BY KYLE BEERY | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
The Butler men’s basketball program will stick to its roots yet again this year, as Brandon Miller begins his first year as the Bulldogs’ head coach following Brad Stevens’ sudden departure earlier this summer.
Stevens, with two National Championship appearances and a 166-49 record over six seasons, announced on July 3 that he would become the new head coach of the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
“Our family is thrilled for the opportunity given to us by the leadership of the Boston Celtics, but it is emotional to leave a place that we have called home for the past 13 years,” Stevens said in a statement released by the athletics department at the time of his hiring.
The Celtics signed Stevens to a $22 million, six-year contract, according to media reports.
Three days later Butler announced that Miller, a 2003 Butler graduate, would be his successor.
Miller becomes the fifth consecutive coach dating back to Barry Collier in 1989 to have either played for or coached at Butler before becoming head coach.
Miller, a transfer from Missouri State, was the starting point guard for the Bulldogs in his senior season in 2003, leading Butler to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1962.
He was first hired as an assistant coach under Stevens in 2007 after serving as an assistant under former Butler coach Thad Matta at Xavier and Ohio State. Miller spent one season under Stevens before another stint at Ohio State. He took a year off from coaching before serving as a special assistant to Illinois coach John Groce last season.
Miller was rehired as an assistant coach last April, three months prior to being hired as Stevens’ successor.
“I think it was pretty clear he made an additional impact in the time that he was here as an assistant under Brad for those three months,” Butler athletics director Barry Collier said.
Collier said Miller’s Butler connections were a big factor in the hire, as well as his personality.
“He has a great work ethic, and he has an intensity to him that’s pretty obvious,” Collier said. “He understands the Butler culture and how we become successful.”
Miller said he expects to face some big challenges as he begins his head-coaching career, but he will have his team prepared like any other Butler team.
“We’re going to have the mindset that we’re going to come out and we’re going to play really hard,” Miller said.
Miller took the team on a trip to Australia this summer, where they played four games, winning two and losing two. He said the team looked solid, but the trip proved costly to the team.
Returning leading scorer and junior forward Roosevelt Jones suffered a season-ending wrist injury.
“I feel awful for Rose,” Miller said.
Aside from losing a key player, Miller said he feels they will be all right and he is looking forward to what he has to work with.
Junior guard Alex Barlow, a former walk-on under Stevens, said the transition from Stevens to Miller has been a lot smoother than most people anticipated.
“With getting to know him the three months prior (to Stevens’ departure), and in the time since then, it already feels like he’s been here a lot longer than what he has,” Barlow said.
Freshman center Nolan Berry enters the program with a clean slate, like Miller. Berry said he was a little hesitant when he heard that Stevens was leaving, but only in hopes that nothing would change within the program.
He said the team had a good summer, and the team’s trip to Australia really helped with the transition.
“It’s obviously a unique situation with one coach recruiting me, and ending up having another coach,” Berry said. “Getting to know him and the beliefs he has, has been great.”
Barlow said he ultimately chose to walk-on at Butler because he wants to become a coach some day, and figured that learning under Stevens would be a great learning process.
With Stevens’ departure, Barlow has remained optimistic.
“I think it’s a good thing to learn from two different coaches because you see different things from different coaches,” Barlow said. “There are new things to learn under Miller that I never learned under Stevens.”
The Bulldogs begin conditioning as classes start this week, and will begin official practice in October. Berry said he’s excited to start a new era of Butler basketball under Miller without a lot of pressure.
“There aren’t a lot of high expectations for either of us, so I think we’ll just go out and work hard and try and have fun and try to get better,” Berry said.