You knew once he entered the postgame press room that Sean Miller wasn’t happy. In fact, it was closer to the mad range than the pleased scale.
We’ve seen it before a time or two when his team just isn’t buying into the process. But it’s never been this early in the season.
You could see it in his eyes – and if you’re Sean Miller – it’s always in the eyes when he bears down on his team. They are wide; they are piercing.
So for more than 24 minutes – and after a 91-56 win against visiting Long Beach State – Miller waxed angry and direct about his one-time No. 2-ranked team.
He went as far as saying it was “a lifeless group a lot of times.”
“We need guys playing with heart and soul and with great effort,” he said.
He said a bunch in a candid “this is what is wrong with this team” client-to-therapist way. He said he was just talking the truth.
Frankly, he said, he was disappointed in knowing where his team is at nearly four weeks into the season.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more of a group that can’t bring it, can’t work, can’t really fight defensively,” he said in comparing past teams. “And man, is it disappointing.”
And so he went on and on – it was fantastic evaluation of a team that apparently worries too much about the end-of-game box score and not enough about keeping opponents off of theirs.
“I’m not afraid of losing,” he said, midway through his time at the table. “We can lose every game.”
He went as far as saying could lose the next game and the next game. Heck, six in a row. After all, his team just lost three straight. Who knows?
Arizona’s problems are not “one dimensional” as he put it.
“We don’t have room for error,” he said, describing UA’s first four minutes of the second half on Wednesday, using that as an example of possible defeat if UA plays a tough team.
Highlights Arizona Rolls Over Long Beach State 91-56
He said it lacked “effort” and passion, commitment and well everything involved in a team game. Seven games in and he’s seen none of it.
“It’s about doing things the right way,” he said. “… Playing both sides of the ball.”
This is not the Arizona team he has been used to, even with a top 3 recruiting class playing. But more on that later.
“It’s like pulling teeth right now,” he said.
One quote almost one-upped the next in his criticism.
“The reality is,” he said, “we’re not that talented. We have to play really, really hard.”
He later said, “We have talent, we’re just not overwhelming.”
Arizona has little wiggle room to screw up. And he’ll call on the veterans who have been here and have done that to step up. But they do need to step up too. No one is immune to not playing hard.
He did say that he was expecting a team with a renewed confidence (he saw it a bit) and he applauded senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright for doing an admirable job leading his team.
“We really struggle to play with great effort,” Miller said, using that theme as his base to prove a point to his team. “I don’t think we are going to be very successful until that’s fixed.”
When that happens is anyone’s guess but as he said, he’s not going to “duck” it when it comes to getting these guys better. He also sees some help coming when sophomore Rawle Alkins eventually returns to the lineup. When that is – again – is anyone’s guess.
“He’s a big part of our team, bigger than any of us realize because there is such a drop off emotionally,” he said. “There is such a drop off physically without him. I think he will fill a gap that no matter what the coach says we will be bigger, stronger, deeper better because we have a player of his capability who hasn’t done anything yet.”
Miller then added, “It won’t be great. It will be a work in progress.”
Until then, Miller will use his “medicine” of not playing a player if they don’t work hard enough.
“You don’t play the guy who doesn’t play hard, but if he does play the only way he gets to play is if he plays with tremendous spirit and emotion, togetherness, fight,” he said.
“We’re a lifeless group a lot of times.”
He saw the stages of cracks on his team a couple of weeks ago. It was not good defensively in the first three games, allowing too many 3-pointers. It just didn’t sit right and yet Arizona won convincingly as it did Wednesday night.
“It’s easy to say, ‘coach is a mad man, get off my back,’” Miller said.
Then, well, you play better teams and that’s when the warts show as they did in the Bahamas.
Now, back to the Bahamas, where it was hardly paradise. What it was was informative to even Miller. There were times when he’d look up on the big screen and he’d see the game feed show that UA had the No. 3 recruiting class in the country on this team. He joked – in his dry wit – that he saw it 75 times.
“I find myself saying, ‘where did you go?” he said, of the class. “’Where did you go?’ The race starts all over again in college. Just because you were ranked such and such in 11th grade no one gives a … no one cares.”
Then he said “most of our young players think they are going to the NBA.”
You knew he wanted to chuckle at that, adding that “just because you come to Arizona doesn’t mean you get to play in the NBA.”
So, if the Wildcats have been this way for three weeks now, is it who they really are?
“We’ll see,” said. “We’ll see. We are early on here. I think that’s one thing that eventually we will get right and a lot of positives will follow. I don’t see a lot of positives coming until that (everything he mentioned) is established. How hard are you willing to play? And are you willing to give up yourself defensively? There’s no coach who doesn’t believe it (that his team will get better). And if he does, he’s not very good.”
And, that was the complete message from Miller, who is a wizard at using the media to get his point across to his team. That and along with sitting them to get their attention.
Message has been sent, but will it be received?