Miller finds full package at Xavier

Dan Wetzel

BOSTON – Everyone always wants to know where Xavier coach Sean Miller is going next, and if you ask him he hopes it's another Elite Eight.

A victory over No. 1 seed Pitt on Thursday in the East Region would send the Musketeers (27-7) to the edge of the Final Four for the third time in five years, a streak that only a half-dozen schools could equal or exceed. His program is full of great young talent and incoming players, to the point where if Derrick Brown returns they'll be a preseason top 10 again next season.

Xavier fills up its 10,000 seat on-campus facility, graduates just about every single player and plays in Cincinnati, perhaps the most college hoops-mad major city in the country. Miller makes good money, has better security and goes home to a wife and three sons who love living where they do.

"Happiness is something that comes from within," Miller said Wednesday. "You look at Xavier and you know how lucky you are to be here."

Miller, 40, is 120-46 in five seasons at Xavier and from his coaching to his comportment he has big-timer written all over him. It's why so many people speculate that he'll run off to the first big-time offer made to him.

No one is going to predict Miller will retire one day from Xavier, but what everyone seems to be missing is how Xavier, brick by brick, has built itself into a major program. In the 1990s, when Pete Gillen breathed life into the place, it was a stepping stone. These days, however? Not so much. The Atlantic 10 conference affiliation doesn't define this program.



"If you've been to the Cintas Center, our on-campus facility, to me it's one of the nicest in all college basketball," Miller said. "It's on campus; it's accessible to our team 12 months out of the year. We have our own practice facility, state-of-the-art weight room and anything you'd ever want for the team that you have and the players that you coach, it's the best of the best.

"When you look at our non-conference schedule and some of the things we've done in recent years, where we'll be next year, to me it's so much more about your program than the name on the front of your jersey and what you stand for than whether you're in this conference or that conference.

"College basketball is not college football."

Everyone's waiting for Gonzaga to break through to the Final Four, but despite the long-term success Mark Few has had in Spokane, Xavier is as likely as anyone to make the NCAA final weekend.

It's location in a talent-rich area, commitment to the sport and strong facilities provide for year in, year out success even when the coaches and players change. Miller not only fully appreciates the opportunity he has at Xavier, he fully embraces what the school is about.

He's surrounded by major programs – Ohio State, Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati – and found a way to turn it into a positive. He's the small private school choice of the area. He says in terms of basketball, no one offers more. In terms of academics, Xavier offers plenty.

"We have the No. 1 graduation rate in all of college basketball," he said. "It's a Jesuit school. The average class size is 17. It's a way of being a student-athlete that's unique. If you're looking for fraternity row and the 100,000 seat football stadium, then we're not for you.

"If you're talking about development, for example, David West, James Posey, Brian Grant, guys who came as not McDonald's All-Americans but left as longtime NBA players we don't take a backseat to very many programs."

He raves about the facilities and the fact that the team charters most trips and that he has access to a private plane for recruiting – "unmatched commitment," he calls it. He loves that he's at a place that can recruit stable, high quality people.

"I think one of the keys to being successful at Xavier is you've got to know who we are," he said. "There's never any corner cut when it comes to basketball excellence. And on the reverse side, the expectation is there should never be a corner cut in terms of players attending class and working toward graduation."

Being successful at Xavier is also about understanding who you are. With three young boys, he treasures being at a place where you don't have to do an endless alumni-chicken-dinner-speaking tour. He doesn't wish for having to work a different kind of recruiting pool.

And the simple fact is, winning is always fun.

"It says it all. It says a lot about the type of players we have in our program," he said.

Miller may not stay at Xavier forever, but he isn't looking to jump at any opportunity. If you can free your mind from the concept that conference means everything, it's easy to see how there aren't many programs that offer a better situation than Xavier.

Some, yes. But not many.

What the program once was, it isn't any longer; Xavier is going for another Elite Eight on Thursday. The place may even keep a coach for the long haul.