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Sean Miller hoping Arizona can develop ‘a team full of great competitors’ during Pac-12 play

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska Omaha at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils are the right opponent at the right time for the Arizona Wildcats. Opening the Pac-12 season Saturday at home against their in-state rival should reveal just how passionate they are about representing their university.

Arizona coach Sean Miller questioned his team’s competitiveness Thursday at his weekly press conference. His four-minute answer, which featured a college football analogy, followed a question about how Dylan Smith and Ira Lee responded to being benched in the loss to St. John’s.

Here it is in its entirety:

“I always love to watch college football bowl games,because the new narrative becomes who’s playing in the bowl game?. It’s like for the first time some of college basketball has trickled into college football. It’s, should I play in the bowl? Should I not? I was watching the Alabama game and I know a lot of their juniors who are really talented, they seemed to all play in the game. And when (Nick) Saban was asked after the game about it, he gave a great answer. He said believe it or not, they play for the University of Alabama. They play to make an impression because they wanted to play well, and they played because of their teammates. And they play because they really care about our program and they’ve invested in it. It’s important to them, and because of that they’re not only great individual players, but they formed one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever had. He said it because they played in a bowl game.

“I think college basketball for us is you can come out there and you could play and all of our players think they play hard. I think across the country it’s like, ‘hey, of course coach we play hard.’ But being a great competitor, that’s a player that he’s playing for Arizona. That he loves the University of Arizona. That he came here to be a part of some great legacy and tradition and that he wants to make his own name in terms of winning. You know, did you win the Wooden [Legacy], our exempt tournament this year? Yes. And you have great pride that you are part of a team that won that and you’re getting ready to compete in the Pac-12 and you’re trying to compete for for the win. Time, score situation, taking great shots, playing every possession both on defense and offense, knowing your role, embracing your role, those are things that are really hard to develop.

“And in our case with seven new players, it’s not always straightforward. I wish I could have things worked out closer to the beginning of the year, but we’ve had weeks and games and stretches here where we look like a team that’s new. But some of it is, you have to play for for your school. You gotta play for the Saturday night in McKale Center, 14,000 people. I mean, it’s the best of the best of the best and it has to almost give you goosebumps. You just love it here and you’re playing for the win and you’re playing your heart and soul so that at the end of the game, I want no other agenda. And that’s really hard. That’s hard to cultivate, and every coach I’m sure wants to get it right.

“We have to get that part of things right where you got a team full of great competitors. And some of the players that have played at this program for 40 years, 35 years and they were unreal competitors. What was on their mind was the win. And when you have that team success and you think in those terms, it’s just amazing how individually you move towards great things. And sometimes you reach your individual goals without even realizing it just because you’re so locked in on the moment and playing for your school and playing for our program and this team. I think with the beginning of the Pac-12 season, that’s as important for us as anything. To get everybody locked in on, here’s my role on this year’s team and is what we what I need to do and I got to work hard to be the best I can at it.”