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Q&A: UC men's basketball coach Wes Miller talks roster rebuilding, program legacy and motivating players

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Posted at 12:55 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 12:55:03-04

CINCINNATI — Wes Miller may be the first coach to win before his introductory press conference. UC’s new head men’s basketball coach was able to convince Mike Saunders to return to the Bearcats after the freshman guard put his name in the transfer portal.

Miller sat down with WCPO 9 Sports Reporter Keenan Singleton the day he was announced as the 28th head coach in program history.

WCPO: "Pennies for your thoughts" is something you did with your old program at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. What is the significance of pennies for you and your program, and what do you want to instill in your guys when you lead them at Cincinnati?

WM: It's simple. Talked a little about it at the press conference. I'm a big dreamer. I really believe in working small. Talked about it in the sense of being a “one day at a time” program. What we mean by that, the growth mindset -- that seems to be a key word you hear in society now -- embracing the things that are in front of you and excelling in the area right in front of you.

In a college basketball program, that's like the next set in the weight room, that's the next drill in practice, that's the next study session, the next class. We want to try to just dive into the moment and be excellent in that moment. And if we can do that, I believe when we put days together doing that, the results follow.

So the pennies in the jar are a metaphor that if we had a practice, we had the right mindset, the right approach, the right effort, the right focus, and we all agreed as a team -- doesn't mean we had to shoot the ball great, we didn't have to do everything perfect -- but if we had the right approach, every player on the team would put a penny in the jar. And the idea, was if we can just focus on putting a penny in the jar every day, that jar gets bigger, and great results will follow. I'm sure we'll do something like that here because I think it says what we're about: being excellent in the moment.

WCPO: A lot of people see five guys on the Cincinnati roster, and it doesn't look like the best landscape in college basketball right now. What do you see when you look at this roster and when you see this program?

WM: There's five guys on the roster, but there’s a handful more that could potentially be back on this roster. I don't think it needs to be as dire as it appears. The guys that I've talked to that are in the portal, they love Cincinnati. They came here for a reason. They're open to coming back. I think we can build with the current players that have been in the program. They already understand what it takes to be successful here... they know what it takes to compete with Houston and Wichita State and the other great programs in this league and the great programs around this country.

So I think we need to start there, but make no mistake about it -- we need to put a great team together, a team that can compete from day one. Start with these current guys, then go out on the recruiting trail and try to put a team together that can compete. Mike Saunders saying “yes” -- I think all these guys that don't know me, that were in the portal or not, that say ‘hey, I'm willing to go two feet in with you,’ that'll touch me. And I'll think about that every day that I coach them moving forward.

WCPO: You spoke about the transfer portal during your introductory press conference. You mentioned it will be a tool this university will utilize. From day one, where do you go with it?

WM: There's been a number of young people and high school coaches and summer coaches and people with relationships to prospects reaching out, and I've told them to hang on a second. Let me make sure where these guys are in this program. They've been through a lot. It's going to be about the players first, and they're the current players here. From there, we'll hit the recruiting trail pretty hard.

WCPO: It seemed like it was important to you to get the former players that were pretty vocal about this process of selecting the new head coach at Cincinnati. Why was it important for you to reach out to those guys?

WM: One of the reasons this is such a dream job for me is because what it's already been. The history, the tradition, and not through just one era. Generation after generation, certainly during my basketball lifetime where I can remember, it was Coach Huggins’ teams, Mick Cronin's teams -- I've gotten a little bit older. But it goes back beyond that. This is one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball. The people that understand that the best are the people... the ones who wore that jersey. They're the most invested. They put their blood, sweat and tears out on that court every single night, every single practice to accomplish those things.

This program's gonna be about the players. It's gonna be about the players first. And I understand that means the former players as well. I embrace them. They're one of the main reasons I'm here, and I want them to give me a chance to earn their respect, earn their trust, and to make them proud about what we're doing here moving forward.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and format.