Dear Coach Miller,
As it became apparent that Arizona would win a Pac-10 championship many people began to say that you were not only living up to their expectations but far exceeding them.
I’d actually argue that in many ways Arizona basketball was living up to your expectations.
“Tucson, thank you for giving our family and our coaches the opportunity to come here,” you told the McKale crowd Saturday after wrapping up the Pac-10 regular season championship.
Although you never said it publicly, you had to wonder over the past two years if you made the right move. On Saturday, you got another in a long line of confirmations that you and your family did indeed make the right decision 22 months ago.
“This isn’t the first Pac-10 championship and it isn’t going to be the last,” you said to 14,600 fans on Saturday, but the crowds were not always that big.
Your initial inclination was to turn down the job. In fact, you turned down the interview. After all, you had a good thing going at Xavier. You had been to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 in back to back years. You had a team that had a chance to maybe get to a Final Four last year. And it was probably that “maybe” that caused you to reconsider.
You thought you could win a national championship at Arizona. Of course that is what Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and Tom Creen thought at Indiana. That is what Brian Ellerbe, Tommy Amaker and John Beilein thought at Michigan. That’s what Stan Heath and John Pelphrey thought at Arkansas and that is what Rollie Massimino, Tim Grgurich, Billy Bayno, Charlie Spoonour and Lon Kruger thought at UNLV.
I am sure you gave pause at the thought of moving your boys across the country from Cincinnati to Tucson. That first 110-degree day had to have you questioning yourself.
When recruits chose USC and South Florida over the University of Arizona, you had to wonder if you made the right decision.
When you had to beg Nic Wise to come back, you had to wonder if this was the place for you. When Kevin Parrom broke his foot and your highest rated recruit Kyryl Natyazhko struggled, you had to wonder if you should have stayed in Ohio.
When players like Cameron Jones, Trevon Hughes, Willie Warren and Adnan Hodzic torched your defense, you had to wonder how long the rebuilding job would take. When Jimmer Fredette went off for 49 at McKale you had to wonder just how long it would take to build a winner in Tucson.
You told everyone it would take some time, but when the Cats lost by 17 to San Diego State and fell to 4-5, when the Cats needed a buzzer beater to beat Lipscomb, when McKale crowds dipped under 12,000 you had to wonder if it was worth it.
When you had to bench your point guard of the future, when a recruit de-committed and chose Vanderbilt, you had to have second thoughts. When Doron Lamb told the world you didn’t have enough players, you had to wonder how it would work out. Lamb and Josh Selby both gave you a serious look, but chose to play for Kansas and Kentucky. Ray McCallum really liked the program but decided it was safer to play for his father. Was it really supposed to be this hard?
While you were getting snubbed by the N.I.T., your old team was again making a second weekend run, narrowly falling to Kansas State in an overtime thriller. You had to wonder how far you could have taken that edition of the Musketeers.
There were highlights that first year. Glimpses of what could be. Derrick Williams was a revelation. Nine games into the Pac-10 season you had a first place squad. By the end of the year the crowds were very good in the arena.
But it seemed for every positive, you faced a negative. You had more recruiting dramas, with Kadeem Jack seeming like a lock, but winding up going to prep school, before eventually winding up at that basketball powerhouse Rutgers.
Another big man seemed like a Wildcat and did indeed become a Wildcat, but wound up a Kentucky Cat, not an Arizona one.
When you had to have a “series” of talks with your lone returning senior, you had to wonder if things were not better in the Queen City.
When the school placed sanctions on itself and you were meeting with the NCAA, you had to wonder just how long it would take to get Arizona back to the top of the mountain.
There had to be doubts, but with your competitiveness and desire to be the best, my guess is they were quiet doubts and were easily pushed to the back. You also strike us as a realist. You warned the fans that first year that it would take some time. You probably even believed that. In fact, you may have even had an inkling it would take more than two years to get the team back on top.
You started to get glimpses of what could be over the summer. Natyazhko was a star in Europe. Williams was lighting up the Nike Camp. Nick Johnson made you turn around on I-10 so he could commit to the program. By the time Josiah Turner added his name to the 2011 class you had to know the future was bright.
Recruits were taking notice. There was a reason you traded in that gray and blue “X” for the cardinal and navy “A”. You went from battling Richmond and DePaul for recruits, to not only butting heads with Kansas and North Carolina, but winning your share.
Even on a bad night you were outdrawing Xavier by a few thousand fans. Heck, the rest of the Pac-10 couldn’t draw what you were on an off night.
By the time you were 12-2 you had to realize that even if this team tailed off, that the future was as bright as you imagined.
Williams was an All-American, you had a legit 10-man rotation and recruits for 2012 and 2013 were already committing.
There were still some issues. The loss at Oregon State was perplexing. Fredette lit you up again. Washington was dominant in Seattle.
You had to bench Kyle Fogg for pouting. MoMo Jones was inconsistent. Prized recruit Daniel Bejarano was a non-factor, but despite all of that the positives far outweighed the negatives.
As fans were starting to say that you were living up to the billing, you were saying the same thing about Arizona. By January McKale was full, you were in first place in the Pac and the team was playing with renewed confidence. Jones was becoming a leader, guys were accepting roles and Williams was making a run, not only for Pac-10 Player of the year, but national awards as well.
Arizona was ranked, beating Carolina and Kansas for Angelo Chol and fans were calculating their magic number for a 12 Pac-10 regular season championship.
It was why you came to Arizona. You came to Arizona to play in front of full houses, in one of the nation’s best home courts. You came to Arizona to wear that “A” into high school gyms and be noticed along the likes of Roy Williams, Bill Self and John Calipari.
I am sure you were convinced of your move long before, but if you weren’t you had to be sold by the time of the “white out” against Washington. Miller still seemed stunned when he spoke to the media nearly 30 minutes after Williams’ game saving blocked shot. You could see it in his face that this was what he came to Arizona for.
You and your staff still have goals. Winning a Pac-10 title is nice, but you came to Tucson to play in Final Fours and win national titles. There is still a long way to go, Arizona has yet to play an NCAA Tournament game under you, much less make a deep run, yet it is safe to say this is exactly why you took the job.
For you, Arizona has lived up to its end of the bargain…and so have you.
This column originally ran on WildcatSportsReport.com