Wes Miller, the UC men’s basketball coach, talks about roster rebuilding, program legacy, and player motivation
CINCINNATI – Wes Miller may be the first coach to win ahead of his introductory press conference. UC’s new basketball head coach convinced Mike Saunders to return to the Bearcats after the newcomer entered his name on the transfer portal.
Miller sat down with WCPO 9 sports reporter Keenan Singleton on the day he was announced as the 28th head coach in program history.
WCPO: You did “Pennies for Your Thoughts” with your old program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. What does pennies mean to you and your program, and what would you like to convey to your boys when you lead them in Cincinnati?
WM: It’s easy. I talked about it a little at the press conference. I am a big dreamer. I really believe in working small. I talked about it in terms of a “one day at a time” program. What we mean by that is the philosophy of growth – that seems to be a key word you are hearing in society right now – of grasping the things that are in front of you and standing out 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 practice exercise, that’s the next study session, that’s the next class. We want to try to just immerse ourselves in the moment and be excellent in that moment. And if we can do that, I think if we put days together to do that, the results will follow.
So the pennies in the jar are a metaphor that when we had an exercise, we had the right attitude, the right approach, the right effort, the right focus, and we all agreed as a team – that doesn’t mean we did it Had to shoot the ball great, we didn’t have to do everything perfectly – but if we had the right approach, every player on the team would put a dime in the glass. And the idea was if we can just focus on putting a penny in the jar every day, that jar will get bigger and great results will follow. I’m sure we’re going to do something like this here because I think it says what we’re about: being excellent in the moment.
WCPO: Lots of people see five people 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 are five people on the roster, but there are a handful more who could potentially be back on that roster. I don’t think it has to be as bad as it seems. The people I spoke to are on the portal, they love Cincinnati. You came here for a reason. You are open to seeing you again. I think we can build with the current players who were 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 in this country.
I think we have to start there, but make no mistake – we have to put together a great team, a team that can keep up from day one. Start with these current guys, then hit the recruiting trail and try to put together a team that can keep up. Mike Saunders says “Yes” – I think all these people who don’t know me, who have been on the portal or not, who say, “Hey, I’m ready to walk two feet with you” are going to touch me. And I will remember every day that I train them to move forward.
WCPO: You spoke about the transfer portal during your introductory press conference. You mentioned that it will be a tool that this university will use. Where are you going from day one
WM: There were a number of young people and high school coaches and summer coaches and people with prospects and I told them to wait a second. Let me make sure where these people are in this program. You have been through a lot. It will be about the players first, and they are the current players here. From there, we’re going to hit the recruiting path pretty hard.
WCPO: It seemed important to you to win over the former players who were pretty vocal about this process of selecting the new head coach at Cincinnati. Why was it important for you to reach these people?
WM: One of the reasons this is such a dream job for me is because of what it was already. The story, the tradition and not just an era. Generation after generation, certainly during my basketball life that I can remember, it was the teams of coach Huggins, the teams of Mick Cronin – I’ve gotten a bit older. But it goes back beyond that. This is one of the greatest programs in college basketball history. The people who understand that the best are the people … the ones who wore this jersey. You are the most invested. They put their blood, sweat and tears in this place every night, every single exercise to accomplish these things.
This program is about the players. It’s about the players first. And I understand that means the former players too. I hug her. You are one of the main reasons I am here and I want you to give me the chance to earn your respect, earn your trust and make you proud of what we will do here in the future.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and format.