GREENSBORO (93.7 The Fan) – It’s not the first time they’ve met, Xavier head coach Sean Miller facing the Pitt Panthers. It was the Sweet 16 and Jamie Dixon got the better of the matchup 60-55 in 2009. So, the feeling for Sunday at 12:10 on 93.7 The Fan?
“This is the second time, and I'm much older,” Miller said Saturday. “You know, I would say that you would pick any team in this round, and as much as I love Pittsburgh, and my wife and I both attended Pitt, have some of the people that I love the most in life live in that city, but tomorrow, you know, it's about winning the game and getting to the Sweet 16.”
Miller said he has a soft spot in his heart for the Panthers and he believes a lot of Pitt fans feel the same towards him. But the prize is too significant, his focus is with his team and getting them to advance.
Even with the resources available to them, the Xavier players don’t know a lot about their head coach’s career as a player. For those that don’t know, he’s second only to Brandin Knight in assists with 744, 99 clear of third place. The Blackhawk HS grad is third in career assist-to-turnover ratio. No player shot a better free throw percentage at Pitt, minimum 175 attempts, than Miller’s career .885%. Miller was second in career three-point percentage at .416 and scored 1,282 points.
“I don't really know much about it,” said Xavier forward Jerome Hunter. “I've just been seeing stuff on Twitter, but I still don't know a lot about it.”
“I've seen a few pictures here and there,” said Xavier center Jack Nunge. “Coach kind of told us what Pitt means to him. He has a lot of friends there. Obviously, you know, it's his alma mater, so the university kind of means a great deal to him.”
“I knew he was a solid PG at Pitt, but I know that one pass he had when the guy broke the backboard, I know that was pretty cool,” said Xavier guard Colby Jones. “So watching that video reminded me of him.”
Pitt not it
Miller said ‘no, not really’ when asked if there was ever a time he was seriously close to being the head coach at Pitt.
“It never worked out,” Miller said. “You know, I think for me that's all the better because in some ways I want my memories of Pitt to be when I was there as a student, as player. Some of the greatest years of my life, playing in the Big
East Conference, you know, meeting people like Curtis Aiken, who took me under their wing, treated me like I was a younger brother. And I really learned a lot on and off the court through my experience at Pitt. As much off the court as on the court.”
“And it's a big reason why I wanted to go into coaching, to be around that. Those are some great times. Those are my memories, that and family and friends. I think it's simpler that way.”
“I think Jeff Capel has done an incredible job,” Miller said. “Anybody that took over at the time that he took over and went through the pandemic and also had to rebuild, you know, there are things that happened during that period of time that I don't think has ever happened in maybe the history of college basketball.”
“Just to see him go from a year ago to this year's team, they're very, very good. I know, heck, I've followed them late in the year. They almost won the ACC regular season championship, so we know we're playing a tough team.”
“I think their skill level really jumps out for me. When they win, they make threes. As a matter of fact, they make more than ten per game, and I think that when they don't make threes, not that they won't win, but they're not on their game. I think those threes are going down. You know, you have so many different players that can shoot them.”
“I think Hinson, the way they utilize him, he is really an X factor because you have to guard him with a forward, and he is such an elite shooter, and he can really get going. Their shooting really stands out for me. I also think in this tournament they've played some excellent defense and played with great effort.”
Send it in
The assist on the famous Jerome Lane dunk that shattered the backboard at the Fitzgerald Field House, Miller said he’s glad Lane was inducted to the Panthers Hall of Fame. He said Lane was more of a player than just that dunk. Miller is proud and happy to be associated with that play.
“The one thing when you are a part of that play, no one can ever accuse you of not playing,” Miller said. “Every February you remind them that you at least could dribble and pass.”
With all of the offers from other schools coming out of high school, Miller said it was an easy decision to play at Pitt because he wanted to play in the Big East.
”I wanted play in the greatest conference in college basketball,” Miller said. “I wanted join a team that had a chance to win, to make a run at the Final Four in a city that I grew up in.”
“John Calipari was the assistant coach. He was a great recruiter, somebody that I knew and my family knew since we were very young in age. That was a big reason as well.”
“It was a great decision.”
Described by Aiken on 93.7 The Fan as a coach on the court, there was little doubt Miller would follow his path. His father, John, was a Hall of Fame head coach in Beaver County.
“I think the first thing, my dad instilled a love for the game of basketball in our house,” Miller said. “I mean, we grew up -- I don't know if there were too many conversations growing up really as a family where basketball wasn't a topic of conversation.”
“He is one of the most passionate people that I have ever met about this game. He loves it himself, and it's contagious.”
“I think the first thing is it was never a job. It was a game that you fell in love with, whether you played it or coached it. I think that's something that, you know, I have with me from now until the end.”