Arizona coach Sean Miller started his preseason press conference with a statement: he stands by his statement in standing with the investigation and the allegations as it continues to proceed. He added he’ll continue to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. You heard it a couple of days before.
He added he’d attempt to bring the UA “the most successful basketball season we can possibly have this year.”
And so it began, for 36 minutes, Miller, flanked by two of his best players Dusan Ristic and Allonzo Trier, took on what was light fullcourt press on Wednesday afternoon. Yet, he continued to say he’d only address basketball questions, obliging for others a time or two in terms of how he feels and how the team has reacted and how it’ll handle the “noise” that it has created since the news broke that his longtime assistant Book Richardson was under an FBI investigation for bribery and fraud related to recruiting involving agents and a shoe company.
In reality, the season is almost secondary because the investigation will weigh heavily on the season until it is complete. And who knows when that will be, although the best guess is it’ll take a while … a long while.
Arizona athletic direct Dave Heeke, who attended the press conference, said he didn’t know how long the investigation would last but did say that UA has been in contact with the NCAA and “they are as well surprised and looking for some directions themselves. So, yes, we’ve been in touch with them.”
He called the situation a “unique” one. And later a “very serious one, no question.”
His comments came shortly after Miller had just finished his press conference saying he was preparing for what he hoped was a “special year.”
There were times Miller, who stuck to his script of sticking to only basketball, didn’t answer questions that were asked, veering off into his promised basketball areas. I asked if being on the court helped keep his thoughts specific to basketball and not the issues.
“This is a fun and exciting time of year as a college basketball fan and as a team,” he said. “You’re around each other on a weekly basis … We’re around each other every day, learning our identity as a team teaching our younger players.”
When I asked how he was holding up perhaps with the help of his extended family around him (the players) he said, “I’m focused on our season right now. We have a lot at stake as a basketball team.”
There’s a good chance even despite the investigation that Arizona will remain the country’s No. 1 or No. 2 overall team when the polls come out later this month and next. How would he and they handle the pressure?
“I think the pressure to be in our program and the pressure to coach really comes from within,” he said. “We’re in a high-expectation environment and there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. I think we all know what our own goals are. I don’t know if they’ve changed a whole lot. It’s like hitting the bulls-eye. You start by trying to hit the board and all of sudden you get closer and closer. Sometimes you take that for granted. But actually you need some good fortune, all parts moving in the same direction.
“… we have great belief in what we do works. I think we have knocked on the door of really incredible special things and at that same time when you talk about this we’ve also accomplished some things, as well. This is a new beginning and the past is the past and moving forward is our quest. To move forward we want to be really successful not just on the court but in the class room.”
One of the big obstacles might not be the schedule, but the psychology of the sport of keeping the team’s mind straight. As one reporter asked, “how will you handle the outside noise?”
“One of the things that I believe you have the responsibility to do as a coach in college sports is (not only) making sure the guys know how to deal with the ups and the downs of our game, but (also) how it reflects life,” he said. “It’s not always going to be happy, it’s not always going to go your way. The things you are going to strive for might not happen. But in many regards how you deal with those times is a definition of who you are.
“In our today and 2018, it’s a much different world. There (are) a lot of voices through social media and if you’re an athlete at a very high level, an NBA player (and) competing for a nation championship as a football program, we all preach the same thing. You have to eliminate the clutter and understand the class has to be tight. You have to talk to people but only we know what happens on a daily basis in our program. This is an example for these guys to grow and learn in life as they leave Arizona. They will be much more suited to deal things that happen. In our attempt to be perfect sometimes the unexpected happens.”