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Sean Miller is carrying on a family tradition in more ways than one
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online

If you spent any time watching Steve Alford, Billy Donovan, Quin Snyder and Tommy Amaker grace the hardcourts in the '80s, their current success as coaches should come as no shock. For the type of savvy, poise, leadership and direct extension each of these guards provided for their respective coaching staffs on the floor, they might as well have received Grad Assistant credits. It made their meteoric rise through the coaching world the logical progression, not a fallback from an NBA dream gone bad.

If anyone copies this mold, it's Sean Miller.

Sean Miller is Pitt's all-time leader in assists (744) and free-throw percentage (.885), and is currently ranked 10th on the school's all-time scoring list (1,282 points).

Those familiar with Miller's career at Pittsburgh ('88-'92) might better remember the glass-breaking power of Jerome Lane, the dominance of Charles Smith and his Fab Five-ish classmates Bobby Martin, Brian Shorter, Darelle Porter and Jason Matthews. But whether it was during the team's first run to an outright Big East title in '88 when Miller burst onto the scene as the conference's Rookie of the Year, or during the three forays his squads made to the Big Dance, Miller was the absolute catalyst.

Devoid of any flash, the skinny 6-foot point guard was Wojo without the spikes, and more dangerous behind the three-point arc. He had that robotic shooting release old-timers go into heat over and all the requisite attributes every point guard should have: complete understanding of the offensive sets, a pass-first mentality, a marksman jump shot when needed and a miniscule assist to turnover ratio. In addition, Miller was always the one player teams never wanted to foul at the end of a game (his 88.5 career free-throw percentage is best in Big East history), which was unfortunate for his opponents since the ball rarely wasn't in his hands.

When assessing Miler's game, one only needed to attach two words to sum up his acute awareness and dependable play: coach's son. Playing for his father, John, at Beaver Falls (Pa.) Blackhawk High was the final leg in a life's worth of basketball lessons that ultimately inspired Sean to follow in his dad's footsteps.

"My dad always had time for me. It was never a problem for me to go with him on the team bus or to be with him when he was scouting," said Miller, whose dazzling ball-handling skills at a young age were shown on "The Tonight Show" and "That's Incredible." "I remember driving in cars with him back even in fourth or fifth grade, and him talking about the game we just played. Because of the exchange of information and being around the game day in and day out, it just became a part of me.

"It's no different than if you grow up in the house of a doctor or a businessman, you seem to follow the profession of your father or whoever you grew up around. Not only is a he a basketball coach, he probably has as much passion for the sport as any person standing. Because of that, not only did I grow around basketball as a player, but, ultimately, coaching just seemed to be in my blood from the beginning."

Realizing that goal early on made it easy for Sean when his career at Pitt came to a close after a five-year span that included a redshirt year in '89-90 due to a foot injury. Though he was being looked at by NBA scouts and invited to the Portsmouth Invitational with the rest of the top seniors in the country during the spring of his senior year, Miller was already working his contacts in search of a coaching job.

Like many kids his age, he was looking for work in his native area while also weighing graduate school, even though the NCAA had done away with the GA position earlier that year. Before ever attending the pre-draft camp in Virginia, he saw a possible dream scenario open up for him via, of all places, "SportsCenter."

"I was watching ESPN and saw that Stu Jackson got the head job at Wisconsin," said Miller, who was recruited by Jackson when he was an assistant at Providence under Rick Pitino. "The next day, I went up to the basketball office and got the Blue Book out and called."

Before anyone knew his playing days were over, Miller became the restrictive-earnings coach on Jackson's staff that included current N.C. State coach Herb Sendek. (See where this is going?)

When Sendek got the head job Miami (Ohio) University, he asked Miller to join him as a second assistant, where he'd be heavily involved in recruiting. Though it meant leaving the glare of big-time basketball in the Big Ten, it was a no-brainer.

"I knew what kind of a hard-worker he was, and I knew what type of guy he was in terms of following rules and doing things the right way," said Miller. "To be able to go on the road and recruit for a guy like him, it was an opportunity."

Heading south became a family affair
Save for a one-year stint at his alma mater for the 1995-96 season, Miller has been with Herb ever since. Now in his fifth season at N.C. State, his recruiting expertise and one-on-one coaching skills has made him a hot commodity that will undoubtedly put him on several schools' short lists when head coaching vacancies open up at the end of the season.

But one reason the safe money is on Miller to remain in Raleigh for at least another season is a 5-10 junior guard that he's taken under his wing -- his brother Archie.

In typical Miller fashion, Arch was hitting on 62 percent of his threes (31-50) and 63.2 percent from the field (48-76) before he went down with a stress fracture in his left shin in mid-January. Though he is another proud disciple of John Miller and Blackhawk High, which included former UNC guard Dante Calabria, Arch believes his brother is the reason behind his success this season.

Archie Miller
Archie Miller dribbles the ball down the court during a game against North Carolina earlier this season.

"I was playing the best ball of my career, and I credit it solely from his advice last year on what I needed to work on to get better," said Arch, who hopes to be back on the floor sometime next week. "(Sean) really can take an aspect of your game -- even during the game -- and give you even one little point that triggers your mind and you soon see success from it. It's a daily thing with him. The guys on the team really respect him as a teacher. He teaches the mind things, how to be mentally tough, how to be strong with the ball."

Being coach's sons, the Miller boys know a thing or two about getting yelled at, or made to work twice as hard so that no one can gripe about favoritism. Arch thinks that might have been the case for him again in college if Sean was the head coach, but it certainly hasn't been that way in his current role.

"He's much more of a helping guy who has positive reinforcement all the time," said Arch. "His teaching comes more from a player's perspective, but he knows when to put the pedal down to drive a guy, especially with me. He always knows how to hit the right spot to get me in gear."

The one thing Arch doesn't have to deal with is the type of daily mano y mano duels brothers thrive on no matter what the age difference. There are no post-practice death matches or the chance of being shown up in a drill by his older brother/coach.

"He actually got hurt my freshman year," said Arch. "It was kind of a funny incident. We were down to not so many scholarship players, so he jumped in and practiced. He tore his Achilles in the first five minutes, so ever since then, he really hasn't messed around playing too much."

Perhaps that's just another way for Sean to further remind himself and his team that his playing days are far in the past, and jumping into scrimmages isn't proper for a head coach, which is what he'll be before long.

"I would like to be a head coach, like a lot of assistants," said Sean. "I think the best way to do that is to do the best job possible at the place you're at, and not have one foot out the door continuing to look here and look there. My primary goal is to get N.C. State back to where it belonged and I think we're on the brink of that happening. If in fact I have the opportunity this spring or whenever it happens, certainly I would love it."

Though Sendek knows he's lucky to have a sidekick like Miller next to him in the huddle, he's not able to openly endorse his top guy for another school like someone else down the bench.

"He's on his last stint," said Arch. "He's a major cornerstone of the program, but he's ready. He's a great X and O guy. He can recruit. He relates well to the guys since he played and he's fairly young.

"So he'll get his opportunity soon and he'll have a lot of success. I know that."

Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.

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