Western Pennsylvania basketball bursts onto state, national scene


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John Miller has a dilemma, like no dad ever before.

Go west to see No. 1 son, or south to see No. 2 son? A tough choice, but one sweet parental problem.

The NCAA tournament will have some Miller Time Thursday night, and it will have nothing to do with what’s on tap. University of Arizona coach Sean Miller and Dayton coach Archie Miller both have their teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It will be a historic moment because it will be the first time two coaching brothers have had their teams in the same Sweet 16.

So where does dad go? John Miller is the legendary former coach at Blackhawk High School in Beaver County, where he coached Sean and Archie. Dayton plays Stanford at 7:15 p.m. in Memphis, and Arizona plays San Diego State three hours later in Anaheim, Calif.

“We’re going to watch Dayton,” said John Miller, referring to himself and his wife, Barb.

John and Barb Miller will drive to Dayton today, and then fly with the team to Memphis.

“It has been sort of let’s see what happens with Sean, if they get to the Final Four,” said John Miller. “In the mean time, Dayton catches fire.”

It is no surprise that Arizona is in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in the West Region. But Dayton is the No. 11 seed in the South and had to knock off No. 6 Ohio State and No. 3 Syracuse to get to the Sweet 16. John Miller was in Buffalo to watch both Dayton wins. Dayton’s wins have pushed Archie Miller, 35, into the national spotlight. Sunday, he was interviewed live on CBS by Greg Gumbel, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

Gumbel mixed up Archie, 35, with Sean, 45, in a question and CBS ended the interview abruptly. On Monday, Dayton announced it had extended Archie Miller’s contract through 2019.

“I’m really happy for both of them, but really happy right now for Arch because he is in year three at Dayton, and it looks like he really got this thing turned around, kind of like when Sean was coaching at Xavier,” said Miller. “In Sean’s case, there are a little bit different expectations at Arizona. I think they’ve been thinking Final Four for a while.”

With Sean and Archie Miller making the Sweet 16, and considering some other happenings, this past weekend could be considered one for the ages in Western Pennsylvania basketball — on a few different levels. You just have to take out Pitt’s loss to Florida.

Besides the Millers, consider:

• Kentucky coach John Calipari’s team knocked off No. 1 seed Wichita State, which means that three former WPIAL players are in the Sweet 16 likely for the first time (Calipari played at Moon). Also, one of Calipari’s assistants is John Robic, who played at North Hills.

• Two college point guards who attended Pittsburgh-area high schools only 12 miles apart had big games to help their teams reach the Sweet 16. DeAndre Kane, a graduate of Schenley, had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists and scored the winning basket in Iowa State’s 85-83 victory against North Carolina. Former Chartiers Valley star T.J. McConnell had 12 points, 6 assists and 3 steals to help Arizona beat Gonzaga, 84-61.

• On the high school level, New Castle made history, becoming the first WPIAL team in the pat 31 years to finish a season undefeated when it defeated La Salle College, 52-39, in the PIAA Class AAAA championship Saturday night in Hershey.

• The WPIAL made history when it won five state championships, the most for the league since the PIAA started staging boys and girls championships in 1973. Besides New Castle, the other champions were the Lincoln Park boys and the Blackhawk, Seton-LaSalle and Vincentian girls.

“All of a sudden, you add those things up and it is unbelievable,” said John Miller.

And to think, Archie Miller never wanted to be a coach for a long time.

“He would always say, ‘I’m not going to coach,’ ” said John Miller. “Then, when he got done playing at North Carolina State, it really kind of hit him that it’s over. About a week after he was done playing, he called up and said, ‘You know what? All of the contacts we have are in basketball. I think coaching is the route I’m going to go.’ ”

John Miller said he hasn’t talked much with Sean the past few days because “he is so busy.” But he said Sean and Archie talk nearly every day. John Miller spends a few months every season in Arizona and usually the first month of the season going to Dayton games. Archie was an assistant for Sean before getting the Dayton job in 2011.

“What’s kind of funny is they both kind of operate the same system,” said John Miller. “If you study Dayton, there are a lot of similarities with Arizona in the way they run practices, the way they do pregame, the way they prepare at hotels and some other things.”

Although Sean and Archie coach on different sides of the country, there is a strong bond between the two. Tim McConnell, T.J. McConnell’s father, saw Sean Miller after the Arizona-Gonzaga game Sunday.

“When I mentioned Archie, he said he was just so happy for him,” said Tim McConnell. “You could see what it meant to him because he just got this big smile talking about Archie.”

Arizona’s players were well aware of the possibility of two Millers in the Sweet 16.

“We brought it up a few times [with Sean] that we were all following Archie,” said T.J. McConnell. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re both in the Sweet 16. I’ve said before that coach [Sean] Miller is one of the best coaches in college basketball. His brother is the future of college coaching.”

The Millers and McConnells are tied together mostly because of Sean Miller and T.J. McConnell. But there is more. Tim is the highly successful boys coach at Chartiers Valley, and he used to coach against John. They met in a WPIAL final twice.

Between Sean Miller, Archie Miller and T.J. McConnell playing, and John Miller and Tim McConnell coaching, there are 30 appearances in the WPIAL or state finals between the two families. And it seems they pull for anyone — or anything — with Pittsburgh ties. Tim McConnell was in San Diego Sunday getting ready to attend the Arizona-Gonzaga game with his youngest son, Matt; a family friend, Mike Perhosky; and Chartiers Valley ninth-grade coach Ron Fudala. They made sure to watch the Iowa State-North Carolina game on TV.

“We were watching Kane,” Tim McConnell said. “He’s from Pittsburgh. You cheer for all guys from Pittsburgh.”


Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published March 24, 2014 9:43 PM

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