Cook: Putting family ties to a test
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Is Sean Miller really going to stoop so low?
Is he really going to threaten to put his parents out on the street?
"Unless they plan on staying at Archie's house," Miller said, "they had better be rooting for Xavier."
A little family background:
Miller, the pride of Blackhawk High School and former star point guard at Pitt, is in his third season as the men's head basketball coach at Xavier, which hit No. 24 in The Associated Press poll last week before losses at Creighton and Cincinnati. Brother Archie is an assistant coach at Arizona State, which plays at Xavier tonight. The Miller parents -- Barb and John, a fabulous high school coach at Blackhawk in his day -- will be at the game in Cincinnati and spend the weekend at Sean's home.
"There's no doubt who they'll be rooting for," Sean Miller said again, firmly.
A game that doesn't need any additional spice has a little more. Herb Sendek, the pride of Penn Hills High and Carnegie Mellon, is in his first season as head coach at Arizona State. He was Sean Miller's mentor when Miller was his assistant for seven seasons at Miami of Ohio and North Carolina State.
This is the first time Sendek, 43, has coached against a former assistant.
"I feel old enough as it is. I don't need coaching against Sean to make me feel older," Sendek said.
Said Miller, "I really wish we weren't playing this game."
Not because he doesn't want the folks to come for a visit.
Because his two options tonight are beating a close friend -- not to mention his brother -- or losing.
Where's the fun there?
"I owe Herb Sendek as much as anybody in my life other than my parents," Miller said. "It's like Jamie Dixon probably feels he owes Ben Howland. Herb is the guy I grew up under."
It's funny Miller mentioned Dixon and Sendek in the same breath. Arizona State turned to Sendek -- a Rick Pitino protege -- only after Dixon used its interest to get a better contract at Pitt after last season. Not that Sendek was a bad second choice. He had a successful 10-year run at North Carolina State -- averaging 19 wins a year, being named Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in 2004 and making the NCAA tournament the past five seasons -- even if that never seemed quite good enough in the basketball-crazed Triangle where Duke and North Carolina rule.
"I wasn't necessarily looking to leave North Carolina State," Sendek said. "But the more I looked at this job, the more it made sense to try something new. I became convinced this is an extraordinary opportunity."
There wasn't much doubt Archie Miller would follow Sendek to Arizona State. He played and coached for Sendek at North Carolina State. Sean Miller tried to hire him when he got the Xavier job but couldn't get around the university's nepotism policy. Miller instead hired Kenya Hunter -- a former Duquesne standout -- as an assistant, giving the game tonight just a bit more Pittsburgh flavor.
"They're like two peas in a pod," Sendek said of the Miller boys. "You can throw the dad in there, too. If you had all three in a room and closed your eyes, you couldn't tell which one was speaking ...
"I knew from day one Sean was going to be a great coach. He has a feel for the game you just can't teach. He's going to be very successful. He's already been successful."
Miller, 38, led Xavier on a surprising run to the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament championship last season and a spot in the NCAA tournament. Xavier is off to a 7-3 start this season, although the 67-57 loss to rival Cincinnati Wednesday night was a setback.
Sendek isn't quite as far along at Arizona State. "We had to start in the on-deck circle. We're not on first base yet." Arizona State is 4-3.
"I'm just hoping to keep it under three touchdowns [against Xavier]," Sendek said.
Responded Miller, "Yeah, right. They haven't played in two weeks, which means they've been preparing for us for a long time. No team is more prepared than a Herb Sendek team. It almost seems like a set-up game to me."
At least Xavier's Cintas Center won't be totally hostile for Sendek, Archie Miller and the Arizona State team.
Herb Sendek Sr. -- like the Millers' dad, an old basketball coach -- is making the drive from Penn Hills.
No, he won't be camping out at Sean Miller's place.
It's OK if he cheers for Arizona State.
First Published December 16, 2006 12:00 am