Five columnists and IU Coach Archie Miller sit in a room.
This isn’t a setup to a punchline. This actually happened.
On Wednesday morning, we made the trek to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to meet with the new coach. The legendary Herald-Times sports editor Bob Hammel, the Indianapolis Star’s Gregg Doyel, WDRB’s Rick Bozich, the Herald-Times’ Jeremy Price and I politely asked for waters as Miller walked into the room holding his Starbucks cup — “just coffee” because the cappuccinos take too long.
A roundtable around a rectangular table — that’s where we found ourselves.
Miller cracked his fingers, put his phone on the table, crossed his legs, and off we went. Down the rabbit hole of IU basketball for a little less than an hour.
My first realization is that, yes, Miller knows how to smile. He even laughs when the moment calls for it. On several different occasions — when pressed on the possibility of kickstarting a rivalry with Arizona and his brother Sean to the bombshell that he almost never eats lunch but loves Mother Bear’s delivery — Miller’s lips moved in a curve that can definitely be classified as more than nothing but less than a beam. Perhaps the Mona Lisa would be the best comparison.
Beaming may not be his thing, but it seems like basketball is. Although “overwhelmed” at his introductory press conference, his insistence of reviving IU basketball shone through. This sentiment persisted behind closed doors as well.
Miller does not seem worried about the offense. The skill sets are there, and the players are in place to put the ball in the basket. Defense is a different monster.
Answering a question about instituting the “tough, nasty” defense he referenced in his introductory press conference, Miller quickly responded with the need for his players to just “start tackling each other tomorrow.” The small crowd responded with some laughs. Apparently, Miller knows how to craft a joke.
“That’s the hardest thing,” he continued. “I don’t care what anybody tells you, it’s not about going out there and yelling at guys. It takes time to build a defense and a culture centered around that it’s important to everybody.”
Miller went on to reference Dayton’s persistence and defensive growth throughout his first three years at the program and how it was the 2014 NCAA Tournament in his third season as Flyers’ head coach when everything fell into place.
He recollected scores and contests from the Elite Eight run and the emphasis on a team defense as the main key to the team’s success. Allowing an average of 61.5 points during this run was the catalyst for the 11-seed making it as far as it did, and Miller wants to bring that hard-nosed style to Assembly Hall.
Along with defense, Miller spoke at length about recruiting in the “bread basket” and finding the Indiana kids who want to win at this program.
“With our resources and the talent around here, we have to take off like Ohio State football,” Miller said. “Look at Michigan football. Look at Texas football. The broad-based brand and messages coming out of the most powerful places in college sports, not basketball, sports. We have to cater that to Indiana. We want to be cutting-edge for sure.”
North Carolina’s recent National Championship was another talking point for Miller. Building a team in the same vein as the one North Carolina just assembled is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for IU under Miller’s tutelage. Recruiting mainly in-state, with a veteran core and young talent, seems like the emphasis for this coaching staff.
“That’s a perfect model,” Miller said in regard to the Tar Heels’ structure. “Why can’t Indiana become North Carolina? No idea why not.”
To build around this model, however, Miller will need some veteran leadership. A guy who knows the program, has grown with it and can be a vocal leader in the clubhouse. In other words, senior forward Collin Hartman.
“You have a lot of conversations, and the one name that we really circled back around to was Collin,” Miller admitted. “I think he was sort of on his way to the future . . . I would say he was definitely in uncharted waters in terms of decision. I think in the back of his mind, as the end of the season approached, he was moving on.”
Some prompting by his new coach and family encouraged Hartman to end on a positive note. Scoring in your last game at Assembly Hall is a hell of a lot better than watching from the bench.
After nearly an hour, Miller grabbed a slice of pizza that was delivered from Café Pizzaria, headed out of the press room and back into the depths of Assembly Hall. He had to go work out Hartman.
It was time to get back to work.