On Monday UNC Greensboro beat East Tennessee State 62-47 in the SoCon title game to earn an automatic bid to next week’s NCAA tournament. The Spartans won 25 games last year but lost to the Buccaneers in the tourney title game and ended up in the NIT. This year they took it up a notch by going 27-7 and claiming the school’s 1st NCAA tourney bid since 2001. Earlier today HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to speak with Coach Wes Miller about winning an NCAA title as a player at North Carolina and being named conference COY last week.
You began your college career at James Madison but transferred to UNC as a walk-on and won the 2005 NCAA title: what is the most important thing that you learned from Coach Roy Williams, and what did it mean to you to win a title? I do not think I understood at the time the impact it would have on my life. I always tell my players that anytime I have a speaking engagement or am meeting someone I am always introduced as a “national champion” even though I never played a single minute in that title game. As far as Coach Williams it is such a loaded question because I learned something from him every day I was around him and transferred there because I knew that I wanted to eventually become a coach. Some of the biggest things I learned from him were the importance of work ethic/character.
After shooting 44.1 3P% as a junior in 2006 (which remains in the top-10 in school history), you had a 4-PT win over Murray State in the NCAA tourney before getting upset by 5-PT at the hands of 1 of the greatest Cinderellas ever in George Mason: what is the key to making shots from behind the arc, and what is the secret to success for double-digit seeds in March? The key to shooting is having the right mechanics and then the repetition to back it up. Every great shooter can reproduce their shot over and over thanks to spending time in the gym and having the confidence to know that it is going in. It will be a new experience for me to not be the favorite so we will just try to prepare and play our game 1 possession at a time.
In the 2007 NCAA tourney as team captain you beat Michigan State for the 2nd time in 3 years: how excited do you think Tom Izzo would be to see you a decade later in a possible Spartans-vs.-Spartans 1st round match-up?! I do not imagine that there are too many top-5 seeds who will be worried about us but it will be a great opportunity for us to be on the national stage.
In December of 2011 you replaced UNC Greensboro head coach Mike Dement on an interim basis and somehow went 11-11 en route to being named 2012 conference COY: how difficult was it to take over a 2-8 team in the middle of the season, and did you feel that you were ready despite being the youngest D-1 head coach in the nation at age 28? It was an incredible opportunity at the time and to have a chance to lead my own team was a blessing. It was a difficult situation due to our rough start and not having any time to prepare, but looking back on it I was able to get so much experience at such a young age. The failures we had early on during our tenure have helped us grow into who we now are more than anything else.
Last March you made the NIT before losing to Syracuse (Andrew White scored 34 PTS): what did your team learn from that game that you think can help them this March? We were much more prepared for our conference tourney this year then we were a year ago, which I think had a lot to do with us being a lot more nervous last year during the 1st 10 minutes of the game at Syracuse. I am hoping that experience prepares us for the NCAA tourney last year, just like making the SoCon title game last year helped us in this year’s conference tourney.
You opened this season in November with a loss at Virginia, had a 6-PT loss at Wake Forest the day after Thanksgiving, then had a 5-PT win at NC State in mid-December: what makes the Cavaliers 1 of the best teams in the nation, and how were you able to overcome a 14-PT 1st half deficit to beat the Wolfpack in Raleigh? We have played Virginia as our season opener for 2 years in a row. What amazes me is their consistency from possession to possession: they do not take plays off and always make you guard them on offense. They do not take bad shots, they wear you down, and they simply do not turn the ball over. We have been down by double-figures in the 1st half a handful of times this year and came back to win the game several times. We have an experienced team who knows that the game is never over because we have been through so many battles.
What are your own memories of my pick for Game of the Year, which was your 1-PT 3-OT win over Liberty on December 2nd (the Flames had an 11-PT lead with under 5 minutes left in regulation before G Francis Alonso took over down the stretch with a 3-PT bank shot with 5 seconds left in regulation, a pair of 3-PT shots in the final 15 seconds of double-OT, and then the game-winning jumper with 2 seconds left in triple-OT)? Francis is 1 of the greatest shooters that I have ever seen. We were coming off of a pair of losses and were really hungry for a win. When I think back to that game we did not play that well offensively but played incredibly tough/together. We had a bunch of guys in foul trouble but Francis just made play after play to get us over the hump. 1 theme this year has been that if we have to have a basket, he is the person who has come through for us on a number of occasions. It was a momentum win for us to win in that fashion when things had not been going our way.
Your roster includes players from Canada/the Netherlands/Spain: what kind of recruiting philosophy do you have? We have really tried to recruit our area: we have 8-9 kids from North Carolina and look for players throughout the region. My assistant Mike Roberts had led the charge on recruiting internationally, and during the last 2 years Francis (from Spain) and Jordy Kuiper (from the Netherlands) have become 2 of our better players. Mike deserves all of the credit for his day-to-day efforts.
Last week you were named 2018 conference COY and your 27 wins this year is the most in school history despite losing a pair of star seniors from last year in Diante Baldwin/RJ White: for a guy who was born in Greensboro, is it safe to assume that that this has been 1 of the best years of your entire life? The last 2 years have been really rewarding for me because a lot of the things we have envisioned from a daily approach have started to take shape within our program. I really enjoy the work so the experience during my whole time here has been great, but what has been really rewarding is to see how the culture has grown. We still work at it every day and it is great because everyone is buying in.
What kind of seed do you think that you deserve, and what kind of seed do you think that you are going to get? I do not think that we are entitled to anything so we will be excited to see where they place us on Sunday. We will be fired up to play wherever they send us!