Call them what you like — the coach and the player, the yin and the yang, the foot and the butt — if ever two guys have brought the best out of each other, it’s Archie Miller and Jordan Sibert.
They are the two biggest reasons the Dayton Flyers have become one of the most remarkable stories in the basketball world this season.
“I really believe we have gotten the most out of each other,” Miller, the Flyers’ fourth-year head coach, said Monday. “We have worked very hard together.”
Coming into tonight’s home finale against Rhode Island — a UD Arena showdown between two of the three leaders in the Atlantic 10 Conference — the Flyers are 22-6 and on the cusp of a Top 25 ranking and a return to the NCAA Tournament where, last year, they made the Elite Eight and caught everyone’s attention, as well.
Tonight is Senior Night and Sibert, the lone final-year player of the team, will be honored at midcourt. Initially a transfer from Ohio State, he is UD’s leading scorer (16.5 p.p.g.,) the guy who has played the most minutes this season (33.6 per game) and, in Miller words, “the reason we are relevant now.”
In turn, Miller is the reason Sibert is relevant.
When he left Columbus three years ago, the 6-foot-4 guard was little more than a Buckeye castoff, an afterthought, who was just another unknown face on the roster and around campus when he first got to UD.
How else would you categorize a guy who averaged 2.5 points and 9.8 minutes a game in two seasons with the Bucks?
“Jordan was thought of as an after-factor when he got here,” Miller said. “He wasn’t, so to speak, ‘good enough,’ but I believed he was and I think he believed he was, too.”
Thanks to Miller’s in-your-face style, Sibert has become the thick-skinned Flyer who night after night puts the UD team on his back and almost certainly will be a first-team All-A-10 selection.
And just as everybody now knows Sibert’s name, Miller has become the talk of the coaching world. When he took over the Flyers job in 2011, he was just 32, the fourth youngest head coach in NCAA Division I basketball. He was better known as the kid brother of Arizona — and former Xavier — head coach Sean Miller.
Now Miller is one of the hottest young coaching commodities in the game. While last year’s Elite Eight run put him on the national radar, this year’s effort — with a young, woefully under-manned and under-sized team – is the more telling performance and shows he’s not just some one-and-done shooting star.
And a big reason for that success is Sibert.
“As you build a program, you bring in pieces you hope can elevate you and he’s certainly the guy who had helped us elevate our program,” Miller said. “He’s a difference maker.”
No free pass
Coming out of Princeton High in Cincinnati, Sibert said he knew about Flyers basketball because of his brother — who went to UD — but said, “I didn’t think I fit in here. I didn’t have a connection beside my brother.
“But with Ohio State … I played AAU with half the guys going there. It was kind of a no-brainer. A bigger school and being with all my friends, it was kinda easy.”
And then it wasn’t.
“Coming out of high school every kid is different, but your anticipation, your expectations, aren’t usually in line with reality,” Miller said. “At Ohio State at that time, they were the No. 1 overall seed if I remember correctly and they had a real veteran group. The second year (Sibert was there), they went to the Final Four.
“A lot of guys think things will be given to them. I don’t necessarily know if Jordan really ever earned the right to be a great player at Ohio State.”
Sibert didn’t want to elaborate on his Ohio State past Monday, but he did admit: “I had an opportunity, but I feel like maybe I didn’t cash in on it when I should have. Regardless of what that situation was, it wasn’t the right one.”
He decided to transfer and the connection between OSU coach Thad Matta and Miller, once a Bucks’ assistant, helped pave the way for Sibert’s short trip from Columbus to Dayton.
Even so, Miller said it was “a leap of faith” for both himself and Sibert, who was coming to a coach who was beginning just his second season.
Miller said Sibert faced “a change in coaching philosophy. It was a lot different here. To me, Jordan needed a foot up his butt, so to speak. … He had to understand there are no short cuts. And I’ll tell you he took the best of us. Very few coaches or players will say we’ve been easy on Jordan. He hasn’t gotten a free pass.”
And yet Sibert, who was red-shirted his first season to meet NCAA transfer rules, responded to the challenge and still does. Even today, there is no one Miller seems to jaw with any more during games than his team’s leader.
“Knowing Coach Archie for as long as I have, he wants the best out of his people,” Sibert said. “Lots of times people will see the fire in him, see players going back and forth, and think it’s wrong. But it’s the way we communicate. We push each other. He’s a great motivator. He’s a competitor and I feel we feed off that.”
‘A good story’
That spring of his sophomore season — after he had decided to leave the Buckeyes, but while he was still enrolled at OSU — Sibert said he’d go the gym to work out and he’d dream.
He fantasized coming back and one day playing against OSU, which he and the Flyers did when they knocked off the Bucks in the NCAA Tournament last year. Even more than that, he said he foresaw these moments of greatness this season.
“This is what I dreamed,” he said.
While it seems far-fetched, he said it was a natural progression that started once he regained his confidence on the court.
In the past two years, Sibert has played in all 65 of the Flyers games and started 63.
He’s been the team’s leading scorer both seasons and this year he has been the player the team has looked to in its most crucial moments.
That was never more evident than last week when — even while playing with a sore wrist that now keeps him from practicing — he led UD to a pair of victories, scoring 24 against George Mason last Wednesday and then 19 in a showdown of A-10 front runners Saturday at VCU. His efforts have made him the co-A-10 Player of the Week.
“It’s a good story,” Miller said. “He has a chance to write his legacy across his chest with a championship. He’s had to deliver every day for us and he has. And he’s done it the hard way.”
That’s also the Miller way.
And because of it, both the coach and the player, the yin and the yang, the foot and the butt are better for it.
Most of all, so too are the Flyers.