From the beginning of his career as a college basketball coach, Archie Miller has recruited the state of Indiana. That is literally true. Indeed, Miller has not coached in Indiana. He did not play high school basketball there. Of the 123 games he played for the North Carolina State, just one occurred in the Hoosier State.
When Miller landed his first full-time coaching job out of college, though, on Darrin Horn’s staff at Western Kentucky, an athletic wing player named Courtney Lee was the first player he was assigned to recruit. Lee was one of several Division I prospects on the team at Indianapolis’ Pike High School. Miller was essential to the Hilltoppers signing him. Lee became Western Kentucky’s career scoring leader, fueled the team's run to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 and still is playing in the NBA more than a decade later.
“Archie took the lead on him and did a terrific job,” Horn told Sporting News. “For assistants, the big thing is all the details of it: knowing who’s involved, what’s important to the kid, who else is recruiting him. For a guy in his first fulltime job, I thought he was really thorough and built great relationships.
“One of the ways he got him, Courtney had a little bit of work to do academically. Some people didn’t recruit him because of that. And Archie got in there and said, ‘Yeah he can make it, and here’s what he has to do.’ He knew exactly what the steps were, and what had to be taken.”
Growing up in Western Pennsylvania as the son of a legendary high school coach and the brother of a local college hoops hero, Archie Miller has prepared his entire life to become the head coach at a place such as Indiana. It may offend some of the most ardent Hoosiers that he didn’t prepare specifically for it to be Indiana, but he is too bright and too focused and too driven not to recognize the aspects of the position that make it extraordinary.
That includes the exceptional talent base that had been relatively untapped in recent years, as such players as Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), Caleb Swanigan (Purdue), Zak Irvin (Michigan), Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) chose to sign elsewhere.
It also involves stories such as one from a visit I took to Bloomington one summer to interview former coach Tom Crean. We were in the parking lot of Assembly Hall when an older couple approached and asked for a favor. They were from the northern part of the state and were passing through on a trip —to Florida perhaps —and were just hoping they could step inside the arena and take a quick look. They weren’t able to get to games in the winter, but they wanted to see the place just once. Crean was very accommodating to them. Archie Miller is going to understand.
After completing his playing career with the Wolfpack by hitting 72 3-pointers and helping them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade, Miller served as an intern in the school’s basketball department and then was the first person Horn hired when he was named WKU coach in 2003. Miller was recommended by Dave Telep, then working as a recruiting analyst for Scout.com and now director of scouting for the San Antonio Spurs. Miller’s was the only name Telep offered. It was that obvious he would become a coaching star.
Miller stood out as an intense competitor even while playing for the Pack, and he carried that from his one year at Western to a couple on staff at his alma mater, and then Arizona State under Herb Sendek, Ohio State with Thad Matta and then two years working for Sean at Arizona. He had hopedto work for his brother at Xavier when Sean was hired in 2004, but the school’s nepotism rules prevented it. Arizona did not stand in the way of him joining the Wildcats staff, and Archie was on the bench for the team’s Elite Eight run in 2010-11.
Upon being hired at Dayton soon after, Archie directed five of his six teams to 20 or more wins, and the past four reached the NCAA Tournament. The past two won Atlantic-10 regular-season titles. In 2014, he took Dayton to the Elite Eight.
Dayton’s fan base can be less overtly demanding than most. They want their team to be good, but they’ve been known to support the Flyers even at their worst. The public demands of Miller’s new job will be far greater than at UD. Indiana’s support reaches to every inch of the state’s border,although there certainly plenty of Purdue, Butler and Notre Dame fans throughout. Allegiance to the Hoosiers stretches beyond the state for the members of the large alumni group —and regular Hoosiers who grew up following the team —who relocated.
Archie Miller will have to cope with the spectacle that comes with being Indiana coach.
“I think all the things that go into being a good head coach, all the way down to dealing with the media and understanding the marketing of the program," Horn said."I think he gets that.”
Or as another person in the basketball business said Saturday, “You get a lot less spectacle when you get a lot more wins.”