As Sean Miller begins year five at the helm of the University of Arizona men’s basketball program, he does so knowing that his multifaceted approach to building a program has paid lasting dividends in Tucson. The facts certainly justify the assertion:
His 96 wins in his first four years are more than any UA coach and more than any other current Pac-12 coach in his first four seasons in the league. Arizona is averaging 24 wins per season under Miller, an improvement over the average of 20.0 victories per year in the four seasons before his arrival.
Arizona has compiled a 48-24 (.667) league record in Miller’s first four seasons in the Pac-12. Not only does that record tie for the best in the Pac-12 in that span, but since the conference expanded to 10 teams in 1978-79, Miller is one of only two coaches to win 48 conference games in his first four seasons in the league, joining UCLA’s Steve Lavin, who went 49-23 (.681) from 1996-2000.
No Pac-12 team has more road wins in conference than Arizona’s 19 since Miller took the reins of the program.
After allowing 72.0 points per game in 2009-10, UA has yielded fewer than 70 points on average in each of the last three seasons: 67.9 in 2010-11, 62.7 in 2011-12 and 63.6 in 2012-13. The Wildcats have held opponents to 60 points or less on 40 occasions during Miller’s tenure.
UA has been one of the nation’s top teams at defending the three-point line under Miller’s guidance, allowing opponents to shoot just .312 from long range in that time. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, Arizona opponents shot just a combined .289 from the arc.
Arizona’s climb back to the elite level of college basketball began on April 7, 2009, when Sean Miller was named just the program’s sixth appointed head coach in the last 87 years. In the time since that announcement, Miller has given the Wildcats the stability, confidence, focus and guidance of a leader who’s found success everywhere he’s been.
From an initial team meeting that featured just six players, Miller’s first 12 months were a whirlwind of activity as he worked tirelessly to rebuild from within. He quickly added eight players to solidify the roster and rebuilt a system in which defensive intensity and offensive cohesiveness form a relentless unit at both ends of the court. Those early efforts have paid off with consistent success.
Arizona went 16-15 in Miller’s first season in Tucson, making drastic improvements along the way and establishing his belief that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Hard work and a dedicated effort each day breed success, and his student-athletes have honored that process each day since.
The 2010-11 squad won 30 games, captured the Pac-10 regular-season championship, advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region and produced the No. 2 pick in that year’s NBA Draft. Additionally, Miller reestablished and rejuvenated recruiting ties that have allowed the Wildcats to land three-consecutive top-10 recruiting classes.
In Miller’s second season, Arizona essentially increased its production across the board, while simultaneously lowering the production of its opponents in key statistical categories. That improvement culminated in a 30-8 record and the Pac-10 title, Miller’s fourth in his first seven years as a college head coach.
Those statistical improvements were also evident on the individual level, as the 2010-11 Wildcats displayed more poise, were more fundamentally sound and were stronger and more assertive on the court, all of which were a testament to Miller’s total program development.
Nowhere was that individual development better displayed that with Derrick Williams. After garnering Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, he blossomed into a consensus All-American and the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. In two years’ time, Williams went from the least heralded of Miller’s initial five-man recruiting class to the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Miller was rewarded for a season in which Arizona reached as high as No. 10 in the national polls with Pac-10 and NABC District 20 Coach of the Year accolades.
The 2011-12 UA team won 23 games and advanced to the postseason, collecting back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in five years. For the second-straight season, UA finished in the top-five nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense and limited opponents to an average of 62.7 points per game, a figure that was the lowest for the program in more than two decades. The Cats played in the Pac-12 Tournament final for the second year in a row and had a pair of all-conference honorees.
Miller’s 2012-13 Arizona team captivated the nation with its electrifying 14-0 start before tying for second in the Pac-12 and earning the second NCAA Tournament berth of his tenure. UA reached its second Sweet 16 under Miller, where it fell to Ohio State in a classic back-and-forth affair. The Wildcats finished with a 27-8 record, their third-straight 20-win season.
Two Miller protιgιs Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons were rewarded for outstanding seasons with first-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The 2013 NBA Draft was a significant night for the UA program under Miller, as Hill became the 18th first-round draft pick in program history when the Indiana Pacers selected him 23rd overall. Grant Jerrett gave Arizona two picks on the night when his name was called with the 40th overall selection.
Prior to moving west, Miller completed five seasons as head coach at Xavier from 2004-09. He owns a career coaching record of 216-90 (.706) in nine years as a collegiate head coach to go with four conference regular-season championships, one postseason tournament title and two 30-win seasons.
While at XU, his clubs posted four-consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances. The Musketeers won three Atlantic-10 regular-season championships, and Miller guided the school to the Elite Eight in 2008 and the Sweet 16 in 2009.
Miller’s 30-7 record in 2007-08 set a Xavier record for victories in a season and helped earn him A-10 Coach of the Year honors. The NABC named Miller its District 10 Coach of the Year, and he was a finalist for a number of other national coaching honors.
His record at Xavier (120-47) ranks him third on the school’s coaching wins list behind only Pete Gillen and the late Skip Prosser.
Miller took over as head coach at XU in 2004 following three seasons on Thad Matta’s staff as the school’s first-ever associate head coach. In that role, he helped the Musketeers record three-straight 26-win seasons and make a run to the 2004 Elite Eight.
Miller began his stint at Xavier after stops at North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Miami (Ohio) and Wisconsin. He has coached for 17 teams that have advanced to postseason play in 21 years on the collegiate sidelines, including six NCAA Tournament berths in his nine years as a head coach. He has two Elite Eight and two Sweet 16 appearances to his credit and owns an 11-6 (.647) record in the tournament.
As a player at Pittsburgh, Miller participated in three NCAA Tournaments (1988, 1989 and 1991), coached in one as an assistant at Miami (1995) and coached in three as Xavier’s associate head coach from 2002-04.
Additionally, Miller’s teams have produced 18 winning seasons and averaged better than 20 wins per year in his 21-year career to date.
Moreover, Miller’s work with student-athletes off the court has paid outstanding dividends with all 29 of the basketball seniors who have completed their eligibility since 1996 earning their degrees. While a head coach, 16 Xavier players earned their degrees with an additional pair expected to do so in the near future. Since his arrival at Arizona, all 13 of the Wildcats to complete their eligibility under Miller have earned degrees.
Considered the best three-point shooter in the history of the Pittsburgh program, Miller was a Big East All-Rookie Team pick in 1988. He currently ranks 18th on the program’s career scoring chart with 1,282 points. Miller also ranks 10th on the NCAA Division I free throw shooting chart at .885 and stands third on the Big East’s career assists chart.
He played on the United States’ 1991 World University Games Team after his final season at Pittsburgh, earning a gold medal. He was named to the Pitt All-Centennial Team in 2005.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., Miller was born Nov. 17, 1968. He and his wife, Amy, have three sons, Austin, Cameron and Braden. He attended high school at Blackhawk High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from Pittsburgh in 1992.
Miller was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League Hall of Fame in June 2012.
The Miller File
Hired at Arizona: April 7, 2009
Playing Experience: Pittsburgh, 1987-91