11/6 Basketball Notebook

Sean Miller had a disappointed tone when he met with the media on Thursday. Read on for complete coverage of his press conference, including why he is disappointed, how Arizona needs to improve, and more.

  • Sean Miller started Thursday's press conference with somewhat of a surprising tone, as he is currently not happy with where the Wildcats are at.

    "The quest is to get better every day and as you get better every day and you get closer to real games, I think a sense of where you are starts to take hold," Miller said.

    "For us, I think realistically we’re not that good of a team right now. We’re nowhere near where we would have been a year ago at this time and I can see us getting off to a rocky start in the month of November, especially with Maui and a couple of games that we have and ditto for December."

  • According to the head coach, he is not the only one that has been a bit disappointed by what he has seen in practice.

    "I don’t know if we’ve had any person enter our gym through the first 24 or 25 practices and tell me that we’re a good team," Miller said. "I’ve had probably as many as 30 people tell me that either that we’re not as good as everybody said we were, or that they can see that certainly we have the makings of something good down the road, but we’re nowhere near where I think the preseason publications have us.”

  • When discussing which aspect of the current team is the most disappointing, Miller pointed to a few factors.

    "I am disappointed with a lot of things," he said. "It’s hard for us to practice. We’re not a vocal team. Our gym is very, very quiet. I think our leadership is a work in progress and I think our younger players, although trying very hard, have a long way to go.

    "Everything concerns me. Our rebounding, which I thought would be a strength, is not right now. I do think we can get better in that area. Nobody talks about rebounding because it is not a fun thing to talk about, but it was one of the keys to last year’s season for us. We were an outstanding rebounding team almost from start to finish. I’m surprised that we’re not as good as I think we hoped we would be a little further along.

    "That’s why you have a coaching staff and that’s why you have all of these practices and that’s why every day is important. Where you were last week, you could be at a far different place this week, but just now going through a scrimmage, watching us through about a month’s worth of practices, I wish we were a little bit further ahead."

  • Looking back at his previous years at Arizona, Miller believes this year's team is similar to the one he coached in his first season in Tucson.

    "It reminds me a lot of my first year," he said. "Practice is hard. It takes a long time to get through and we have moments in practice where we’re just not very good at what we’re doing and when you’re not good at what you are doing you have a choice.

    "You forge ahead or you stay on task. if you stay on task, then many times in practice you don’t get to everything. We find ourselves working hard to get better. From the perspective of our team’s overall makeup and depth, I think we could be at a much different place say two months from now than we are now because we have a lot of young guys that are working in practice.

    "Part of what makes you feel good about our team is our depth, but our depth isn't there right now. We don’t have a very deep team. We will play five or six guys at this point.

    "I do think our team has an upside in that we have some depth. Some of our younger players are only going to get better and more comfortable as time goes on and hopefully the team’s chemistry and identity starts to form where as we enter conference play, that we feel much better than where I feel today.”

  • One of the more understated factors surrounding this year's team is having to recover from the defensive losses of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.

    “We have kind of an identity crisis right now on defense because in some ways until I’ve gotten to this point, you always bring in new players and have guys take over almost where they were left off a year earlier," Miller said.

    "But with Nick Johnson’s ability on defense and his leadership -- it’s like we’re missing three players losing him. You feel it every day. And Aaron Gordon, he’s just such an excellent rebounder and defensive player and energy guy, that those two guys no matter what team they left, you’re going to feel their void. And boy, we really feel it right now.”

  • In order for Miller's defense to succeed, there has to be a good amount of communication, which is something the Wildcats just don't have right now.

    "I think one of the things people talk about when they watch us practice is we’re really a quiet team and my experience is that the teams that are the most quiet are the teams that are the most unsure of themselves," Miller said.

    "You don’t have to be a rah-rah type guy or slap the floor. You have to be who you really are. Some of our guys have different types of personalities. But there are some guys who come behind a microphone and man they can’t wait to talk, but you watch them practice and you hardly know they’re there.

    “We have to become that team that works together and communicates. That’s the starting point to defense in a lot of ways. So whether it’s our older guys doing a better job or our younger guys improving, that’s something we’re working hard to do right now.”

  • Arizona's communication last season was fine for the most part, but it would be a mistake to figure that this year's team is similar right off the bat.

    “We’re working hard in practice and headed in that direction," Miller said. "That’s part of the problem when you’re not as good as everybody says you are. A lot of what we have going for this year’s team is we’re living off last year.

    "When you rank us where we’re ranked, you’re doing it because of who we return and you’re assuming a lot and you look at who we were last year. This is a 100 percent different team. Not even close. And we’re working right now to become better.”

  • One of Miller's biggest concerns beyond playing the game of basketball is where each player's motivations lie and how that could carry onto the court.

    "I think we have a lot of guys on our team who have high aspirations about our team, but those high aspirations are also individual-specific," Miller said. "When you have that many things pulling and tugging against your players and team, it doesn’t always start off looking right. It doesn’t always come out of the gate.

    “I thought a year ago we came out of the gates really well. We were a unit that was motivated by how the season had ended a year earlier. We felt like we were better than maybe how it ended. With the leadership of Nick Johnson and the togetherness of our group, you just sensed we had a special unit with those things. You don’t really sense that right now.”

  • In order for those individual aspirations to not take over and for Arizona to succeed in general, Miller is looking for leadership. The head coach believes it is something that can be learned depending on where the player is in his career.

    "I think they either have it or they don’t once they’re older," he said. "If they’re younger, certainly. Part of being a young player is it’s like being a freshman in high school all over again. You’re at a different place, have way different team dynamics.

    "It’s tough to have a lot of confidence when you’re not either playing well or you’re learning. Part of why you’re not playing well is you’re learning. Everything is new from the terminology to the name of drills. These guys are getting ready to play their first game in McKale Center, there is a lot of anxiety with that.

    "It’s hard for those guys to lead. The ones you rely on, I think I speak for all coaches, are those that have done it before. Even if they are not a senior, somebody that played a lot as a freshman and returns as a sophomore, they’re a candidate as well."

  • It's not all negative, however, as two returning players have easily been the most consistent.

    "I would say the two most consistent players on this year’s team comprehensively from the beginning of the school year to today are Kaleb Tarczewski and T.J. McConnell," Miller said. "We give gold jerseys out for the best practice players through a five, six, seven day stretch and everything is categorized and kept as a statistic.

    "I think T.J. has won it twice and Kaleb has won it twice, so nobody else on the team has really threatened either of those guys in terms of earning a gold jersey. I have been pleasantly surprised with both guys in terms of their level of play. I think both of them are better players than they were last year and you can tell their experience has really seasoned both guys.

    "In fairness to Brandon Ashley, when you don’t play basketball for as long as he hasn’t and the last competitive game that he played in front of a crowd was the Cal game, that’s a long time ago. Brandon is working his way back, but I look at him as being a positive because I think he is really on track."

  • When it comes to the freshmen, Miller is happy with how Dusan Ristic has been progressing in practice.

    "Dusan works hard every day," Miller said. "His offense is actually ahead of his defense, which for a low post player, somebody his size, it’s exciting to think about where he’ll be down the road because he has a knack and a way of being able to score and a fundamental set of skills that normally you don’t see somebody of his size and age come to college with.

    “Where he’s behind is on defense, but playing against Kaleb every day and playing with the effort that he has, I really believe that he’ll get better. Where he’s at in early November could be a far cry from early December just with constant, continual work.

    "I’m impressed with Dusan and he listens, he works hard, he stays after practice. He loves the game. With his size, on offense I think he has a really high starting point.”

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