Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, April 18, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The future isn’t always crystal clear for Ryan Miller, but one thing has seemed certain from a young age: Whatever he does, basketball will be involved.
“Basketball’s in our blood,” said UNLV’s newest assistant coach.
Miller’s father, Tom, was a 1,000-point scorer in college and passed down his love of the game to his three sons and daughter. Ryan, the oldest, scored 1,802 points at Northern State University in his home state of South Dakota. He then played a couple of years professionally before embarking on a coaching career that has taken him to stops that include Memphis, New Mexico and most recently two years as associate head coach at Auburn.
Miller is four years older than the youngest boy, Mike, who on Saturday begins the NBA playoffs with the Memphis Grizzlies after helping the Miami Heat win back-to-back titles. So, yeah, basketball means a lot to the Millers. And whether he’s playing, coaching or whatever else may be down the road, Miller doesn’t want to stray too far from the court.
A day after his position at UNLV became official, Miller sat down with the Sun to discuss his route to Las Vegas, what he looks for in a recruit and the time he lit up the scoreboard against Bruce Pearl:
How did you first get in contact with UNLV about this position?
Growing up in the era of watching (Jerry) Tarkanian and the Rebels play and then coaching in the league for five years, I've always had a passion for UNLV and what they've been able to do there. I actually reached out to them once I saw that Heath Schroyer was moving on. I reached out to Coach (Dave) Rice and expressed my interest in coming to UNLV because I could see what he was doing and I was excited about the possibilities of building something here.
Rice’s first season at UNLV was your last at New Mexico. What developments have you seen from then to now?
Dave played back when they were running over everybody, and I know that it was big for him to bring that back and I could see him start to build that. He got more and more talent and worked to build a program, and it takes time when you want to build a national program. I had the foresight, I think, to see that coming together and I'm just fortunate to be a part of this staff.
Most people know about Mike’s 14-year NBA career, but you were a good player yourself …
I played at Northern State University. Here’s some irony: Bruce Pearl, who just took over at Auburn, my highest single-game score came against him when he was at Southern Indiana. I scored 55. Every time he sees me, he gives me crap about it. Then I played overseas in Australia, and that's how I developed great relationships with players like Cam Bairstow and Hugh Greenwood, who we brought over at New Mexico.
Did you always want to be a basketball coach?
I knew I was going to have a career in basketball. At what capacity, coach, management or player, who knows, but I've just tried to reach the top of everything I do. As a player, I was trying to get to the top of the profession as an NBA player. When I realized those dreams were probably not going to come true, that's when I got into coaching.
Who won the family pickup games growing up?
I won them all because I was the oldest. I had two years on Jared and four years on Mike. Eventually it caught up with me. When Mike was a freshman at Florida, he started beating me, so I knew it was time to hang it up. I didn't want to play him one-on-one anymore, I knew that.
What was it like to see Mike win an NBA championship?
Coming from a small town, parents were teachers and educators; very humble roots. To be able to see him play on a stage like an NBA championship with the Heat and the playoffs starting now with the Grizzlies and having the success he's had, I'm just very proud. I see all the hard work it takes to develop that game, and that's something I can help young kids with. Everybody says they want to play in the NBA, but nobody really understands what it takes to play in the NBA.
From the following, select the most rewarding for you: great game as a player, great game as a coach or watching Mike win a title.
I think coaching's the best. A kid like Cam Bairstow, for example. Here’s a kid that nobody recruited, to be able to see the development of that, and the maturing of a kid becoming a man and having success, a kid going from not playing much to being one of the best players in the league and country. That's probably the most rewarding thing about it, when you have an impact on people's lives in a big-time way.
Your reputation is mostly as a great recruiter. How do you see yourself as a coach?
I've been fortunate to recruit some good kids, and that's the first thing we look for: high-character kids that want to work, that want to be part of something special, that want to develop a career and hopefully a professional career and get a good education at the same time. I'm a good recruiter, but I think I'm a very good talent evaluator of people. As you evaluate the talent, you can evaluate what kind of kid is he. Will he be able to develop that talent? Development of that talent is a big-time component of it. And if he wants to work, through my experience, those kind of things are important, and I think I'm really good as far as developing young men. I’m also comfortable with X's and O's because I've been around some of the best coaches in the country, in my opinion.
The head coaches Miller has worked for include John Calipari, Steve Alford, Tony Barbee and Vance Walberg.
UNLV’s incoming class is considered one of the best in program history. How much do you know about the new guys?
Everything I hear is that they're high-character kids and they want to work. An NBA scout told me a long time ago, the one thing you have to look at is: Do they love it? Because if they love it, they're going to do the right things in the classroom, they're going to do the right things as teammates and they're going to be those leaders that you're looking for when you're out there looking for talent.