One-on-one with Glen Miller

This afternoon, I sat down for an exclusive interview with Penn men’s basketball coach Glen Miller. We spent a good 20 minutes looking back at this past season and ahead to next season. I have transcribed the interview for you all to read.

I realize that for many of you who are not Penn fans, some of the subjects we discussed may seem a bit esoteric. But I also know how many Penn fans read this blog, and I think that they and all of you will be interested in what Miller had to say.

Often times, I have posted audio with my writing, but on this occasion I am posting a transcript. I think that in this case, using written words will help you to digest the whole thing, even though the transcript is quite long.

As far as what to make of Miller’s remarks, I leave that task to all of you. I certainly suspect that you’ll have reactions to share.

So without further ado, here’s what was said.

Q. If you could give yourself a letter grade for this past season, what would it be and why?

I don’t know… Letter grades aren’t important. We’re not in school – I think it’s more just trying to get better and figure out more effective ways to teach and get the most out of your players.

That’s the process that goes on every year with every coach, and I think it goes on whether you win, lose or are somewhere in between.

Q. What impact do you think the injuries had on the season? I know you’ve always been one to not make excuses for that sort of thing, but there were certainly a lot of them.

Yeah, I know. A major impact. Just try to put yourself on our team as a player or as a coach and ask the same question. When you have key players that are either playing injured the whole year or are not playing at all, I think it’s going to have a major impact on any team. So that’s the situation we’re in this year and we just tried to make the most out of it.

I think from a teaching standpoint – let’s just for a moment not talk about wins and losses, and look at it from a progression standpoint. When you have 86 practices and you have players, one player in particular, that missed 58 out of 86 practices, and others that have missed 40-some, 30-some practices, it’s difficult for you to make the progress with those kids from an individual standpoint and collectively as a team.

I think that’s obvious. So from that standpoint, it was one of those years where usually, our teams progress and improve as the year goes on. And I think some individuals did that but overall, that progress was not as obvious as it usually is.

Q. Specifically, can you talk about what impact Tyler Bernardini’s injury had down the stretch? I never heard anything official about what it was – I saw him stretching at center court at halftime while guys were running drills – if there are any details you can give about what the injury was and what impact it had down the stretch of the season.

He was definitely playing with a few different injuries the entire year.

[I asked Miller for further details, and he said he did not want to give details about specific injuries on the record.]

Q. Did Bernardini's injuries get worse over the course of the season?

Yes, it’s fair to say that his injuries worsened as the season went on.

Q. What do you think the impact will be of having Darren Smith back at full health? It’s been so long since he played a sustained period of time.

He’s got a long road ahead of him, but he’s making considerable progress. We’re just happy to see a smile on his face and him back in the gym, back in the weight room. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and the way he’s progressed has been beyond where we thought he’d be at this point.

To get him back, he’s been away from the game from a competitive standpoint for two years, but he’s got a terrific basketball IQ. He’s a big, strong, athletic guard, hes’ a very competitive player with a terrific feel for the game. He can shoot it, he can handle it, we can post him up. He was arguably our best on-the-ball defender for a young player, his freshman year.

So to get him back is going to be a huge bonus for us.

Q. Given the makeup of the current roster, with so many freshmen and sophomores, is he going to be called upon to deliver some of the leadership as an upperclassman?

Yes, he’s already taken on that role this spring. He gave us some decent leadership just throughout the year in the locker room and during practice, even though he couldn’t play. So we fully expect him to be one of our leaders.

Q. Do you have any sense at this point – obviously I know it’s very early – of what the frontcourt next season is going to look like? Brennan Votel and Cameron Lewis got a lot of the minutes this past season, in part because of injuries and in part because of other reasons.

Well, we have a good nucleus of guys. Andreas [Schreiber] is back, he’s participating in workouts, his surgery went terrific. He’s made a quick recovery and we’re expecting big things out of him. He’s petitioned for a fifth year and it looks pretty good that he’s going to get it.

[Schreiber injured his shoulder in preseason, played some in December, re-injured the shoulder against Villanova and did not play the rest of the season.]

People don’t really have an understanding of how that works in the Ivy League. It has nothing to do with your desire to play basketball. You have to have a medical hardship by NCAA rules, that’s the first thing. Once that’s been established, here at Penn and the Ivy League it has everything to do with academics and nothing to do with basketball.

You have to have justification academically why you would need a fifth year. So some of that is timing – if you’re making normal progress towards a degree and the injury takes place at the end of your junior year, the chances of you needing a fifth year are slim to none.

So the timing of his injury I think helped. There’s justification for him to need a fifth year academically, and it looks pretty good. And Darren Smith, we’re pretty confident that he might have the same justification for a fifth year. So if that works out, you’re talking about two kids we’ll see for two more years, which is a huge bonus.

Mike Howlett and Larry Loughery, two kids we were high on in the recruiting process, virtually didn’t play the entire season. So there’s some talent there. I think people have a tendency to forget about these guys. There’s two guys there that can contribute and we have some other guys we’re hoping to get.

I’m confident we’ll get a healthy Justin Reilly back. He hasn’t been healthy for two years. He played one entire year with [a] double-hernia. And then the few minutes he got his year, he wasn’t fully recovered from his surgery. So he has been far from full strength. And to get him back 100 percent healthy, which we anticipate in time will be the situation, then we’re optimistic about his ability to contribute.

And you’ve got Jack Eggleston, and Garvin Hunt.

Q. I was going to say, you’ve mentioned Schreiber, Eggleston, Howlett, Loughery. What have you seen from Garvin Hunt so far, and where do you project his development?

He has made considerable progress with his strength and his skill level in the off-season, when you have much more time to just hone in and focus on these things. As of right now he has intentions to hang around a little bit in the summertime, which is great. He’ll take a few summer classes, he’ll have the weight room here, and the summer league, and the Palestra, and just much more skill development and strength development.

We’re optimistic – he’s a kid that came in a little bit raw – that he’ll progress to the point where he can help us also.

Q. What should people make of the Harrison Gaines transfer? I ask that because of the way it was reported by other media outlets, including a statement from his father that was reported in the Daily Pennsylvanian. The quote that caught my eye was that Gaines wanted “to join a team where he can fully utilize his skill set.” What should people make of that?

You make whatever you want out of it. It’s unfortunate that he feels that way. He started many games as a freshman and put up some decent numbers as a freshman. He was playing 20-some minutes a game as a sophomore and was our third-leading scorer.

I think he came from a situation where there wasn’t much structure in high school and he gets to the college level, and it was a big adjustment for him to play within a system. To have to play with the discipline of executing that system with four other teammates.

We asked him to go from – he came in as a player, as most kids do at that young age, being able to play with the ball. But now he had to play without the ball, and set screens, and utilize screens, and make reads. That’s an adjustment. So he played much of his minutes at the point guard position his freshman year, and then he had to transition much more the second year to learning how to do both: play without the ball and with the ball.

Although in our motion offense, once the point guard gives up the ball, he becomes just like anybody else in the offense. It’s something that we were working on with him his freshman year.

But hey, listen. We want players in our program that have the singular goal of winning, and accepting whatever the role is to play with four other guys on the floor in pursuing that singular goal of winning. So it’s not for everybody.

I said it and I’ll say it again: all over the country, you have kids every single year. Five kids from Florida transferred or left the program, three transfers, two others for various reasons. You’ve seen kids from some of our local schools here transfer.

There’s kids that leave programs everywhere. I don’t think any coach recruits a kid with the intent or thinking that kid’s going to leave the program. You recruit a kid because you think he’s a good fit for your program, a good fit for our school, and he can be successful. But inevitably, that’s not always the case.

So there’s always disappointment that it didn’t work out, but you’ve got to wish Harrison and whoever else leaves the best of success. It’s an opportunity to bring somebody else in who can help us or for somebody else to step up and take some of those minutes and be productive.

Q. You’ve spoken at times after games I’ve covered – I believe the Navy game was one – of the pressure that, by its nature, comes with being the coach at Penn. I know it’s been in the heat of the moment, and I know the word that I remember you using was “negativity.” For you as a coach, how hard is it to block out what’s going on around the program when you’re on the floor for practice or a game?

I don’t feel any pressure here. The pressure that I feel is self-inflicted. It always has been, it always will be. I don’t think there’s anybody around here anywhere who comes to games at the Palestra, that works in our administration, anywhere, that could put any more pressure on me than I put on myself.

I’ve always been my worse critic and that will continue to be the case. I don’t feel the pressure. If I alluded to any pressure, or expectations – which is probably a better word than pressure – it’s something I think our players feel.

They chose Penn not only for the academic reputation, but they chose Penn because it’s a program within the Ivy League that has a rich tradition, that has success, the national schedule and the Big 5 and everything that comes along with the Palestra, and all those types of things. So they understand, and we all understand, the tradition and the success that the program’s had.

So there’s a certain level of accountability there, and expectation level to perform and be successful. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to feel the disappointment that exists when you have a season like we did. So any time I’ve ever spoken about that, that’s what I’ve alluded to.

I think it’s a normal human reaction, and it was this year, when you feel as though you’re letting down your home fans, that there’s just a little more added as that goes on with each game. You try a little harder, and maybe, possibly play a little tighter.

It’s nobody’s fault, but in those situations, when you have a season like we did and you understand the significance and the tradition of the program, then I think you might try harder and harder to win at home and it’s a little easier to play more relaxed on the road.

We’ll overcome that. We had a bad stretch, but you know, our guys love playing in the Palestra. It will pass, we’ll be a better team at home next year. I’m not attributing everything to that.

I just think there’s a tendency – and I don’t know anybody that’s played a competitive sport and been in a situation where you’re struggling, and you have fans that are as passionate as ours, you want to please. You want to win for the sake of the team, your teammates and the coaching staff, but at the same time, you want to please your fans, they’re important to us.

It’s important that we’re successful in all our games, but you want to really be successful at home.

Q. My last question. I think that by the end of the season I had seen certain plays run enough times that I had an idea of what the offensive system was intended to be. I know that you, the assistants and some of the players have told me that the offensive system is designed to create open shots. When an open shot is taken and it doesn’t go in, what is your reaction as the tactician in the middle of the game? Or when it happens multiple times in a game, or over games?

If it’s the right person taking the right shot, you encourage them to keep on taking the shot. I think skill development, I talk about the need to improve our shooting, skill development has always been a huge part of our program, [and] something we focus on and work at on a daily basis.

So even during the season we spent a great deal of time working on skill development, and certainly during the off-season it’s our major focus. I think we’ll continue to do that. You watch players, you evaluate practice, and the same shots you get in practice you’re going to get in a game.

So as long as guys that are capable of making shots at a decent percentage are taking those same shots in a game, if we come up short, we just keep on working on it, and you’ve got to encourage guys to shoot the ball.

Now, again, if we don’t have knock-down shooters, we’re going to continue to develop their skill level to the point where they can hit those shots. Obviously, if you have a couple guys that stand out, as in a Tyler Bernardini, you want to try to get him more shots, and I think that’s true of any team in basketball at any level.

Paul Pierce took the last five or six shots last night against the Bulls. That was by design – they ran some stuff for him, he got the ball and made plays. So you always want to put your top guys in a situation to get more shots than others.