The last we saw of Sean Miller he was explaining away Arizona’s shocking – yes, shocking to many – loss to Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That was just more than two months ago so there was a lot to talk about in what was an impromptu press conference that was longer than any he’s ever given at UA, save for the very first one (maybe).
For 55 minutes, Miller was asked about last season, the leaders for next season, his thoughts on those coming in and the state of the program nearly eight months after the FBI made the news public that Miller’s program was under investigation because of recruiting scandals.
“I feel good, very much looking forward to the future,” Miller said midway through the press conference when asked about the state of it.
In year’s past it was more about reloading – with exceptional recruiting classes – this year it’s a rebuild or an add-on to what Arizona already has.
Yet, with one scholarship still available, Miller has seemingly worked some of his past magic in getting some quality players to come play for him. Two years ago, critics wondered if he’d pull off a decent class after only securing Lauri Markkanen in the fall. And, well, he did with Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins to make it a top 10 class.
Months after the FBI investigation, critics wondered if he’d be able to get recruits again, given the news and circumstance. A couple of players bailed and one – in the form of Brandon Williams – returned after de-committing.
Now, he has the 32nd best recruiting class according to Rivals.com.
What was clear, he said, in getting players to come to Arizona to join Chase Jeter and Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Dylan Smith and the rest, Miller said he hasn’t really change the message from years past even with the FBI fallout.
He banked on Arizona’s overall success over the years and making sure “things are done correctly” was important. He declined, yesterday, to speak about the FBI investigation, however, one that can take another year or two before all the dust settles.
“For us, coming through this period isn’t always easy,” Miller said, “But coming out on the other side built to be bigger, better and stronger than ever, learning from things and growing our program (is important).”
That will be seen down the road, something he admitted with all recruiting classes – judge at the end.
So, here the players:
Brandon Williams, the most-talked-about recruit of the bunch and easily its crown jewel. “We feel great he came back our way,” Miller said. “He’s a fantastic kid … Brandon wasn’t on the circuit before his senior year, but if he was he would have been a McDonald’s All-American. I don’t think there are six guards better than him – a winner.”
Omar Thielemans, a forward from Belgium: “One of those players whose best years are in front of him, not now,” Miller said. “He’ll be crucial to our program. There’s a lot to work with. He loves the game. There’s a lot for us to work with.”
And Devonaire Doutrive, a guard from California, who was Arizona’s first commitment after all the de-commits.
“When our season ended we need that first player to say, ‘yes’ and he was that guy,” Miller said. “He has a world of talent. He progressed his senior year by leaps and bounds.”
Justin Coleman, a graduate transfer from Samford: “We had a hard fight to really convince him to come to Arizona. He’s your quintessential point guard in that he passes the ball well. He’s also capable of scoring. Everyone we talked to (said) high-character.”
Pittsburgh transfer Ryan Luther, a forward, joined the team as grad transfer: “I know his family well and it’s very similar to T.J. McConnell’s family. Grew up drinking the same water,” Miller said. “From a physical perspective and skill, he adds to our frontcourt.”
A new group for what will be another intriguing year which is still four to five months away.
A lot has happened in that last eight months where seemingly Arizona’s well-guided and much-respected program was hit what the FBI investigation. Miller has had to replace Book Richardson (the central figure in the case involving Arizona) and associate head coach Lorenzo Romar, who returned to his old stomping grounds of Pepperdine to return as its head coach.
In steps Justin Gainey and Danny Peters, each of whom have ties to Miller.
“They are great people (and) very talented as basketball coaches,” Miller said. “But also a group that complements one another.”
Miller said the two bring a “stability and continuity” to the program and are younger coaches that are “going to build their track record here at Arizona.”
Peters worked at Arizona earlier in Miller’s tenure, beginning as a graduate manager after being a student-athlete at Ohio State. Peters then moved into Arizona’s video position.
“He checks the box in both,” miller said, “someone who understands the west and Pac-12 and us and has the experience you want.”
Gainey played for Miller, while he was an assistant under Herb Sendek in the mid-1990s. Gainey was at Santa Clara under Sendek last season.
“He has the same types of qualities as a player that you’ll see as a coach,” miller said. “He’s selfless and a hard worker. He was an overachiever as a player, a lot of times those overachievers as players make great coaches.”