Miller Time: 35-year-old coach gets on bigger schools’ radar
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller is the youngest head coach in the NCAA Tournament. He’s certainly not lacking in experience.
The 35-year-old is in his seventh season, and is having to tune out the distraction of hearing his name mentioned for bigger openings as he prepares the Spartans for their first tournament appearance since 2001.
His success almost surely means Miller will draw attention from higher-profile schools looking to fill vacancies this offseason. He said the possibility is “flattering” because “it means you might be doing something pretty good,” but insists his focus is on the Spartans.
“It’s humorous a little bit, because a handful of years ago, I was getting asked if I was going to keep my job,” Miller said. “So it’s amazing how quickly things can change, but I’ve drowned it out. All I’m thinking about is this team. I have a tremendous job, so I’m not looking for another one. And it’d be hard for me to imagine not coaching (current players) Francis Alonso ... and the rest of our bunch that will be returning next year.
’So it’s nothing I’m thinking about or my family’s thinking about.”
Miller’s NCAA Tournament coaching debut comes Thursday when No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro (27-7) faces fourth-seeded Gonzaga (30-4) in a West Regional matchup in Boise, Idaho.
Since taking over as an interim coach at age 28 in 2011, the former team captain at North Carolina has led the Spartans to a 112-109 record, three Southern Conference regular-season titles, a spot in last year’s NIT, and now this.
Athletic director Kim Record, whose strong Atlantic Coast Conference ties include positions at Florida State and Virginia, acknowledged that “at some point, there may be an opportunity (at a bigger school) that makes sense for him. I hope that’s not this year.
“I want to be sitting at a beach in a rocking chair when I’m 80 years old, watching March Madness, going, ‘I hired that guy — when he was 28 years old,’” Record said.
Record said Miller has matured quite a bit since he was promoted to temporarily take over for Mike Dement midway through the 2011-12 season and earned the permanent job after winning the SoCon regular season title. While Miller hasn’t lost any of his trademark intensity, the AD said he’s done a better job of keeping it under control.
“I think right away, when I got the job at 28, I might have thought I knew what I was doing, but now I realize I had no idea,” Miller said. “The difference between now and then is, I still have no idea — but I’m aware of it. ... We failed quite a bit, and I think some of the trials and tribulations in the early years, it’s kind of what’s allowed us to grow. We’ve learned from that.”
While the Gonzaga game will undoubtedly be his biggest as a coach, it wasn’t that long ago that he was playing in big games as a guard for the Tar Heels. The 5-foot-11 guard was on the national title team in 2005 and captained the 2007 team that reached a regional final.
Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams described Miller as a “tough, tough kid” who told him during their first meeting that he wanted to be a coach.
“And I said you should come here, because the things we do will help you, and I’ll always remember that you want to be a coach and talk to you in those terms,” Williams said.
He even coaches his family members: Miller’s younger brother Walker, a walk-on freshman forward at UNC, was in grade school when Wes played for the Tar Heels. He said Wes has “coached me a little bit through the Carolina experience, which has been cool.”
Now he’s hoping to help the Spartans step out of the long shadow cast by the state’s four ACC schools.
UNC Greensboro has the nation’s sixth-best scoring defense, allowing an average of 62.4 points, and played top overall seed Virginia tough in the opener before losing by 12. A few weeks later, UNCG shocked North Carolina State 81-76 and video of Miller and the Spartans dancing in the locker room went viral on social media.
An upset of Gonzaga just might prompt an even wilder celebration.
“No. 1, we’re going to enjoy it. I don’t want to be the Fun Police,” Miller said. “This is a really special thing we’re experiencing right now, and I think it’ll only get more special. ... I want the guys to enjoy it, because it’s a life experience, but at the same time, it’s more attention and more noise than we’ve ever gotten at this program. We’ve got to try to drown that noise out and stay locked in.”
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