University of Arizona basketball coach, Sean Miller, is this year’s Pac-10 Coach of the Year. And that’s an honor well-deserved.
Just as it was last year when Arizona State’s head coach, Herb Sendek, won the award.
But the Player of the Year award that went to Miller’s 6’8″ super forward has to carry even greater weight because this is his second year in a row for winning one of the most prestigious honors the conference can bestow.
Derrick Williams was honored last year as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Two years, two top awards.
So, now what does the 240-pound big man that plays like a guard have left to accomplish personally?
He literally carried this year’s team to the Pac-10 title, and the Wildcats are considered the favorite to win the conference tournament this week.
Miller may be the architect of an impressive two-year turn-around for the Arizona program, left in disarray after the sudden ‘retirement’ of Lute Olson. But Williams is the construction foreman for the project. Without him, that program would still be working on the foundation, not enjoying the towering edifice they have right now.
Miller should also probably be thanking Tim Floyd, the head coach at USC that left after recruiting Williams to that school, leaving the prized recruit from La Mirada, Calif., to search out a new home. Williams found Arizona just about the same time that Miller decided to also make the desert his home, coming from a successful building project at Xavier, where he had taken that school to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Again, destinies crossed with Tim Floyd. Arizona had reportedly first offered the job to Floyd, who is now coaching at UTEP.
But Miller has done a rebuilding job in two years that most people expected would take considerably longer. He has brought stability back to an elite program that had fallen into disarray after Lute Olson’s departure.
He has led the Wildcats to a 14-4 conference mark, a No. 18 national ranking, and the program’s 12th Pac-10 Championship. The team has been nationally-ranked for the past six weeks and will return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year for the first time in a quarter century.
But there’s little question that Miller’s rebuilding project wouldn’t be to this point yet without Williams – and a deep bench of talented role players.
Even when his numbers are down – which isn’t very often – the Cats have others who step up. In the final game of the season against Oregon, to clinch the Pac-10 crown, Williams had just 14 points. But Kyle Fogg stepped in with 20, Solomon Hill added 14, and Kevin Parrom contributed 10.
But, make no mistake, without Williams, it would have been an entirely different season.
Williams averaged almost 19 points a game, along with eight rebounds. He scored in double figures 30 times, including 10 games with double-doubles, and finished with a .612 field goal percentage.
And he has no trouble doing the dirty work. He recorded the two highest single-game rebounding totals in the Pac-10 this season, with 19 against Washington State and 18 against California.
Williams is only the sixth UofA player, and the fourth sophomore in conference history, to be named the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
So now Miller has one more rabbit to pull out of his hat.
He needs to convince Williams to give him another year before jumping to the NBA, where he would likely be a lottery pick.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics/Luke Adams)