Archie Miller was walking back toward the Dayton locker room after meeting with the media Friday afternoon when his father poked his head from a training room and alerted his son that Mercer was tied with Duke, 63-63, going into the final minutes of their game. An upset was in the making.
“Woo,” Miller said before making a U-turn.
It was an opportunity for the two to enjoy a father-son moment like they had countless times back home in Beaver Falls, Pa. You could envision John Miller emerging from the family room and sticking his head into the kitchen, making sure his sons were aware that basketball history was about to unfold.
Archie had more important items on his agenda than Duke losing Friday, starting with beating Syracuse tonight at First Niagara Center. He took a peek at the Duke game, before retreating back to the locker room, checking his cellphone, gathering his belongings and heading for the team bus.
Dayton had a second practice as they prepared for Syracuse, an imposing powerhouse that stood in the way of the Flyers reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in three decades. The two teams meet two days after Dayton knocked off Ohio State for the Flyers’ biggest win in years.
Dayton’s victory was the first of many upsets in the NCAA Tournament, and it made for big news across the country. The Page One headline in the Dayton Daily News blared THE University at Dayton, an obvious dig with added twist joyfully inserted into the stomachs of Ohio State snobs everywhere.
While their fans rejoiced, Miller enjoyed only a brief celebration with his team before getting back to work. It fell in line with his businesslike approach and reputation for being an intense coach with an edgy personality. It was one win, and it sharpened his focus on Syracuse with the idea they can win another one.
Dayton isn’t some pushover, you know, like Cincinnati. The Flyers are 24-10, a mid-major program that can play with anybody. Manhattan nearly beat Louisville. Albany was respectable in its loss to top-ranked Florida by 12. Duke lost. There will be others.
And it can happen tonight.
At 35, Miller is considered one of the top young coaches in the country. He was a 5-foot-9 guard from western Pennsylvania who earned a scholarship to North Carolina State before taking up the family business. His father was a legendary coach at Blackhawk High. His brother, Sean, is coaching second-ranked and No. 1 seed Arizona.
John Miller, who grew up playing basketball and baseball against Joe Namath, was revered in Pennsylvania hoops circles. Basketball was his true love, and he ended up winning 583 games and four state championships over 29 years before retiring. He pounded basketball fundamentals into the heads of his kids.
“Some people grow up in a house of doctors or educators or whatever,” Archie Miller said. “My dad was a basketball coach. I was very fortunate to be around him every day. He took a lot of pride in his kids. The game was ingrained. It was an everyday deal, like a job, 365 days. It was always about work ethic and skill instruction.”
Sean was a dribbling wizard as a kid who took his show on the road. He had a cameo in “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh” starring Julius Erving. Sean was shown dribbling three basketballs at the same time. He was on “The Tonight Show” when he was 12. He eventually became one of the best point guards in Pitt history.
Archie Miller, 10 years younger than his brother, was along for the ride before he reached kindergarten. He and Sean were undersized point guards who played for big-time schools through smarts, work ethic and toughness. One sister, Lisa, played for Toledo and Elon. They didn’t sit at the dinner table without talking hoops.
“It wasn’t just the dinner table,” Miller said. “It was every table – every table, every car ride, every practice and every camp. It was always about basketball. And it was a good thing.”
“We never really worried about the colleges,” John Miller said. “It was always about getting better, working every day and outworking everybody. That was our motto. Be the hardest-working fifth-grader, the hardest-working 10th-grader and not worrying about anything else. Fortunately, it worked out.”
By the way, Archie Miller’s given name is Ryan. His father pinned “Archie” on him after Archie Bunker, the contemptuous grouch character played by Carroll O’Connor in 1970s hit series “All in the Family.”
“Archie had that chip on his shoulder,” his father said with a laugh. “He was trying to prove himself. He has grown up that way and has a little more of an edge to him. He was that way when he was little. He was kind of cranky and always causing some little problem at home.”
Now, he’s looking to cause big problems for Syracuse.
Miller, friendly and personable away from the court, clearly has something to prove. He played for N.C. State when his brother was an assistant coach and served as an assistant coach under him before Dayton called. He has a 61-37 record in three seasons with the Flyers, who have won 11 of their last 13 games.
Dayton might be a mid-major school, but it has a major following. The Flyers averaged more than 12,000 fans per game while playing in the Atlantic 10 conference, so it’s not as if they were spooked about playing before big crowds in the tournament. The bigger problem is playing against a bigger team in Syracuse.
It appears to be a monumental challenge, especially after seeing Syracuse trample Western Michigan on Thursday. Miller promised when he was hired that Dayton would return to playing big games after a 30-year drought from the Sweet 16. He has his players believing they can beat the Orange today.
What, you don’t think it can happen?
“We’ve been very consistent with who we are,” Miller said. “We know what we have to do. We know who we are. We know how we have to play. In the last 15 games, we haven’t deviated. We’ve been about ourselves and improving and sticking together. We play to win. We want to advance.”