Miller sees Wildcats' freshmen coming along
FEB 08, 2013 3:21p ET
In 30 games, 27 as a starter, he averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 assists per game in 34.6 minutes. He hit 46 percent of his shots, including 43.6 percent from 3-point range. He was named the Big East Conference Rookie of the Week four times, eventually being named Big East Freshman of the Year. He was the Panthers’ de facto leader.
And not once did he ever think about going to the NBA. Every man needs to know his limitations and potential — and Miller knew his.
A quarter of a century later, he's coaching freshmen, and none of them are ready for the next level. That’s a good thing for seventh-ranked Arizona.
Future NBA players? Probably. But for now, as the Wildcats ride the high of a 20-2 start that has them atop the Pac-12, they are focused solely on “buying into the process.” Freshmen included.
That’s in part because those youngsters still have plenty to learn from a guy who was once in their shoes 25 years ago. Of course, Miller was never a McDonald’s All-American like Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett.
Miller's Pitt class of 1987, which included Bobby Martin, Darelle Porter and Brian Shorter, was rated among the top-25 all-time recruiting classes by FOXSports.com. Miller’s 2012 Arizona class is pretty good, too, as the group of Ashley, Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York was rated in the top three nationally last year.
But none likely will match what Miller did as a freshman. Ashley probably will end up the closest, as he averages 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in just more than 21 minutes of playing time. Tarczewski is averaging 6.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, Jerrett 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds and York 3.0 points and 0.7 assists.
Don't expect any Freshman of the Year honors for this group. Contributions, though, to be sure — contributions and progress.
Just last week in a sweep of the Washington schools, Miller raved about his freshmen and how they were making strides and becoming more like veterans. Timing, of course, is everything.
"All that experience will start to benefit us, and the biggest reason is they’re the greatest kids in the world and they work so hard," Miller said. "It’s just a matter of time as they continue to get better."
But because he was pretty good 25 years ago, does he expect that same type of performance from his freshmen? He’s been there and done that (very well), so is he disappointed in his freshman class' lack of instant impact?
"All freshmen come in wanting to contribute,” Miller said, “From a recruiting perspective, you want freshmen who can play as freshmen. That’s why it’s so hard for someone like Gabe (York), because he’s not getting that opportunity. But I’m confident in saying that if he sticks with it, there will be a time when you’ll feel good about who he really is.”
It’s all about embracing the process. Today’s players don’t always do that. It’s no secret that for many, it’s all about getting to "the league" ASAP.
Miller called that thought-process "sad," adding that it shouldn’t be that way. Not for the sake of a promising career or personal development.
"A lot of freshmen — and not that it’s happening here — but it’s unfortunate that it’s about getting in and getting out of college," Miller said recently of the differences between now and his days as a player. "It’s sad because there is so much to be learned and things you need to know (before you get out)."
There might have been a player or two back in his day who thought about jumping to the NBA or didn’t work as hard while in college, but it wasn't as prevalent as it is today — his current group excluded.
"They work hard and are in a good place,” Miller said of his freshmen. "Individually, I’m sure you had guys (in previous years) who thought differently about (school). But I wouldn’t say kids today play less hard, but what they are playing for can be different."
The Arizona freshmen have said all the right things about what they're playing for: wins.
"One of the many positive attributes of this year’s team is that the four freshmen, those guys really handle their business," Miller said. "They work hard every day. ... They’re eager to learn. They practice hard, whether we win or whether we lose.
"So many times, whether they personally played well or didn’t play well, they’re the same."
So while they aren't Miller circa 1988, Miller is more than OK with that.