Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with new Butler coach Brandon Miller about being an NCAA tourney hero.
In April you rejoined your alma mater as an assistant under Brad Stevens, but after Stevens left in July to become coach of the Celtics you were promoted to head coach. Why did you take the job, and were you surprised that Stevens left? When I took the job in April my plan was to be the best assistant coach I could be. There was no thought in my mind that Brad was going to leave. To be able to return to my alma mater and coach these guys was a decision that came pretty quickly.
Your program moved from the A-10 to the Big East over the summer. What impact has this had on your preseason preparation (if any)? In the preseason it is more about ourselves than our opponents, so we have been working on the fundamentals to build the habits we will need all season long. No matter who our opponents are we build our team the same way during the preseason.
You lost your two leading scorers from last year to graduation (Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith) and your third leading scorer (Roosevelt Jones) will miss the season after tearing ligaments in his left wrist in August. How will you be able to fill the offensive void left by the departure of these three starters? We are working on it every day in practice. Kellen Dunham has made a terrific transition from his freshman year by getting stronger and becoming a better basketball player. Other guys have gotten better as well but we will just work on our ability to score every single day.
Your non-conference schedule includes games against Vanderbilt, Washington State, and Purdue. Which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? It is hard to get past the first game right now. Our approach is to just worry about the next game.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? Our goals rely on the process of continuing to get better. We are huge believers that if you keep getting better then you will like where you are at by the end of the season. We place the highest expectations on ourselves because Butler basketball has high standards.
You began your college career at Southwest Missouri State but transferred to Butler after Coach Steve Alford left to go to Iowa. How crushing was it to have your childhood idol leave after one year and then not offer you a scholarship to come follow him to Iowa City? I have known Steve and his family since I was really young, my father coached him in middle school, I played for Steve’s father in high school, and my dad was on Sam Alford’s staff. At the end of the day you just have to understand what is going on, and when I transferred I chose the school that was the best situation for me.
In the 2003 NCAA tourney you scored a team-high 14 points including a 10-foot floater with 6.2 seconds left in a one-point win over Mississippi State (your fourth go-ahead basket in the final minute of a game during that season). What did it feel like to be a hero in an NCAA tourney game? It was a great moment to be a part of the team that beat Mississippi State: I will never forget the celebration with my teammates afterward. It was a hard-fought game and it does not get much bigger than that because if you lose then your season is over.
Despite playing only three years at Butler you finished in the school’s all-time top-five with 189 3PM/305 assists. How were you able to balance your scoring with your passing? I played with really good teammates every year that I was there. We complemented each other very well, which allowed us to play to our strengths.
In the 2007 NCAA tourney title game as a video coordinator under Thad Matta at Ohio State, Al Horford had 18 points and 12 rebounds in a nine-point win by Florida. How close did you come to beating the defending champs? We had a great run with a very talented team that included Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It was a terrific year but Florida’s experienced guys took over at the end.
You quit after the 2011 season to spend more time with your family, which you described as one of the best decisions of your career. How did you enjoy the year off, and what made you decide to get back into coaching? It put a lot of things in perspective for me and gave me time to reflect on what is most important. It changed the way I approach coaching every day, and when John Groce approached me about joining his staff at Illinois it was something I could not pass up.