Although Sean Miller got his start in coaching with Herb Sendek, he does not claim to be a part of the Sendek coaching tree. When asked early in his tenure about Sendek, Miller said he was just as much a part of the Randy Ayers and Thad Matta coaching trees. On Monday afternoon the Wildcat head coach told us how much his opposite number at Ohio State means to him.
"Thad Matta is probably my best friend in coaching," Miller said at his Monday press conference. "He's a guy that means a lot to me, I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him. We've worked together both as assistant coaches, and I was fortunate to be brought up as an assistant coach at Xavier when he was the head coach. I learned a lot from him and had a great time together, and because of that we know Ohio State very well."
Miller replaced Matta at Xavier and they later met in one of the better NCAA Tournament games you're likely to see.
"The last time we squared off was in one of the greatest games in the NCAA tournament maybe over the last 10 years," Miller said. "I really thought it was going to be Greg Oden's last game, and it looked that way, but they made an incredible shot."
Miller's Muskateers led the Buckeyes by three in the final seconds of their second round match-up. Ohio State hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime and the Buckeyes won the game, eventually making the national title game.
Of course, Miller will guide his Wildcats to a Sweet 16 meeting with Matta's Buckeyes this Thursday. It is something the two had discussed after the bracket was released.
"We talked before the tournament started," Miller explained. "Wishful thinking, hoping that we would both be in L.A., but you know how that sounds better than reality, but here we are, and it's exciting."
Miller knows the media attention will be on their relationship, but he also knows the game is about a whole lot more than two coaches with a tight relationship.
"I don't want to make too much of it with my relationship with him because this is about the players on both teams, and there's a lot at stake here on Thursday, and I think both of us know that," Miller said. "I don't think we'll talk a whole lot between now and then, but if I were to lose in this round, I will always pull for him and hope that he does well."
The two first met when Miller and Matta were on Sendek's staff at Miami of Ohio. In fact, Miller lived briefly with Matta until he could find a place of his own when he first took the job.
Ironically enough, both were on the staff of the team that beat Arizona in the first round of the 1995 Tournament. Miller called it one of the great "tournament set-ups" since the Wildcats travelled to Ohio, to play first thing in the morning, against a solid mid-major club playing 30 minutes from their home arena.
Both Miller and Matta are similar in that they are incredibly competitive, but according to Miller that is where the comparisons end.
"Thad is a very unique person," said Miller. "He has that quality where you want to follow him, that is one of the many reasons he is such a great coach. The players love playing for him and he has a way of making things fun. He is also one of the most competitive people I've ever met. He has a unique combination, he sometimes puts you to sleep and makes you think that he's not trying when in reality he has that formula where people like him and follow him and he's great at what he does. He's certainly a great competitor. He is an avid physical fitness freak. That's probably a reason why his back situation is what it is today. He would run 20 miles at a time. The physical condition that he is in is amazing to this day. I would've been the opposite, I would've been doing whatever I'm supposed to do other than that. In a funny way, that combination made us get along so well."
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