miller’s father, John, was a legendary coach high school coach who led Blackhawk High School to four state titles and 111-game winning streak. A no-nonsense coach and father, John helped develop all three of his kids — Sean, Archie, now the head coach at Dayton and Lisa — into Division I players along with helping to groom his cousin, John Calipari, now the head coach at Kentucky.
After an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as a 14-year-old — a star turn he doesn’t particularly like to talk about — Sean Miller achieved his lifelong goal of becoming a Division I player by walking on at Pittsburgh.
But Miller didn’t just make the team.
Using his knowledge of the game, communication skills and unquenched desire to outwork everyone, he became starting point guard and de facto leader as a freshman on a team that included future NBA players Jerome Lane and Charles Smith
A gritty player who never backed down from any person or any challenge, Miller led the Panthers to the NCAA tournament three times and was 10th in career free throw percentage in Division I history when he graduated in 1992.
“Having the opportunity to play in the Big East when I did and who I was, it was tough to survive,” Miller said. “You had to be able to do it and if you’ve learned how to survive in this game, as you become a coach, you have a lot of those same qualities.”
Miller’s inner drive kept fueling success once he became a coach.
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