Dayton season preview: A familiar face returns to A-10

Archie Miller not ready to talk about returning to UD Arena because he won’t have to do it until his second season at Rhode Island, but it remains a special place for him

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jablonski is counting down to the Dayton men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7 with 25 pieces (one every day until Nov. 7) previewing the 2022-23 season. This is the third story.

I interviewed Archie Miller hundreds of times from 2013, when I started covering the Dayton Flyers, to 2017, when he left UD to coach at Indiana. He almost always talked to me when I had a camera of some sorts in my hands, be it an iPhone or my old Canon Mark IV that shot every Dayton game for nine seasons and only recently retired — or both.

When Miller was introduced as the head coach at Indiana, I traveled to Bloomington for the press conference. He spotted me in the stands as he left the court with his family and said, “Jablonski, I can’t get away from you.”

Miller, now the first-year coach at Rhode Island after four seasons at Indiana and one year away from the game, had a similar reaction when he saw me sit down at his interview roundtable Thursday at Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day in Brooklyn.

Miller: “There’s that camera.”

Me: “It’s a new one.”

Miller: “Did you get some good shots?”

Me: “I got a few.”

Miller: “Put me in the Dayton Daily News.”

Me: “I’ve got a lot of photos of you, deep in the archives.”

Miller: “Exactly right. Feels like 20 years ago.”

Me: “Good to see you.”

Miller: “Good to see you.”

An hour so earlier, Miller missed the group photo with the other 14 A-10 coaches in front of the Barclays Center. Dayton coach Anthony Grant barely made it in time, joining the coaches after they had already posed for one photo. Miller apparently ran into traffic issues. One of the young reporters who works for used photoshop to edit Miller into the photo I took of all the coaches. Miller saw it on Twitter and responded with a laughing emoji.

Dayton fans didn’t often see the laughing and smiling Miller in his four seasons, though he had plenty of reasons to be happy while leading the program to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. He was so intense on the sideline his typical look was a scowl. Media Day offers opportunities for questions outside the typical in-season queries, and Miller lit up at times throughout his session with reporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Miller’s return certainly offers up an interesting storyline for Dayton fans, though way down on the list in a season in which the Flyers are the A-10 preseason favorite and a likely top-25 team. I had been itching to ask Miller about what it will be like to return to UD Arena. No one asked him that at his introductory press conference last spring, and when the A-10 scheduled a Dayton game at Rhode Island but no game for the Rams in Dayton this season, it became less pressing to hear what he had to say. However, I still wanted to get his thoughts.

Here’s his answer:

“It’s not in the thought process right now,” Miller said. “First thing you look at when you get that schedule, it’s, ‘Where we heading?’ and it was definitely on my mind. One, because I I understand what that place is like — not as an opponent — but also what great experiences it created for myself, my family. A lot of great things happened there in my time with great people. So the last time I was in there was my last game and the next time I go in there, it’ll be a little different. I’m not heading there this year, so it’ll be another year before we have to kind of dive into that.”

Miller saw his old home on TV last summer when seven of his former players teamed up for a Dayton alumni team, the Red Scare, in The Basketball Tournament. Vee Sanford, Jordan Sibert, Scoochie Smith, Darrell Davis, Josh Cunningham, Trey Landers and Ryan Mikesell — all recruited by Miller and his staff — helped lead the Red Scare to the semifinals of the $1 million tournament, winning four games in six days.

This was the fourth season the Red Scare has fielded a team in the TBT.

“I try to check those guys out every time they get in that, and it’s great to see them play,” Miller said. “Now that it’s at UD Arena, I’m sure it’s a much different feeling for them. I was pulling hard for them this year because I thought they had a chance, being at home. It was good to see Scoochie out there. I know he hadn’t played before with the guys. But most importantly it’s good to see them all doing well, smiling, having fun. I keep in touch with pretty much everybody regularly the best I can.”

Miller has also kept an eye on Dayton’s program since he left. He said Grant has done a “fantastic job” and said Dayton could be a top-10 or top-15 team in the 2022-23 season.

“Anthony’s a great, great fit for the school,” Miller said. “He was a great player there. He knows the university. How he operates on and off the floor, he’s going to fall right in line with all of the great things that the University of Dayton and its fan base want. You’re looking at a Final Four team before the tournament got shut down.I think it’s kind of really unfortunate that team didn’t have that opportunity to keep progressing.”

Dayton fans will remember Miller’s wife Morgan and daughter Leah being two of his biggest fans at many games during his six seasons. Leah was in sixth grade when the Millers left Dayton and is now a senior in high school. She will attend LSU and compete for the gymnastics team next year.

Miller said his wife and daughter took a visit to LSU last weekend, and he got to go with them on a previous visit last fall. He said it was one of the best things he got to do in his year away from coaching.

“I’m excited for her,” Miller said. “Morgan is excited as well. It’s an amazing time.”

Miller also got to go every one of his daughter’s gymnastics meets last season and saw how different it is from basketball.

“I watch her practice like six hours a day every single day,” Miller said, “and you have to be perfect in 20 seconds. It’s crazy. I have an appreciation for the sport and the stress that goes along with the girls. Because you put in that amount of time and then slip off a beam and not land something right and have all that work go down in 20 seconds. It’s an incredible sport. They work really hard. It’s a hard sport.”


Part 1: Fans dreaming big as always

Part 2: A-10 changes tournament format for first time in years

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