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Monday, May 9, 2011
This weekend's biggest winner: Arizona

By Eamonn Brennan

There were a lot of sports-y things to watch Saturday. The Kentucky Derby. The NBA Playoffs. The Pacquiao-Mosley snoozefest. Chicago Cubs baseball. (Ha. Kidding. No one watches Chicago Cubs baseball.) All things considered, it was a solid day to hang with some buddies, fire up some unhealthy food, and stay within striking equidistance of both a television and a refrigerator.

Sean Miller
Arizona fans worried as Wildcats coach Sean Miller met with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson in Las Vegas.
But if you are a college hoops die-hard -- or, better yet, an Arizona fan -- you were far more interested in something you couldn't watch on TV on Saturday. No, you were glued to the Internet, where our own Andy Katz was filing ongoing reports detailing Arizona coach Sean Miller's Las Vegas meeting with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson about the much-hyped coaching position vacated by former coach Gary Williams late last week.

For all the intrigue on the tube, this one deserved its fair share of attention, too. Would Miller -- who has rebuilt Arizona into a national contender a mere two years after accepting the job in the post-Lute Olson tumult -- leave the comfort and security of Tucson to take his crack at one of the most desirable jobs in the country? Was Arizona to Maryland a lateral move? Did Miller just want to be on the East Coast? And what would become of the Arizona job? (This thing ran so deep Memphis fans were already freaking out about the potential loss of Josh Pastner, the top candidate for any prospective opening at Arizona.)

These are the questions my buddies asked me Saturday afternoon: Why is the Maryland job so attractive? Oh, it is? But can't you recruit just as well from the west coast to Tucson? Doesn't Miller have a good class coming in? Isn't the Arizona gig just as good?

Those weren't just casual sports-dude discussions, though. In fact, they were the essential existential questions suddenly facing Arizona basketball. Would its promising young coach really bolt for another rebuilding challenge, albeit in the enticing recruiting stronghold of Washington D.C./Baltimore? Isn't this program a top 10 job? Isn't it a destination? What, exactly, is going on here?

That's why Miller's decision -- announced via Twitter, and with no small measure of snark, by athletic director Greg Byrne late Saturday night -- must feel like a victory both on and off the court for Arizona fans. Not only does the program get to keep its already successful young coach. Not only does Arizona get to move forward with its loaded 2011 recruiting class. No, Miller's decision also meant something a bit more: Namely, that Arizona was a destination job, that it was every bit as attractive as fans want to think, and that it was capable of keeping its most promisingly influential leader since Olson himself.

Of course, to do so, Arizona had to offer Miller a contract extension, and Miller also got to ask for boosts to his staff's salaries and an increase in the use of charter planes for games and recruiting, according to the Arizona Daily Star. But no matter. Judging by the tenor of Saturday's Internet freakout --- with message board rumors flying about Miller's wife's aggravated desert allergies playing a role in the coach's decision, if you can believe that -- a contract extension and some better travel accommodations are meager prices to pay to keep Arizona basketball, long considered one of the nation's true basketball powers, moving toward a renewal of that goal.

In a weekend of exciting returns and questionable departures, perhaps this was the most important return of all.