Miller building versatile forwards

Sean Miller has started to develop an identity of coaching versatile forwards. Read on to see his past success and how he has set himself up for the future as well.

Many great college coaches develop reputations for not only winning, but winning with certain positions at the forefront.

Lute Olson was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a basketball coach but was also renowned for developing future NBA point guards. Current Kentucky coach John Calipari is known for producing elite point guards, while Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun is known for churning out NBA caliber wings.

UA coach Sean Miller is quickly establishing his own identity for developing versatile forwards and he figures to build on this reputation in coming years.

Miller was head coach of Xavier in 2005 when he reeled in 6'8, three-star forward Derrick Brown.

"Derrick was a talented kid when he got to Xavier, but he was very raw and one dimensional," said Brian Snow, national analyst for Scout. "He couldn't shoot at all. He got by on his athleticism and scored almost all his points right around the basket."

"Brown worked on his skills and by the time he was a junior he was more comfortable on the perimeter. While he still played inside most of the time, Sean let him show off his improved shot and ball handling within the flow of the offense."

Brown finished his junior year shooting 43 percent from three-point range and was an Atlantic 10 all-conference selection. He declared early for the 2009 NBA Draft and currently plays small forward on the New York Knicks.

While Brown is Miller's first NBA player, 6'8 Forward Derrick Williams is easily Miller's most notable player to date.

Williams arrived at Arizona in 2009 as a fringe top 100 high school prospect but wasted little time showing his skills to the college basketball world. In just his third career game, against Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, he scored 25 points and attempted a school record 21 free throws.

This was a harbinger of things to come as Williams dominated in the paint for the rest of the season en route to being named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

One of the few skills Williams didn't display in his first year was a consistent jumpshot - he attempted only 10 three-point field goals all season.

Williams came back for his sophomore year with improved perimeter skills. He started off the season making 9 of his first 11 three point attempts and finished the year 42 out of 74 from long-range for a staggering 57 percent.

Williams would attempt his last three-pointer of the season with a trip to the final four on the line. With UA down two in the closing seconds of the Elite 8 against the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies, Williams caught the ball a few feet behind the three-point line, but instead of attacking the basket he pulled up for a three pointer, which clanged off the backboard allowing UConn to escape with a 63-61 win.

While he missed his last, and biggest shot of the season, the sequence demonstrated something bigger. Despite Williams attempting only 10 threes the previous season, Miller's faith in his best player's expanded perimeter game had grown to the point where he entrusted him with a make or miss three point attempt with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Williams figures to complete his transition to the perimeter whenever the NBA lockout ends. The Minnesota Timberwolves, a team with a lot of talent at power forward but little at the other four positions, selected him with the second overall pick to play small forward.

"Sean's overwhelming priority is to win games for the University of Arizona," Snow said. "That being said, if possible, he likes his players to be versatile and expand their games, which is very important when transitioning a player from college to the NBA.

"You won't find a lot of 6'8 power forwards in the NBA, so perimeter skills those kids develop while in college is obviously advantageous for them in the long run."

Brown and Williams' transition from college power forwards to pro small forwards provides a blueprint for future players.

UA fans can expect 2012 6'8 recruit Brandon Ashley, the top rated power forward in the 2012 high school class, to be the next versatile forward on the Miller assembly line.

Ashley is most effective around the basket where he uses his length and athleticism to change games, offensively and defensively. He rarely shoots from the perimeter, but when he does he shows a decent stroke and range out to 16 feet.

Ashley figures to be the next Miller-coached player to star at power forward in college, but steadily improve his perimeter skills allowing scouts to project him to the small forward in the NBA. He probably won't be the last.

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