The lights are bright inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Literally of course, that’s true.
But now entering his third season as the head basketball coach at Indiana University, Archie Miller has come to better appreciate just how much the figurative “bright lights” transcend every aspect of his program.
When it came to finding a replacement for recently departed former assistant coach Ed Schilling, it became important for Miller to find someone that could look directly into those lights — and not blink.
“One of the things that I have really learned to appreciate is a fearlessness,” Miller said.
When Miller spoke with former Indiana player Mike Roberts about the assistant coach job opening, it quickly became apparent that he was talking to someone that was uniquely qualified to handle the rigors of IU basketball.
“Like Mike told me, I was on a national championship (finalist) team in 2002, and I was also on the first team to have a losing season in like 33 years,” Miller said. “I’ve seen it on both ends as a player. That resonated with me a little bit. To have a guy that had that perspective.”
Although the level of scrutiny has only multiplied since Roberts’ time at IU with the advent of social media and greater media attention, Miller saw the Terre Haute native’s time at Indiana as another way that his coaching staff could better connect with and relate to the players.
“Players and student athletes in general, what they go through on a daily basis with the media scrutiny or social media aspects, the exposure that they have,” Miller said. “There’s just a lot of attention given, and there’s a lot that they have to absorb. So to have a guy that’s been through it, that can talk them through different experiences that he’s been through, is only an advantage.”
Miller wasn’t necessarily setting out to find a former IU player to fill his assistant coaching job opening.
There were other much more significant considerations such as player development, recruiting, and basketball acumen.
But if there was something that ultimately put Roberts over the top, it was his familiarity with what basketball means at Indiana, and an ability to look all that entails in the eye — and actually embrace being a part of it.
“Particularly the basketball program, and the tradition, sometimes can put a little bit of fear in you,” Miller said. “Like wow, I didn’t realize it was this important, or this big of a deal, and it is.
“And Mike, being able to walk in those shoes as a player, follow Indiana as a fellow coach in the business, and understand that this is where his heart lies, and he’s not afraid of that — that’s important. That was very important in the decision and finalizing that last step.”
If an appreciation for Indiana basketball was the tiebreaker in hiring Roberts, it’s where Miller went first when quizzed on Roberts that seem to provide insight into the factors that were driving the hiring decision.
Miller touched on variations of work ethic and similar intangibles several times.
“He’s a relentless worker,” MIller said. “I think if you just study him as a player, and then as his career has unfolded where’s he’s been, whether that’s been as a graduate assistant of Coach Knight at Texas Tech, or working his way up at California in the Pac 10, moving on to Rice, and then you know establishing UNC Greensboro over the last seven years as an associate head coach and building the program.”
High major college basketball coaches are well compensated, but few appreciate the hours that go into the job, from recruiting, game planning, player development, and much more.
Miller sees a guy in Roberts, who most recently was the associate head coach at UNC Greensboro, that is going arrive ready to roll up his sleeves — perhaps even with a bit more enthusiasm for his alma mater.
“He’s been involved with a lot, but he’s really a grinder in terms of the way he works,” Miller said. “He also has a lot of toughness about him. He’s a competitive guy.”
Miller will be looking for Roberts to direct that energy towards recruiting during his early days back with the program.
While some access with the team and individual development is happening now, full-on practice for the 2019-20 season won’t begin until late September.
“As Mike comes in for us, obviously recruiting is priority one, him being able to get his feet on the ground, and then impact what we’re doing with his advantages and who he has at his fingertips,” Miller said.
Something unique about Roberts’ recruiting network caught Miller’s eye — and it is something that may find its way to the Indiana roster in the coming years.
“The development of some of the guys that they’ve recruited there (UNC Greensboro) from overseas has been really, really unique,” Miller said.
Miller also sees in Roberts someone that can develop the talent that he brings in the door once they arrive on campus.
“He’s a proven recruiter, he’s a proven developer, he takes a lot of pride in our players which I like,” Miller said.
“The great thing about Mike is that he’s worn a lot of hats. He’s coached big guys, he’s developed big guys. If you look at his track record through his time at Cal and at Rice, he’s coached NBA players. He’s also been a guy that’s really been an extension of the head coach. He’s been able to focus in on the defensive side of the ball, and he’s developed an offense at Greensboro.”
Now it all comes full circle for Roberts. An Indiana kid, an IU fan growing up, and an Indiana player.
When Roberts came back to coach against Indiana in 2014, Wes Miller, the head coach at UNC Greensboro, left no doubt that Roberts still had a deep affection for Indiana.
“Let me just say he is passionate about Indiana,” Wes Miller told the Bloomington Herald Times back in 2014. “He is passionate about Bloomington. His eyes just light up when he speaks about his whole experience here.”
“Any time we can get Mike Roberts back to the state of Indiana, he’s a happy camper,” the UNC-G head coach said at the time. “And if we can get him to Bloomington, he’s going to be really happy.”
After nearly 15 years away from the program refining his craft as a coach, Mike Roberts is a Hoosier again. And he is likely a very happy camper back in Bloomington.
Roberts’ energy has already made an impression on his new head coach.
“He’s only been with us a couple days and he’s already made a big imprint on me,” Archie Miller said. “Being able to get him into the fold full scale and bringing his family back to Bloomington is really, really exciting.”
Ultimately it was Roberts’ unique perspective as an IU player that put him over the top.
“I think being a player at Indiana is different than a lot of places,” Archie Miller said. “It doesn’t matter where you go you have a lot of unique experiences, but being at Indiana is different.”
“Until you walk in those shoes and understand what it’s like to play there, win there, lose there, be there every day, you really can’t get a grip on it.”
Mike Roberts has a grip on it.
And he has already jumped right into the fire with two feet.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.