UA head coach reaches Elite 8 in nat’l free-throw contest

Arizona has just one representative in the nationwide free-throw competition among college coaches called “Shots from the Heart.”

But it looks like we’ve got a good one.

University of Arizona head coach, Sean Miller, has made it to the Elite Eight in the contest that has drawn coaches from 64 colleges across the country who are using the event to help raise awareness for the growing problem of heart disease.

And maybe regain some of the bragging rights from bygone playing days on the court.

Shots from the Heart is a season-long free-throw competition that is set up like the 64-team brackets for the NCAA Tournament.  Each month of the regular season, the coaches entered must shoot 25 free throws, with varying point values, as they are matched up in ‘head-to-head’ results with one of the other contestants.

The competition features many of the more recognizable coaching names in college hoops, including Bill Self at Kansas, Steve Alford at New Mexico, Tubby Smith at Minnesota, Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, Jeff Capel at Oklahoma, John Beilein at Michigan, Josh Pastner at Memphis, and more.

Only Miller, Alford, Smith, and Dixon out of that group made it through the first two rounds and will compete in the Sweet 16 this month.  Miller has already completed his third round by making all 25 free throws, which took down Ron Everhart of Duquesne, who made 22 of 25.

Miller is 67-of-75 through three rounds, for a .893 percentage.

Of course, the conditions in the contest aren’t anything like what each coach used to experience in game conditions.  No blaring crowd noise or wild fan section behind the basket to put pressure on the shooter.  Just an athletic department official on hand to record and verify the results.

“We wanted to create something that coaches could have fun with,” said co-founder Angela Lento.  “The fun, but competitive, nature of this event is something that I am sure Coach Prosser would have enjoyed.”

The event pays tribute to the late Skip Prosser, who spent 21 years as head coach at Loyola (MD), Xavier, and Wake Forest before passing away from a heart attack in 2007.

Miller is not only the only coach entered from an Arizona college, but also the only Pac-10 coach involved.  Nothing like a little additional pressure.

Miller had to be considered a favorite going into the contest, which is administered by in conjunction with Close The Gap, an educational initiative designed to promote awareness about cardiovascular risk factors.

During Miller’s collegiate career at University of Pittsburgh, he had a .885 percentage at the free-throw line and finished his career as one of the top 10 free-throw shooters in NCAA history.

He’s the only Pitt player to shoot better than 90 percent from the line in a single season – and he did it twice.  He still holds the Pitt record for career percentage.

He is also considered by many to be one of Pitt’s best three-point shooters of all time and was seventh on the Big East career chart.

But Miller has some formidable competition ahead as the competitors are whittled down to the Final Four and then the finals, which will be held at the 2011 Final Four in Houston.  Alford, also one of college’s best all-time shooters, didn’t miss a shot through the first two rounds.

Whether he goes all the way or not, if he maintains the .893 mark he will be able to hold that over his Wildcat team.

Right now, that would beat the best free-throw percentage on the squad.