Mar 23, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller yells out to his team in the first half of the game against the Harvard Crimson during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY SportsWith the recent departures of Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol, many are beginning to bite their nails, wondering if this trend of going elsewhere in the Sean Miller era is simply a natural part of having a good basketball program or signs of trouble amongst relationships between the players and the coaching staff.
Somewhere in between.
Before everyone starts freaking out over Miller’s high transfer rate, remember that the Lute Olson era had plenty of this as well–it’s the consequence of having an elite program. Players–young and naive players–see a stellar incoming class, get worried about playing time, get an earful from parents, high school coaches and other numbskulls who think they know better and bolt for what appears to be greener pastures. This has been an Arizona basketball problem since the day I was born, but the problem of players leaving because the program is too deep with talent is a good problem to have; I can think of dozens of other problems that are much worse. If my memory serves me correct, though Lute had this issue consistently throughout his career, he ended up doing a pretty decent job regardless.
The program made due.
It worked out.
During the Olson years, Arizona recruited 102 players and had 36 transfers, or a rate of 35%. Comparatively, Miller has recruited 16 players and has had seven players not work out for a rate of just under 44%. Undoubtedly Miller’s rate is noticeably higher, but not alarmingly so, and there are two explanations for this. First, Miller’s program has reached success more quickly than Olson’s. Where Miller has reached an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen in four years, it took Olson five seasons to get beyond the first round (of course, Miller can thank Olson’s legacy for getting a head start). Additionally, the basketball scene is different today. It is a much bigger business with much more money at stake, pressuring both players (and coaches) to sacrifice commitment and loyalty for potential success elsewhere. Today, players (and coaches) are moving all over the place–it’s the new sexy thing to do (side note: as high as Miller’s transfer rate is, Miller has been equally successful of using this transfer trend to his advantage, pulling in Solomon Hill, Derrick Williams, Momo Jones, Mark Lyons and TJ McConnell from other schools).
So if this is all expected, why might this also have something to do with potential tense relationships within the program? Simply put, because the decisions by many of Miller’s players to go elsewhere have been head scratchers, laced with a stench of stupidity more smelly than the decisions made by Olson’s players and suggesting such idiocy came in part due the player’s inability to continue working under the same head coach. For example, while the recent departures of Olson’s Will Bynum, Dennis Lattimore and JP Prince were defensible, the choices made by Josiah Turner, Jones, Garrett and Chol were far, far less so (ok, Lattimore’s decision was not smart either, but it was in comparison to these other four). Where all four of Miller’s departures would have unquestionably made substantial impacts in an Arizona uniform in future years, the impact Olson’s transfers would have had if they stayed was less certain.
So, what problems are these young players having with Miller’s leadership? A hunch says it has something to do with Miller’s impatience–his tendency to pull a young player off the court as soon as the first mistake is made. As Chol recently stated, playing under Miller was a stressful experience where Chol was constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering if a recent turnover meant an immediate trip to the bench.
Whether Miller continues his ways or loosens the reins, however, Arizona basketball nation better get used to this “problem,” because it will continue to occur every year while Miller is coaching the Wildcats. Like it or not, the trend of constant transferring is a sign that the program is moving in a positive direction.
Look up Lute Olson’s track record and then tell me that I’m wrong.