Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller released a statement on Monday afternoon to clarify his comments regarding the Xavier and Cincinnati brawl that marred the image of the NCAA's championing of sportsmanship and accountability.
Miller was asked about the brawl after Saturday's victory against Clemson. Eight players from both the Musketeers and Bearcats received suspensions, and Miller responded by saying that he was "proud" of his former players. He also said that he expected there to be a fight, though the context of him saying that wasn't about the fight specifically.
Via the press release:
"I made comments following our win Saturday over Clemson regarding my former team, Xavier University. These remarks were in response to a question as to whether I have been following Xavier's on-the-court successes this season. My comments were directed toward my admiration of their on-the-court toughness and their respective approach to giving great effort as a team."
"In no way was I condoning a fight. At the time of my press conference, I was only responding to my belief in several players that I once coached and a head coach, Chris Mack, that I have great respect for."
The comments added heat to the idea that coaches will take wins before teaching their players to act as accountable human beings. It came after a press conference by Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who in the end didn't follow through in saying he would reevaluate who would remain on the team.
Here's the quote that was published in the Arizona Daily Star and blew up ESPN on Monday morning:
"If Cincinnati tries to do what they did (Saturday) they're going to get a fight," Miller said after UA beat Clemson on Saturday. "So I'm proud of those guys." [...] "They have a chance to win it all," Miller said. "It's just such a great story. I'm really proud of those guys and I watch them any time that I can. No one's going to bully those guys."
ESPN college hoops blogger Eamonn Brennan criticized Miller's comments in a post earlier Monday, and that was likely the trigger to Miller's press release to put out a bit of the fire.
If I may say so myself, it's a warped definition of "toughness." That definition says physical toughness is more important than mental wherewithal. It says talking trash to opponents late in a blowout -- "zipping them up," as Tu Holloway put it -- and being willing to go toe to toe in a fistfight is a more valuable trait than the ability to win with dignity and class. It says toughness is about posture and knuckles, not about the ability to be the bigger person, to merely prove your superiority on the court, to let your play do the talking. How could Miller be proud of that? How could he support anything he saw on Saturday? How does that even compute?
Personally, I think it's a little bit of an overreaction by Brennan, who probably overlooked -- or didn't know at all -- what questions Miller was responding to in the post-game presser.
Granted it's a touchy subject, especially considering how few games the key players in the brawl got suspended -- and that's AFTER Cronin going out on a limb to say he'd decide who belongs on the team. Yancy Gates, the man throwing the sucker punch to Xavier's Kenny Frease, was only suspended six games against lackluster opponents before the Bearcats hit conference play. Cheikh Mbodj, who kicked Frease while Frease was laying on the ground, got only six games of suspension as well.