A few weeks back, I heard Sean Miller speak at a conference in Tucson. He told those assembled that as Aaron Gordon was being selected with the 4th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the entire Arizona Wildcat basketball team and its coaches were all congregated in Miller’s home watching the telecast on the large flat screen TV. Miller saw each team member beaming with pride as Commissioner Silver announced Gordon’s selection with the Orlando Magic pick. That is the kind of chemistry that Coach Miller has created since arriving in Tucson and returning the Wildcats to national prominence.
Miller noted that Aaron Gordon’s rise to stardom was not a surprise. Gordon was considered one of the top 10 high school players in the country by the time he committed to play in Tucson. The talent level was never in doubt. But according to Miller, talent is never enough. He stated “we all know the brightest but often ask whatever happened to that kid with all the talent?” Miller mentioned that for every talented player that fades to obscurity, there are many who “do not have all that talent yet they translate into successful careers.”
Upon reflecting about Gordon and the incredible 2013-14 season for the Wildcats, Miller couldn’t help but note that the Cats were “one really horrible call from being in the Final 4,” obviously making reference to the last seconds of the overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite-8. Once he got past that obviously sour pill, Miller explained why the team was so successful this past season and why talent must be supplemented by other traits in order to achieve its potential.
First, Miller commented that “sacrifice enhances talent. Sacrifice is paramount to success.” Last year’s team epitomized this old adage. He pointed out that there were many members of the team who were stars in high school but had to serve as role players on last year’s team. They did this at their own expense for the benefit of the program.
His philosophical approach to coaching included the notion that “teamwork multiplies talent.” In support, Miller stated that “Aaron Gordon averaged just 12 points per game, yet he was the number 4 overall pick. If Aaron is part of a team, they win. He does all the things in the locker room and on the court to win.” Miller went on to say that the “only finger Aaron ever pointed was at himself.” Miller credits Gordon with having paved the way for the future of Arizona basketball.
Miller went on to say that “adversity empowers talent,” and he supported that by citing the loss of Brandon Ashley to a severe foot injury on February 1 in the game against Cal. “Brandon’s dreams were taken from him in a split second,” explained Miller, yet he believes that it may have been the greatest gift for Ashley. Miller maintains that following the injury, Ashley developed as a leader. He now sees in Ashley a driven basketball player and, more importantly, a person far more equipped for life. Miller also saw others, including Gordon, step up once Ashley was lost to the team. This is how the talent was empowered to go above and beyond.
Lastly, Miller stated that “criticism accompanies talent,” acknowledging that it is “just part of the deal.” This was certainly true for Gordon, whose free throw shooting was abysmal. Yet Miller was quick to note that Gordon and his teammates did not get caught up on what was going on outside of the program. He preaches that criticism and praise are “neutral.” All that matters is that each player lives up to the team motto: “All in.”
The opening tip for the 2014-15 NCAA Basketball season is about four months away, yet it is clear that in Tucson, there is a group of guys prepared to sacrifice, work together, face adversity and commit fully so that their collective “talent” translates into a championship season.