The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Brandon MillerPosted by WCarey on August 26th, 2013
Brandon Miller is a man who knows Butler basketball. As a point guard for the Bulldogs from 2000-03, he started 97 consecutive games and helped lead the team to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2003 NCAA Tournament – the program’s first such appearance since 1962. After his playing career concluded, Miller began a coaching career on the staffs at Xavier (2003-04), Ohio State (2006-07 and 2008-11), Butler (2007-08), and Illinois (2012-13). What is interesting about each stop in Miller’s assistant coaching career is that every head coach that he worked under – Thad Matta, Brad Stevens, and John Groce – has ties to Butler as an assistant and/or head coach. Following the 2012-13 season, Miller decided to return to Butler to serve on Stevens’ staff. Then, on July 3, Butler and the college basketball world in general were thrown for a loop when Stevens announced that he would leave Butler to take the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics. Butler athletic director Barry Collier acted fast over the holiday weekend, and on July 6, he named the newly-hired Miller as Stevens’ successor. After speaking with new USC coach Andy Enfield and new UCLA coach Steve Alford in the past couple of weeks, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking to new Butler coach Brandon Miller (@BUCoachMiller) about his playing days at Butler, his coaching career to this point, Butler’s recent summer trip to Australia, and the coach’s outlook on the future of Butler basketball.
RTC: You took the Butler job under unique circumstances. You had just arrived back at the school in April expecting to serve on Brad Stevens’ staff, but three months later, Stevens was off to the Boston Celtics and you were now the head coach at Butler. How has that transition gone and what excites you about being back at Butler – now as the leader of the program?
Brandon Miller: To answer the second question first, I think it is always special to be able to coach at a place where you have played. To not only play here, but to have a terrific experience here, is what makes it truly special. Having been an assistant coach here before, it made even more sense to come back to a program that really fits me. It is a program I believe in. It is a program I believe has done it the right way. The program parallels the values I have and what I want to do as a head coach. In terms of the transition, it has been terrific. I have had a ton of fun. Getting to coach our guys, getting out on the recruiting trail four days after I became head coach, and getting to practice with the current team for 10 days before we headed off to Australia has been a lot of fun. I think our players and our staff would agree that we have a lot of fun in a short amount of time.
RTC: A lot is made about “The Butler Way” and the small-town feel of the program. How would you personally articulate “The Butler Way” and what do you think makes the program so unique?
Miller: I think anytime you talk about the Butler Way, you are talking about getting the right people on the bus. It starts with the people and that is university-wide, whether it is the administration, the faculty, everyone in the athletic department, the coaches, and the players. It is about getting the right people on the bus who are going to do things the right way. There is high-character people that you work with every single day and there are high-character players that you coach. The Butler Way is a value-based basketball program – you talk about humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness – things that we not only talk about, but try to live by each day. Those have been our values for awhile – they have stayed the values through every transition, as our foundation has stayed the same. Some would even argue that it has grown stronger. The bottom line is that when those things happen, you just learn to do the right thing. That is something that we continue to talk about and continue to live. We work on those things as coaches every single day that we have our guys.
RTC: Hinkle Fieldhouse has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most historically significant arenas in college basketball. How would you describe the environment at Hinkle on a game day to someone who has never had the opportunity to experience it?
Miller: Our 2003 team was actually welcomed back for the Gonzaga game this past year. It was College GameDay and the environment for that particular game was incredible. It was completely sold-out. The students are right on the court, right on the end lines. The fans at Hinkle are not only passionate about basketball, but they are also very knowledgeable about the game. You can tell this because you see the fans cheering when guys dive on loose balls or guys make the extra pass. They truly know basketball, which is unique. The combination of the fans, being able to play at a place like Hinkle – built in 1928 – and the history of the coaches and players who have gone through this program make Hinkle a truly unique and special place. I am thankful for every day that I get to walk in and coach there.
RTC: In your assistant coaching career, you had the opportunity to work with three young, bright coaches in Thad Matta at Xavier and Ohio State, Brad Stevens at Butler, and John Groce at Illinois. What did you learn from each coach that will help you out as you begin your head coaching career?
Miller: You try to take the strengths of each of those guys and the experiences that you have with them. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to coach with those guys, as they are all successful coaches. They have all done it a little different in their own way. They have all put their personality and stamp on their teams wherever they have been. I try to take little things from each of those guys. At the same time, I also learned that it is important to put my own stamp and my own personality into who I am as a head coach. That is staying true to what Butler is. There is no doubt that I have been blessed to work with those coaches.
RTC: Butler has made the unprecedented move from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East in just three seasons. What excites you about the challenges the program will face as a new member of the new Big East?
Miller: When you stop and think about the teams that are now in the Big East, it is a basketball league. With each school in the conference, basketball is a high priority. Each school has had some great success on the basketball court. When you look at the 10 schools that are in the Big East and their basketball tradition, there are a lot of challenges. You are not going to have easy games when you get into conference play. There are not going to be any nights that you will be able to take off – there will not be any just showing up and winning. I think going through that conference – especially for the first time – we are going to face many challenges. We are going to play really good opponents with really good players who are coached by guys who have won a lot of games.
RTC: The team recently returned from a summer trip to Australia. How special of an experience was that for your players and how did that serve to help team closeness and unity?
Miller: I think looking at our trip and the number of things that we were able to do in a short amount of time in Australia, you can see that we tried making it a full experience for our players and our staff. Having (junior guard) Jackson Aldridge with us, who is Australian, was great. You could see the pride he had for his country as we traveled around to different places. We played cricket on the beach. We divided up into two teams and played for an hour. It was a new experience and everyone had a great time with it. We got to a lot of different things – whether it was going to the zoo, going to Sydney Harbor, going to the opera house, going to both an aborigine and rain forest park – we had a great experience of being able to see Australia. Just having our team together and being able to spend time with one another outside of basketball is something you cannot put a price on. Especially having a team with six freshmen that are coming in that just started summer school, it is important to try to blend everyone together and build that bond. Our guys had a number of different great experiences and I feel our team grew closer during that time. With the transition that is happening with the program, it was a great experience for us to have – through and through.
RTC: Losing junior swingman Roosevelt Jones for the season due to a wrist injury he suffered during a game in Australia is certainly a huge blow to the team. What are your plans to try to counteract that loss and how do you think Jones can still help the team as he is sidelined?
Miller: First and foremost, I really feel for Roosevelt. He put himself in a position to have a great junior season. He was in really terrific shape. His body fat was low. He had played really well during the 10 practices we had leading up to our Australia trip. To see him work as hard as he did and to be where he was at, I really feel for him. You do not wish that injury upon anybody. The way Roosevelt has handled the injury has been very positive. I believe he was hurt initially, but he then turned and started thinking about the team. His first text message to the team after finding out about the injury, he talked about our team this season and what we need to do as a team to be successful. That really showed his leadership skills. Roosevelt is still very much part of our locker room, he is still coming to practice every day, and he is a leader when he is around our guys. He leads in his own way, but he definitely has a presence about him. Our team really respects him because of who he is and what he has done. In moving forward without him, there is nobody in the country like Roosevelt Jones in-terms of his game. He does so many things on both ends of the court. His versatility allows him to do so many things that do not show up on the stat sheet. I think his stats speak for themselves when it comes to what kind of year he had as a sophomore, so I think our team needs to step up. It will not just be in the positions that Roosevelt was going to play, it will be our whole team. Everyone is going to need to take on an expanded role. We are going to need to come together knowing that Roosevelt is not going to be able to play for us this season.
RTC: Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham had a bit of an up and down freshman season – like most freshmen – but he did show that he is a capable scorer. With Rotnei Clarke now graduated and with Roosevelt Jones sidelined, how much of the scoring burden will fall on Dunham and do you think he is capable of taking that on?
Miller: I think Kellen had a great offseason. He is a gym rat and a workhorse. He loves the process of getting better and because of that, he gets better. If you watched our 10 practices this summer, Kellen had a great 10 practices. He played well in the four games during the Australia trip. He has had an increased role in the offense in terms of what is going on and the production that he created. I think there is a natural progression from a freshman to a sophomore and Kellen has done everything in his power to help that along. He had a terrific summer in the weight room and on the court. On top of that, because of the way our team is built, Kellen will have an increased role and his production level will continue to increase.
RTC: Andrew Smith was a mainstay inside for the Bulldogs for a majority of his collegiate career. With him now departed, what do you expect from veteran forwards Erik Fromm, Khyle Marshall, and Kameron Woods in the effort to fill the void left by Smith’s graduation?
Miller: Andrew Smith had a great career. He won a lot of games at Butler. He played the game the right way and was part of some very good teams. Fromm, Marshall, and Woods have had some experience and they have won some games as well. I think they have done a good job in the offseason and I think their roles will increase because of who they are as players and because of our team and where we are at. Their strengths are different than what Andrew Smith brought. Fromm, Marshall, and Woods bring most of their skills to the offensive end of the court and that goes well with the way we play. They bring their own skill sets and what they are able to do on the court. We will try to play to their strengths.
RTC: Junior guard Alex Barlow developed a bit of reputation last season as a solid defender and a player who brings a lot of intangibles to the fold. As a former walk-on, how much of an impact has his work ethic had on him becoming a reliable player for the team?
Miller: Alex works extremely hard. He leads by example because of the way he goes about everything. He brings a lot in practice, but he also works very hard on his individual game by himself. You can take the walk-on thing out of the conversation. I just think Alex is a very unique player in-terms of what he brings and what he values in what he tries to bring to the floor. I think the best thing with Alex is that he plays the game with his mind. He has a great knowledge of the game. He wants to be a coach and because of that, he thinks about the game at a high level. When you combine his competitiveness with his work ethic, he does things that really help the team. He has helped the team win some really big games in the past (Barlow hit the game-winning shot with 2.4 seconds to play in Butler’s upset win over Indiana on December 15, 2012) and will continue to do that in the future.
RTC: Lastly, what is the most important thing you are trying to accomplish in your first season as the head coach at Butler?
Miller: Our goals have not changed through the transition. Those things that have been done here for a long time are what we want to continue to do. We know that the journey ahead of us is a day-by-day thing. We have to attack it day-by-day and continue to get better. Where we want to be is not where we are right now. We will continue to attack it the right way, the Butler Way, and just try to get better. We want to play our best basketball at the end of the season.