Indiana head coach Archie Miller knew exactly what he and his staff needed to do when the Big Ten and NCAA pulled the plug on the 2019-20 season.
There was really only one thing they could do.
“The first thing that we talked about as a staff is what high school games can we hit,” Miller told Jeff Goodman on the Good-n-Plenty podcast.
That was Thursday, in the immediate aftermath of the complete cancellation of the college basketball season.
Since then, less than 24 hours later, virtually all high school basketball has been canceled and recruiting has been banned.
Miller has been known to say that there are no days off in college basketball, but now he is facing what is likely to be at least two months with, relatively speaking, very little on his plate.
What does the three-year IU coach have planned?
“To be honest with you, I have no earthly idea what I’m going to do,” Miller told Goodman.
Like much of the country, Miller is dealing with a sudden and unexpected new reality.
Concession workers, security personnel and ushers had games to work. Media had games to cover. Local small businesses had tourists to serve.
He had a program on the doorstep of taking a much needed step forward. And he had two seniors that were ready to realize a goal.
“Most people don’t understand what you go through, and in college basketball when you get to that finale on that (NCAA Selection) Sunday, and they call your name, it’s life changing,” Miller said. “Dreams are coming true. You have yourself in a situation where you can go and recreate the narrative around your career as a player, you can recreate the image of your own program.”
It was never more publicly clear how much it meant to Miller to get his team into the NCAA Tournament than when he chastised ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi last week.
Lunardi no doubt prompted the exchange when he remarked “all that Indiana has really proven this year is an ability to lose regularly to good teams.”
Of course you are likely well aware by now of how Miller responded, analogizing Lunardi’s job to a children’s show.
As he left the interview room after a loss to Wisconsin last Saturday, Miller made reference to Lunardi, mentioning a “garbage can.” That’s where Oscar the Grouch lives on “Sesame Street.”
Over the top? Sure.
But Miller was fighting back for his team that had in fact demonstrated an ability to beat good teams. And he was supporting two seniors that were trying to avoid becoming a negative footnote in the program’s history.
“Both of our seniors, who have been through so much, they went through a coaching change, they went through a style change and philosophy change that you butt heads and go through all the ups and downs,” Miller told Goodman. “Both of those guys realized that they were going to be the first (IU) seniors that were not called (in nearly 50 years) for the Tournament. Think about that. That was their motivation.”
While things didn’t play out like Lunardi, Miller, or anyone else expected, the Indiana head coach believes his team was an NCAA Tournament caliber team.
Virtually every bracketology out there, Sesame Street included, agreed with that sentiment.
And that is exactly what Miller told Davis and Green.
“I told those two guys, look, in my book, we’re in the tournament, and you made it,” Miller said.
While Miller’s sentiment is touching, he knows the reality is different. Whatever this new reality is.
He knows how special the actual experience would have been for his seniors.
“There’s no feeling in the world like the jump ball and the national anthem in the NCAA Tournament when you realize we’re about to do this thing,” Miller told Goodman. “Those are moments you can’t put a price on as a kid.”
Even the end of the NCAA Tournament experience, in a loss, is something that sticks with players for a lifetime.
“I remember my last game against UConn in the NCAA Tournament, when it’s over that is one of those feelings that you never forget,” Miller said.
The end is here for Davis and Green now, and this finality will no doubt stay with them for a lifetime too.
But it wasn’t the euphoric high of a win or an agonizing defeat on the court that ended the season of Indiana’s seniors.
Instead it was something difficult to comprehend. And no doubt difficult to accept.
When Green and Davis set out to make the NCAA Tournament, the last thing on their minds of course was the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s heartbreaking for your kids, because they’ll do anything that they can do be successful,” Miller said. “As a player you want the opportunity to realize everything that you’ve sacrificed was for the good.”
If Green and Davis are ever able to find solace in this outcome, it will have to be realized down the road.
If Miller and their returning teammates can get Indiana back into the NCAA Tournament next season, perhaps they can look back and recognize their role in the progress of the program.
“To be in it in year three like we were going to be, it’s a step in the right direction,” Miller said. “Your continuing to climb the ladder. Momentum is building in recruiting, Miller said.
“One win, one run in the tournament. It changes things.”
But for now there will be no NCAA Tournament. Not this year. Not for Green or Davis.
There will be no jump balls. No national anthems. No shining moments.
Just quiet. Just wondering what if, and what could have been. Just this strange new world, temporarily without sports, that we are living in.
“It’s abrupt, but it’s reality,” Miller said.
And not Miller, or anyone else, is quite sure what to do next.
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