In his first meeting with the press since March when the COVID-19 situation shut things down at the Pac-12 tournament, Sean Miller took up to an hour today talking with local reporters about a variety of topics, including his international-laden recruiting class, welcoming Arizona legend Jason Terry as an assistant, the availability of Brandon Williams and thoughts on the pending NCAA investigation.
Miller was asked about the NCAA investigation into Arizona’s program following the FBI probe into college basketball. Miller accepted the question but deferred, mentioning that he must adhere to university policy while an investigation is taking place. “I’m not able to comment on it,” he said.
According to Rivals.com, Arizona’s Class of 2020 recruiting effort, that includes six international players, ranks No. 8 nationally and tops the Pac-12. Not one of the recruits is a 5-star prospect and two players are not rated: French big man Daniel Batcho and Lithuanian forward Tautvilas Tubelis.
Tubelis’ twin brother Azuolas, is a 4-star prospect, however, who Miller compared to Zeke Nnaji.
“I think he gives us a lot of the same things that we came to love about Zeke Nnaji in that he’s a forward that’s versatile, very physical and can impact the game around the basket,” Miller said. “He also is adept away from the rim, maybe even a little bit more so than Zeke. Zeke may be a little bit bigger and more physical around the basket but the one thing about all of our guys that are coming in from the international game, they’ve been battle-tested in FIBA.
“They played for their country, they played against some great competition in Europe, they’ve traveled, they traveled to the United States, almost all of them, and I think they have a good feel for the game.”
Miller commented that the unique aspect of signing so many international players was a matter of taking “inventory of what you do that works and maybe things that we can do better.”
Arizona head coach Sean Miller provided more comments today on his recent decision to bring former Wildcats guard Jason Terry on board as part of his coaching staff plus he talked about the benefit of having an assistant like Terry as part of the program. pic.twitter.com/h5C6LOI0X3
He was impressed with the impact international players have made on Gonzaga’s program in recent years — Rui Hachimura (Japan), Przemek Karnowski (Poland), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), Kelly Olynyk (Canada) and JP Baptista (Brazil) to name a few.
“When you have programs that have (recruited internationally) well, not just in a single season, but for a long period of time, obviously Gonzaga really comes to mind with me being here for over a decade and competing against them,” said Miller, who also mentioned that assistant coach Jack Murphy — an Arizona director of basketball operations manager under Lute Olson –played a big part in the international recruiting effort.
“I think for us, especially when Jack Murphy came aboard (before last season) because Jack has the passion to recruit internationally, he has the contacts and he has the know-how, it just made sense and sometimes it takes about a year for us to see the results. We set out as far back as a couple of years to to mix it in and make it a part of what we do.”
Terry’s hire as an assistant coach last week further showed how far his relationship with Miller has grown since Feb. 23, 2018, when Terry was critical of the Arizona coach following an ESPN report that alleged Miller was on an FBI wiretap negotiating with an agent runner for $100,000 to pay Deandre Ayton to attend Arizona. That ESPN report remains unsubstantiated even through the close of the FBI investigation and subsequent trials.
Terry tweeted: “Bear Down its time to clean house and bring home our own bloodlines to carry on Lutes legacy. We have too much pride, too much tradition to allow outsiders to tear down what we built.”
Sean Miller on @jasonterry31: “What I love about him is you feel him coming. He brings a smile to your face. He has an energy about him, enthusiasm & a love for the game. He’s a father, husband… I think that he in many ways is a perfect assistant coach to come in at this time.”
Miller responded to a question about Terry’s comment by saying, “There’s a lot of people who reacted to that day. There’s a long line and you know what, based on information that they had, if you had a passion for the program that we’re all part of now, Arizona basketball, that was a moment you remembered and you’re trying to figure it out.
“We repaired that, talked about it and had a good conversation about it some time ago,” Miller said. “I appreciated it at that moment, just the thought that he had of reaching out and getting back on the same page. He didn’t need to explain the emotion behind what he said. I think I understood it.
“It’s one of the things that you appreciate about our program, is that there’s people that our program matters to them, and they want us to do well. They care a great deal about it. Sometimes you can become emotional, but we crossed that bridge a long, long time ago. That obviously had nothing to do with me coming to his direction and eventually making him a part of our staff.”
The dynamic of how Terry will coach with Miller will be intriguing. Miller is the fiery type and Terry is very competitive but he can also be lighthearted and funny on the drop of the dime. It will be interesting to see how they co-exist on the bench, especially with both being animated.
Miller has the background coaching with high-profile former Arizona players in Damon Stoudamire and Joseph Blair, both of whom have achieved success in coaching after they left their alma mater — Stoudamire as Pacific’s head coach and Blair as a championship head coach in the G-League before landing an assistant coaching job with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Miller said that former All-Americans like Terry and Stoudamire “have a presence with players you coach already.”
“They have a presence on game day that gives everybody confidence that they’re a part of what we do,” he added. “They have a presence in recruiting. In our day and age when so many dreams and goals are to leave school whenever that time is and make their dreams come true as an NBA player, a draft pick, not after four years but maybe before that time, Jason Terry has been there and done it.
“He’s been there and done that in a big, big way. There are a lot of answers he has to questions.”
Miller added that Terry will work directly with the players’ physical routines and development — backed by being able to last 19 years in the NBA — and he will also focus on coaching guards on their defense. Terry was a scorer at Arizona but he also was one of Olson’s best defenders at guard in that era.
“In Jason’s case, anyone you talked to about him as a player, they talked about his intelligence, his process — I mean, he’s seventh in NBA history in 3-pointers made,” Miller said. “He’s not 6-foot-7. He did it through hard work. He did it through having routines. He did it through just taking care of his body in a way that very few people can do.
“I believe that he’s going to impact really all aspects. He’s going to continue what I hope is learn the game, learn our system, add to his knowledge and prepare himself to go on and have a great coaching career.”
The entire video is too long for Twitter, but here is part of what Arizona head coach Sean Miller had to say today on his Zoom call with the local media when asked about how he has addressed the death of George Floyd with his players and team. pic.twitter.com/owePt93Uw3
Arizona has 14 players on scholarship as of now, which puts the Wildcats one over the limit of 13. One of those players is Brandon Williams, who has not played since the 2018-19 season because of a recurring knee problem.
Miller said that Williams remains on scholarship and he is taking summer classes at Arizona online.
He added that Williams has about 25 percent of rehabilitation with the knee remaining that has been stalled by COVID-19 because he is unable to consistently see trainers and doctors.
“As his coach, I’m frustrated for him — you can imagine how he feels,” Miller said. “For us or anybody to speculate on his future, when he was never able to finish the crucial part of his recovery, that’s just that’s just not fair right now. I think we just have to let this play out. If we didn’t hit the virus, I think all the answers would be clearly on the table. No. 1, I think he would know himself how healthy he is what he can and can’t do.”
Arizona head coach Sean Miller updated the media on the status of Georgetown transfer guard James Akinjo today during his Zoom call with local media. The Wildcats are hopeful that Akinjo can play the entire season, but as of now he will not be eligible until the second semester. pic.twitter.com/H19P49KRGN
Of the scholarship crunch, Miller said situations, perhaps academically, may arise before the fall semester, in which the roster size will be reduced to the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships. Also, travel restrictions because of COVID-19 might impact all players able to come to Tucson from overseas.
“In our case, clearly we’re working hard from the international perspective to make sure that we have any problems solved,” Miller said. “We have a lot of guys that are home, working academically to establish themselves coming back.
“I think when we get through the summer, and when we show up in the fall, we’ll be at 13 scholarship players and it will all work out. I say that with great confidence … work out not only for our program, but I think work out for everybody that we’re involved with at the moment.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.