Arizona Basketball

What is next for Sean Miller with USA Basketball?


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(USA Basketball photo)

(USA Basketball photo)

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Sean Miller coaching the U.S. national team to the gold medal today in the FIBA U19 World Championships prompts this question:

What’s in store for him with his international coaching career?

The answer: This could be it.

History dictates no certain path exists to the top of Team USA.

Pitt’s Jamie Dixon coached the U.S. national team to the gold medal in 2009 in the same event Miller’s team won today. Billy Donovan won the gold in 2013 with up-and-coming coaches Tony Bennett and Shaka Smart as his assistants.

Miller is in the headlines today while Dixon, Bennett and Smart are on nobody’s mind. Donovan was originally slated to coach the team but was hired by Oklahoma City at a time when the Thunder prepared for the NBA draft. That was Miller’s break.

Will Miller get off the carousel now?

Lute Olson coached the U.S. national team to the 1986 FIBA World Championship, the last time a team comprised of American collegians won a gold medal at the highest level of international competition.

Olson did not coach another game for USA Basketball.

Miller coached the highest age level of U.S. amateur talent in Greece over the last 10 days.

Georgetown’s John Thompson was selected as the U.S. coach for the 1988 Olympics team by a 16-member panel of the American Basketball Association. The selection was made on May 16, 1986, two months before Olson coached Team USA to the gold medal in Madrid, Spain, over a veteran Russian team that included 7’2″ center Arvidas Sabonis.

Thompson decided to field a team void of shooters and overloaded with defensive talent for the 1988 Seoul Games. He opted to leave at home Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott — two members of the 1986 team coached by Olson. He kept instead defensive perimeter players like Stacey Augmon and Jeff Grayer.

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The U.S. finished with a bronze, the first time it did not earn at least a silver medal in the Olympics. That performance spurred the United States’ push to allow NBA players to compete in the 1992 Barcelona Games. Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly was selected as coach of the first Dream Team.

NBA coaches Lenny Wilkins (1996), Rudy Tomjanovich (2000) and Larry Brown (2004) were chosen as head coaches for the national team in the following three Olympics. Olson did not stand a chance even after winning the 1997 NCAA title.

Another bronze medal for Team USA, with Brown’s team faltering in Greece, forced another change.

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A year later in 2005, former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was given the title of managing director of the U.S. men’s national team. He hired Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski from the college ranks. The pair has ruled the U.S. national team since.

A lack of success in international basketball did not adversely affect Krzyzewski becoming the U.S. Olympic coach in 2008.

In Krzyzewski’s first four stints as a Team USA head coach he won two silver medals (1987 World University Games and 1990 Goodwill Games) and two bronze medals, including the 1990 FIBA World Championships four years after Olson won the gold in that event. The other bronze was in his first international competition after Colangelo hired him, the 2006 FIBA World Championships.

When the U.S. was taken to overtime by Croatia today, this thought must have entered the minds of many: If Miller loses this game, he loses a chance at coaching the U.S. national team in the future.

Nobody told that to Krzyzewski when he was 0-4 coaching for the gold in 1987 through 2006. His success at Duke was the overriding factor.

“It’s an incredible experience. First of all you’re representing the USA and we all know what that means. But you also represent everybody in the USA in terms of basketball – coaches, players alike. So you have great responsibility, a lot of pressure on your shoulders to deliver. I’m really happy for our staff. We worked hard together for 23 days and our players and everybody associated with it – job well done and we feel good. We’re headed home now with the gold.”
— Sean Miller after coaching Team USA to the FIBA U19 World Championship title

The 2016 Olympics in Brazil figure to be Krzyzewski’s last stand, especially considering he was to coach only until the 2008 Beijing Games.

Who will coach Team USA beginning with the 2018 FIBA World Championships if it is not Krzyzewski?

Donovan, Gregg Popovich and Tom Izzo have been mentioned as possibilities. Much like Krzyzewski, those three coaches have built a long-standing successful resume with championships outside of international competition.

Izzo’s only head coaching experience for Team USA was a fourth-place finish at the 2003 Pan American Games.

That does not matter, just like Miller’s gold medal today is not a factor when it comes to deciding the U.S. national team coach after Krzyzewski.

Miller’s accomplishment today builds his image, as one of college basketball’s best, with an Arizona program he yearns to take to the Final Four and win an NCAA title.

After that happens, with multiple Final Four appearances, then we can talk about him coaching the U.S. national team.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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