Two big wins…summer starting well for UA’s hoops boss

After a stunning disappointment that ended the 2011-12 season for the University of Arizona basketball program, its head coach is getting his mojo back in line in preparation for a new season.

The Wildcats went into last season with lofty expectations, but finished the regular season in fourth place in the Pac-12, didn’t get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and played instead as a No. 1 seed in the NIT – where they suffered a huge upset to eighth-seeded Bucknell in the first round.

But that temporary embarrassment didn’t deter the Arizona Board of Regents from extending Sean Miller‘s contract last month.  Last season notwithstanding, Miller has won more regular-season conference games during his first three years at the helm of the program than any other conference team.

And he’s already won a conference championship, posting a 30-win season enroute to the 2011 Pac-10 title and Coach of the Year honors.  That was the same year he took the team to the Elite Eight at the NCAA Tournament.

Miller has also proven to be one of the better college recruiters, snagging top-level talent on a regular basis.   The incoming recruiting class is generally considered among the top three in the country.

Last year, the 43-year-old coach was given a five-year contract, which is the maximum the Board will grant.  This one-year extension was requested by Athletic Director Greg Byrne, who wanted to keep the maximum in place to provide his head coach with some job security, as well as recruiting leverage.

“Our program has made tremendous strides under his leadership and the future looks exceptionally bright,” said Byrne at the time of the extension announcement.  “This just re-emphasizes our commitment to Coach Miller and the University of Arizona men’s basketball program.”

The extension reportedly will pay Miller $2.2 million plus incentives next season, increasing to $2.6 mill by the final year of the contract in 2017.

And, on a less lucrative level, Miller had another big victory last month.  He won the annual From the Heart competition among college coaches.

Miller, who was one of the nation’s best at the free-throw line in college, lost in the finals of last year’s competition, which was the inaugural year for the event which was set up to benefit the American Heart Association.

The competition runs through the regular college season, as coaches periodically shoot free throws on their home sites, with results matched up with other participating coaches around the country.

The Wildcat boss made 24 of 25 free throws to beat Detroit’s Ray McCallum in the final round to win the competition, which awards points for made baskets, increasing as the shot count moves higher to the total 25 each round.

The final score was 55-43 against McCallum – who had drained 25 straight shots in the first round.

And, if the contract extension and shooting trophy aren’t enough to help Miller recover from the disappointments of last season, there’s more.

When August rolls around, he will take his team on a six-day playing tour in the Bahamas.  That should smooth out the rest of the mental wrinkles.

Tough duty, this coaching business.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)