Miller: Past season's chemistry lessons will aid Wildcats next year
JUN 04, 2014 7:50p ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Sean Miller has looked back several times on a season of what could have been. When you're at a school and the head of program where the only expectations are great ones, revisits to the past sometimes help with the future.
What stands out most to him was Arizona lost five games by a total of 12 points, so "it's almost as if every game we lost came down to the final play," Miller said, "which makes our season more dramatic. But we had a great group."
Now, it's his job to see if Arizona can catch lightning in a basket next season. Thirty-plus victory seasons don't always happen . . . even at a place like Arizona, where the Wildcats will be coming off a 33-5 season and an Elite Eight appearance.
"One of the things we have talked about as a staff, especially as we welcome in the new freshmen, that as talented as we were as a team, a big part of our success was our overall chemistry," Miller said Wednesday. "We really did play as a team. We had a number of players sacrifice. Unselfishness and our team chemistry coupled with our talent made us have the season we did.
"It's a reminder for us moving forward -- and it's as important as anything -- that everyone gets back to being on that same page."
As Miller put it, there are a lot of "individual players with a lot at stake" next year.
That would be senior guard T.J. McConnell, junior center Kaleb Tarczewski, sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and junior forward Brandon Ashley, who continues to make progress on what has been described as a foot injury. He suffered the injury on Feb. 1 and is expected to be ready for the upcoming season.
"The (last) four months has been about healing," Miller said. "The (next) months remain pivotal where we'd like to see him out there. Brandon has done a really good job in a difficult situation and the initiative of taking it slow."
Miller expects Ashley to be back in full form by the end of the summer, but he emphasized the importance of not pushing it.
There have been two other roster adjustments since Miller last met with the media. Center Zach Peters retired from basketball after realizing his history of concussions had kept him from making progress. And forward Ryan Anderson transferred in from Boston College to play his senior season in Tucson, but he'll have to sit out until 2015-16.
Still, Arizona will be the favorite in the Pac-12, and one of the favorites to win a national title -- just as it was midway through last season before Ashley's injury and before finally losing to Wisconsin in the final seconds of the West Regional. Arizona's recruiting class was again in the top five, and they will add the services of dynamic wing man Stanley Johnson, the centerpiece to this season's class and a player seemingly capable of filling in for the departed Nick Johnson. Johnson, and 2015 commits Justin Simon and Tyler Dorsey will join Miller at the USA U18 National team in Colorado Springs, Colo., later this week.
Miller said if Johnson were to make the team it would be a nice 2 1/2 week period to get to know each other better. NCAA rules prohibited Miller from talking about recruits Simon and Dorsey.
"This is not a recruiting forum, although I know there are prospects involved," he said of his role with the National team. "It's too big of an event and means too much. It takes away from USA Basketball if you go in there as a coach with the intent of recruiting."
The next three weeks will be about helping Florida coach Billy Donovan led the team to a gold medal.
"It's important we accomplish the goal," Miller said.
Former Arizona player Joseph Blair, an undergraduate assistant, will remain with the team as a graduate assistant coach. He'll have similar duties as he did last season, when he worked with Arizona's big men.