Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller turned 45 years old Sunday. He turned 100 Monday.
The fifth-year Wildcats coach earned his 100th victory at UA with, fittingly, a 100-50 late-night cruise over Fairleigh Dickinson, a game that won’t be long-remembered except for the milestone footnote in what Arizona fans hope become a loooong resume for Miller in Tucson.
Athletic director Greg Byrne stopped the team before it left the court, honoring the 100th victory by presenting Miller with the game ball.
“It feels good. It’s better to celebrate that than to not be at that number; I’ll say that,” Miller said.
“Hopefully, there’s many more to come this year and beyond, for sure.”
For sure. He’s not there yet, but he’s turning this into Lute Olson Glory Days, 2.0.
Arizona is No. 5 in the nation, mixed into a blue-blooded Top 10: Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse …
The Cats stopped breathing that kind of air for about five years, starting with the Elite Eight meltdown against Illinois in 2005, through a passionless first-round loss to Purdue in 2007, to the tempestuous Kevin O’Neill Experience a season later, to Olson’s resignation because of health issues to Miller spending his first year buried in a renovation project.
Now, look at how shiny the Cats are again.
Miller had three McDonald’s All-Americans on the court Monday night — sophomore Brandon Ashley, freshman Aaron Gordon and freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski would have been one, too, if not for being reclassified as a fifth-year player due to the time he spent at different high schools. And, hey, a starting junior backcourt of Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell ain’t shabby.
Miller will have more Mickey D’s after the next high school season. Stanley Johnson. Craig Victor. Perhaps a recruit yet to commit.
There’s no end in sight.
When he arrived, the questions were whether Miller could recruit the West Coast and the top 100 kids. Now, he just pulls in the very best from California.
About a year ago, Miller said he felt, for the first time during his tenure at Arizona, that the program had its feet on the ground. Now what? Those feet are flying.
“We’re solid. It’s about us being consistent from this point on, where you know what to expect,” Miller said.
“And that we’re about winning, we’re about excellence, we’re about winning championships. That’s the standard here. And when you hold yourself to that standard, every day you do something that matters.
“It’s not easy. It really isn’t, because there is so much parity in college basketball, whether it be in recruiting or whether it be on the court. It’s not easy to stay on top or get to the top. That’s where we’re striving towards, to be a true Top 10 team.
“We’ll learn a lot about us this year, tomorrow and hopefully next week.”
Tomorrow would be a second-round game, against Rhode Island, in the NIT Season Tip-off. Next week would be the final of the event, Nov. 29 in Madison Square Garden. The bracket is pointed toward an Arizona-Duke championship game.
Which conjures the warmest memories of Miller’s time.
There was that 93-77 Derrick Williams’ jam-fest against the Dookies in the 2011 Sweet 16, which led to the Cats being a shot away from the Final Four. Ah, memories.
There was Williams’ last-second block against Washington. There was Nick Johnson’s last-second block against San Diego State.
There was Mark Lyons’ last-second dash against Florida. There were 27 points from MoMo Jones in a triple-overtime win at Cal. There was the defense and maturity of Kyle Fogg.
Miller steadily developed Solomon Hill into a first-round pick. He developed Williams, seemingly overnight, into the No. 2 in the draft.
There was the 2011 regular-season Pac-10 championship.
But it’s all been a warm-up, hasn’t it? The payoff is coming. This year? Next year? Soon.
It all calls to mind Olson’s consistent brilliance. He had the Wildcats in the AP top 10 during parts of 20 consecutive seasons.
Olson was 54 when he won his 100th game at Arizona, in 1988, about a month before the Wildcats stormed into the Final Four vs. Oklahoma.
It’s still all ahead for Miller, with a 100-43 record at Arizona.
“It’s great for him,” sophomore guard Gabe York about the coach’s 100th win. “I’m definitely excited to see what he ends with.”
Join the club.
Only 489 more wins and a national title to go to catch Lute.
— Greg Byrne (@Greg_Byrne) November 19, 2013
— Amy Miller (@abballwidow) November 17, 2013
Happy birthday to the best/my future college coach @UACoachMiller
— Stanley Johnson (@StanMan_41) November 17, 2013