There’s something surprising about the Arizona Wildcats’ 3-0 start to this basketball season, and it has nothing to do with the team’s record, the freshman class’ performance or the great depth the team appears to have.
No, the surprise is that Sean Miller is the team’s head coach.
After all, to hear it last March — shortly after Arizona lost to ASU and Miller gave an emotional post-game speech to the home fans — Miller was not planning on sticking around.
They wanted to believe Miller knew the FBI or the NCAA would be coming down on him.
They wanted to believe Miller had grown tired of coming up short in Tucson and was ready to move on.
They wanted to believe Arizona’s reign at or near the top of the Pac-12 was coming to an end, perhaps so a different in-state program could take its place.
They wanted to believe Miller, who had and still has not been proven guilty of anything, was set to walk away from one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Remember how it didn’t matter that Miller, within days, said he was in no way, shape or form saying goodbye?
None of that seemed to matter, as evidenced by the responses to this tweet as well as many others that came out at the time. You probably remember them, as well as many a local radio person and/or TV personality sharing some opinions on the matter.
He was saying goodbye, they argued, because...well...they wanted him to be. For whatever reason.
Well, more than eight months later Miller is still pacing the sideline at the McKale Center, and his team has the look of one that will be a force to be reckoned with.
You just love to see it. A revenge tour, that is.
That’s not to say nothing bad will happen to Miller or the program in the future, because there is still so much we don’t know and plenty out there that should be concerning. But until any of that happens — and none of it may — then it appears to be business as usual in Tucson, with the Wildcats once again a Pac-12 power.
There is still plenty of season left to be played, but it’s clear the Wildcats have pretty much all a team needs to be a force.
Size, athleticism, shooting, strength, versatility — it’s all there, which means this season is likely to be plenty of fun.
Yet, there is little doubt no matter how good this team does, the dark cloud that has followed the program for about two years will remain. At this point it may be one of those cartoon rain clouds that follows one person, Miller, for some time.
The amazing thing is, through it all Miller has somehow not only remained relatively unscathed, but seen little negative impact on his ability to do his job.
It is my personal belief that without this recruiting class, Arizona may very well have moved on from the coach.
Simply put, one of Miller’s greatest strengths is as a recruiter, and if the allegations, rumors, negative headlines or whatever had hindered his ability to bring in talent, guilty or not there would have been ample reason to move on from him and move forward with the program.
There was no reason to do that, as Miller landed Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko, and each one seems to very much be the real deal. They — along with the rest of the players on the roster — are in Tucson largely because they wanted to play for Miller, which says a considerable amount.
Clearly Miller can still bring talent to Tucson.
In Mannion, Miller has the most complete point guard of his Tucson tenure.
In Green, Miller has a big wing who should be an elite defender while providing the ability to score as well.
In Nnaji, Miller has a ridiculously talented and polished big, one who can really score the basketball and help control the glass.
In Koloko, Miller has a true center who is better than anticipated and if not this season, figures to make a great impact in the years to come.
Adding them to the rest of the roster, which is without the injured Brandon Williams but is otherwise loaded, and it very much looks like this team was constructed with the care of an architect.
This is not the first time Miller has had an impressive roster, of course, and past disappointments have no doubt scarred the fan base. No matter how many wins the team collects over the next four months or so, there will be an expectation of disappointment come March.
It’s a distinct possibility, because no matter how good this team is or may be, it takes more than talent to win a title.
Now in his 11th season as the Wildcats’ head coach, it’s fair to assume Miller is a different man than he was when he first took over in 2009. He’s won a lot, yes. But he has also suffered through heartbreak on the court and turmoil off it. He has both been hailed as a hero and viewed as a villain.
He’s been a lock to reach the Final Four as well as a candidate, some believed, to be locked up.
But whatever you think of the man and regardless of what you were hoping for, the fact remains that Miller is still coaching at the University of Arizona.
And if the early returns mean anything, that is a good thing for the Wildcats and bad news for everyone who lands on their schedule.