Like most of us, it is difficult for Indiana head basketball coach Archie Miller to comprehend that this new COVID-19 pandemic reality has gone on this long.
When the Big Ten canceled its conference basketball tournament shortly after IU’s first round win over Nebraska on March 11, no one knew what the future held.
But for Miller, still sitting here in a state of limbo as the calendar gets set to turn to May doesn’t seem possible.
“If you had told me six weeks later this is sort of what we’ve been dealing with I would have been the first to tell you ‘come on,'” Miller said on the Hoosier Hysterics podcast released on Tuesday morning.
For a college basketball coach, maintaining connectivity and a culture is mission critical.
In today’s game, the players for the most part stay on campus during the offseason, and staying connected to what they are are doing from the standpoint of skills development, training and academics is relatively easy.
That has all changed since things went haywire in mid-March.
“Those guys all got scattered very quickly,” Miller said. “They’re all at home in their home situations.”
For Miller, not having his players in Bloomington working on their games and their bodies has been a big adjustment.
“Not being able to grab your players at the drop of a dime, that’s the thing that has been a little bit different,” Miller said. “They’re just not around. That’s been the biggest adjustment, you’re not around your players right now.”
The new reality brings to mind an old reality for Miller and the assistant coaches on his staff.
“You have Bruiser Flint on your staff, you have guys that are really experienced and they’re like ‘man, 15 years ago this was normal.’ Guys just went home after school ended and you saw them back in August and if they didn’t come back better, that’s on them. You’re starting to teach your players about ownership, and themselves and each other.”
Of course not every player has the same resources available to them at home. Whereas 15 years ago every player likely had some access to a gym or at a minimum an outdoor court, that isn’t the case in today’s circumstances.
Unless someone has a family connection to a gym, many players are left with whatever basketball situation they have at home. And for some, that isn’t much.
“As a coach you’re always worried about getting better and starting to workout, but they’re all in different circumstances,” Miller said. “Some guys have a rim, so guys don’t have anything.”
Miller and his staff are not completely shut off from the players.
Like everyone else, they have learned to use technology to stay in touch over the last seven weeks.
“We basically meet as a team and a program once a week,” Miller said. “Zoom is the thing to do. I’m getting good at it now.
“We’ve really evolved our meetings with the guys now. We’re trying to get them more engaged with each other. We’re bringing speakers on to the calls now.”
Of course there is more to life than basketball right now. Everyone is being touched by the pandemic in different ways. And while they aren’t on campus in the classroom, the academic semester has rolled on.
“We try to update them on anything we have relevant,” Miller said. “The most important thing because they’re away from us is touching them every day academically and making sure we’re finishing because they’re still doing all of their classwork. Sometimes Dr. (Larry) Rink and Tim Garl obviously participate on the call with anything medically. Checking in a lot. Making sure they’re families are okay.”
Miller and his staff are all camped out at their respective homes in Bloomington. The IU head coach said that he doesn’t leave home much, but the staff tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy by maintaining a regular cadence.
“Our staff, we meet regularly every day just like we would normally,” Miller said. “It is an on line virtual deal, whether it be recruiting, basketball or any topic.”
Recruiting has changed as much as anything.
The NCAA pushed down a dead period during what would have been one of the busiest times of year for college coaches. April is the month where AAU play normally kicks off, and live observation and interaction with recruits is allowed.
Recruiting is very much a relationship driven aspect of the business, and like everything, it has been relegated to a much more impersonal computer screen.
“You’re starting to learn how to be more creative with it,” Miller said of recruiting virtually. “But the fact that we haven’t run around in the last six weeks and gotten on airplanes and done all that, it has probably been a little bit of a blessing for every coach. We haven’t been traveling a whole lot but we’ve still been doing a lot of recruiting.”
The blessings for Miller start at home, where he has seen more of his family now than at any point since he graduated from North Carolina State and entered the coaching profession nearly 20 years ago.
“I haven’t had this much time (at home) with my wife and daughter since I graduated college,” Miller quipped.
But still Miller is looking forward to the return to the coaching grind sooner than later.
“I think like everyone we’re hopeful that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and at some point something normal starts to get a little bit back,” Miller said.
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