Sean Miller Can Identify With His Players’ Quest for Gold
Colorado Springs, Colorado
On the one hand, it’s great that the players gathered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week for the 2014 USA Men’s U18 National Team trials have an assistant coach in Sean Miller who has been in their shoes before. Problem is, Miller can’t always put that pursuit of gold into words.
“It’s a feeling that’s so hard to describe,” said Miller, who has been head coach at the University of Arizona since 2009. Miller was referring to the gold medal he won at theWorld University Games in 1991. He was 22 at the time, four years older than the players he’s mentoring this week, but the feeling is the same.
“It was a great honor,” Miller recalled of his experience at the 1991 World University Games, which were played in Sheffield, England. “When you hear the national anthem being played – especially in a foreign country. When you’re a gold medal winner. It stays with you.
“In my case, being 1991, a long time has passed. And you’re a part of a lot of games and some big moments. But winning the gold medal is something that for me was something that has been one of the highlights of my time in basketball. So now having the opportunity to coach and see young people have that same opportunity, and maybe having the opportunity as a coach to win a gold medal, or compete for it, is really fulfilling.”
Miller said he was impressed with the group of players at the U18 training camp.
“We have an excellent group here, very talented,” he said. “And at the same time, an unselfish group of guys. They obviously want to make the team and it’s such an honor to be a part of USA Basketball for all of us, coaches and players. It brings the best out of some talented kids.”
Unselfish is a word that has often been used by coaches to describe players involved in USA Basketball events. It’s something that all coaches try to preach to their players. In this case, Miller noted, it’s an easy sell.
“First of all, the selection process continues to get better and better,” he said. “The players that are invited here are not only talented but have great character about them. Many of them have played in previous USA Basketball events, which helps, because I think they understand the importance of being a team and being unselfish.
“For all coaches, whether you’re at a place like Arizona or a high school coach, basketball is such a team sport. It requires players that care about each other, committed to playing both offense and defense. Sacrifice. Not everybody can be the leading scorer. … So when we’re picking the team, once the team is established, being unselfish and playing with great effort are two of the things that are the starting points for us.”
On Thursday, the roster of 24 players who arrived on June 10 was pared to 15. Under the guidance of head coach Billy Donovan (University of Florida), the 12-member team will be announced in advance of the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, which begins June 20 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
One of the players who made the cut to 15 is Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei H.S./Fullerton, Calif.), who is not only a two-time gold medal-winner for USA Basketball but also a member of Miller’s incoming freshman class at Arizona.
“I’m very excited about Stanley,” the coach said. “We recruited him for a number of years. He obviously has a great chance of making this team and if that’s the case, he and I will share hopefully in a great experience over the next couple of weeks.”
Having that connection, will Miller take it easier on Johnson or will he work him even harder? Miller left that to Coach Donovan.
“I don’t know, I’m not the head coach,” Miller said. “So I’m not going to be any harder or easier on him than I am compared to the field. He’s just another member of the team, and he’ll do what he’s supposed to -- and do it well.”
One thing Johnson and Miller already have in common is that they’ve competed internationally for USA Basketball. Johnson was part of the team that won gold at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania and was also part of the USA U16 team that brought home gold from the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico..
While the 2014 U18 FIBA Americas Championship is taking place here in the states, there’s a good chance many of the players here will have a chance to travel abroad for USA Basketball at a later date.
“It’s been a long time and great memories,” Miller recalled of his experience in England at the World University Games. “A lot of those players went on to play in the NBA and it’s a lot of pride to have been on that team with them and share in a gold medal experience. And that’s what these kids will learn as a group right now. They’ll watch each other go on to do special things, and probably be involved with other USA Basketball teams in a significant manner.”