Sean Miller isn’t known to be a giddy type, showing happy moments throughout a game or in post-game interviews. Nothing has given any indication that has changed, but you have to feel that this year’s team has him warm and fuzzy inside.
You just must, given what his team has shown to this point despite the small sample size. Arizona is playing together, moving the ball and the deep roster is contributing. Heck, 10 of the 11 players who played on Thursday had an assist.
“I really like coaching the guys because we have a great group of kids, a great group character-wise,” said Miller, after his Wildcats defeated visiting San Jose State, 87-39, in McKale Center. “You’ve asked me a lot of questions about our freshmen. I answered that as far back as a year ago that each of them comes from a very winning environment. I mean, Zeke (Nnaji) won a state championship, Nico (Mannion) and Josh (Green) won championships. Christian (Koloko) won a championship. They’re fun to bring into a group that’s really hungry.”
Welcome to the Hunger Games, where Miller will have the luxury of going to his deep bench and not lose a whole heck of a lot when he does, save for perhaps for his threesome of Nnaji, Mannion and Green. But that’s still to be determined.
Thursday night, Zeke was once again a Freak, going 8 for 8 from the floor and hitting 10-12 free throws for a game-high 26 points.
Miller called the performance “fantastic” and “clearly dominant.”
Save for about 7-8 minutes, Arizona as a team looked the same. Temper that enthusiasm by knowing San Jose State isn’t that good. Still, Arizona was impressive in as much as it had 24 assists and only eight turnovers. That now makes more than 60 assists in three games.
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“If you get through that first 6-7 minutes of the second half, we were a solid team,” Miller said.
What it all means down the road is anyone’s guess given it is only mid-November, but there’s a lot to like. So much to like, particularly Miller because has been able to go to his bench early and often.
Depth will be needed as the season progresses.
“This is our team,” Miller said. “You know, we have a lot of guys who can play. You know that should allow us to be really good in the second halves of games, which has already shown up. It should make us a durable team throughout the long course of a season. On different nights, we’re not just dependent on one or two guys. We can strike from a lot of different areas. And as I say that, it’s really a puzzle and it takes more time to get it right.”
The puzzle pieces will come together. But that’s a luxury given what’s gone on the last two years. Two years ago, Miller couldn’t get his talented team to play together, leaving him frustrated mid-season not knowing if he could get through to them. And last year, it was not a talented team, one that eventually lost the little depth it had.
That seemingly won’t be the case this season, although Miller knocked on wood – his press-conference table – to ward against any bad luck. More good luck came of sophomore Devonaire Doutrive, who scored 12 points after sitting out the first two games because of a suspension.
“We’re not perfect right now and who should be in there with who,” Miller said. “Nobody can rest on their laurels. Everybody is on edge to get that opportunity and that makes for a good atmosphere every day.”
Every coach should have that problem. Clearly, it should have Miller smiling … on the inside.