Wes Miller finished his ninth season as the UNCG men’s basketball coach in 2019-20 after taking over the program in 2011 on an interim basis. Miller has spent the last nine years building a championship-mentality throughout the UNCG program and has laid the groundwork for future success.
The Spartans secured their fourth straight 20-plus win season in 2019-20, finishing 23-9. Miller, then an assistant, took control of the program Dec. 13, 2011 with the Spartans sitting at 2-8 and led them through one of the biggest turnarounds in program history. The Spartans lost their first six games under Miller to fall to 2-14 on the season but the program made a 180-degree turnaround, posting an 11-5 record down the stretch. Miller, who was the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I at the time of his hire, made the removal of the interim tag an easy decision as he was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Spartans to the SoCon North Division title at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Prior to joining the Spartans Miller previously spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Elon and High Point.
In three seasons as a player at North Carolina under head coach and mentor Roy Williams, Miller helped the Tar Heels to the national championship in 2005, two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championships and one ACC Tournament title. A fan favorite at UNC, Miller authored a book entitled The Road to Blue Heaven, which was published as a diary of his experiences as a North Carolina basketball player.
After graduating, Miller played one season of professional basketball for the London Capitals of the British Basketball League, where he averaged 19.6 points per game to rank eighth in the league.
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Get ready to take some notes as you listen to this episode with Wes Miller, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at UNC-Greensboro.
What We Discuss with Wes Miller
- Growing up in ACC country and falling in love with basketball as a kid
- Being inspired by Muggsy Bouges and Spud Webb
- His takeaways from The Last Dance and discussing Michael Jordan’s influence with the guys on his team
- His favorite memory from his own high school playing career
- Being overlooked as a high school/prep school recruit
- His initial decision to attend James Madison
- Coaches calling his phone to talk with his AAU teammate Rashad McCants and how that started him on the road to leaving James Madison and walking on at North Carolina
- How a Coach Roy Williams convinced him that Carolina would be the best place for him if he wanted to get into coaching after he graduated
- Winning a national championship in 2005 at Carolina and the lasting impact from that experience
- Being able to relate to each player on his roster through his various roles as a player
- His craziest overseas basketball story
- Not really understanding everything coaching was about when he began his career
- Getting hired at Elon and adjusting to all the things he had to do off the court
- Coaching his first practice as a head coach and knowing at that moment he wanted to coach forever
- Prepping to be a head coach, even when he was still a player
- Making mistakes along the way, but continuing to learn and grow as a coach
- Valuing the relationships with people in his program
- How UNCG can take another step forward and build on their previous success
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THANKS, WES MILLER
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TRANSCRIPT FOR WES MILLER – UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA – GREENSBORO HEAD MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH – EPISODE 322
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. Mike Klinzing here without my co-host, Jason Sunkle this morning, but I am pleased to welcome to the podcast from UNC- Greensboro, Head Coach Wes Miller. Wes, welcome to the podcast.
Wes Miller: [00:00:12] Thanks so much for having me, glad to be here.
Mike Klinzing: [00:00:14] We are excited to have you on dive into all the great things you’ve been able to do in the game of basketball.
Wanted to start out by going back in time. When you were a kid, talk to us a little bit about how you fell in love with the game of basketball.
Wes Miller: [00:00:25] Well, I think, you know, basketball was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. my father was an athlete. He played baseball in college and both my parents were always really into athletics and sports, but basketball just seemed to be the, the sport we always gravitated to as a family growing up.
So, you know, growing up here in ACC country, you know, grew up loving Michael Jordan, had a basketball in the backyard, you know, I got, I just, as far as I can remember, it was always a huge part of our family’s [00:01:00] life and my personal life. And I fell in love with it at a really early age. I would say by 10 years old, I knew that I wanted the rest of my life to be in basketball.
I wanted to play college basketball, try to play professional basketball. And I thought I wanted to coach. So kind of as long as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with the game.
Mike Klinzing: [00:01:18] So when you started thinking about making basketball your life, and obviously when you’re 10, your first thought is. I want to be a player and I want to get an opportunity to play college basketball and then eventually play in the NBA.
What does your process look like in terms of trying to make that happen?
Wes Miller: [00:01:35] It’s funny, like, you know, I haven’t reflected a lot, you know, back on my childhood like this, but it’s the watching the bulls documentary, you know, the last dance has been a great way to like, think back to some of the thoughts you had during that era.
I was born in 83, so, you know, 10 11, 12 years old, when that stuff was going on in the nineties, when they were making those runs. And I was [00:02:00] like, everybody, I was the biggest Michael Jordan fan, but I think it is, I got to be 10, 11, 12 years old. And I kind of remember having those feelings of wanting to.
Like have a life in basketball. I remember knowing that I was going to be short, you know, like having a realization that I was going to be short. And I was in Charlotte, North Carolina at the time and Muggsy Bogues was playing for the Charlotte Hornets. And I remember him being like a real inspiration, you know, like, look like, look, mom, you know, some short guys can do it and that type of thing.
So I, you know, it’s, it’s weird as that may sound as a 10 or 11 year old. You know guys like Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues that were short, but they were playing at the highest level were pretty inspiring to me as a kid.
Mike Klinzing: [00:02:42] What stood out to you most from the Last Dance?
Wes Miller: [00:02:45] Well, I don’t know if there’s, if I have one really good answer to that.
Like if I feel like if I say something that’ll, you know, there’ll be something else I’ll think about. They want to hang when I do, you know, an hour later that I wish I would have said, you know, but like, I, I thought for [00:03:00] me, just, just personally, it made me think of my childhood, right. I was the kid that took the Michael Jordan come fly with me, videotape like the VHS and like put it in the TV every day and then went in the backyard and tried to like replicate those moves probably like millions and millions of other people.
So then like kind of reliving, that was really neat. And what was also really neat for me was talking to my current players about it, you know? Cause they didn’t. You know, they obviously didn’t watch that they didn’t live through that. So then now hearing, you know, how they perceived it after just watching those 10 episodes and then having dialogue with them, I thought was, was neat.
And it was something that we were able to connect on as a, as a program. What were their thoughts? Oh, they’re funny. You know, we’ve recruited like basketball junkies here, because we’re kind of that way as a staff or we are that way as a staff. So we got a bunch of kids that just love hoops and talk about hoops all day.
And so, you [00:04:00] know, if you’re on like a team bus with our team, or you’re in the locker room with our team, it’s pretty normal day for them to talk about, you know, who the best player in the NBA is, or like that that’s like very normal or for them a talk, actually the word would be argue, for them to argue about who the best player of all time is and all that kind of stuff.
And the coaching staff, we always talk about Jordan. Right. So it’s been really funny to hear them and be like, yeah, coach, you know, Jordan May be the greatest of all time. He may be the go, like it kinda changed their perception. but the one thing I’ve tried to explain to them that I think they started to see was, you know, culturally things were so different right.
Without social media, but he was an icon. Like, I don’t think that we have in the modern day, like culturally, like forget basketball. Like I don’t think. People realize, or these guys realize how big he was in that era, you know, globally in the area before an era before social media. I mean, he was maybe the most recognizable [00:05:00] person in the world in the nineties.
And, I think the guy’s got a grasp of that. Just that he was how big of a deal he was from watching. I thought that was really neat.
Mike Klinzing: [00:05:11] Yeah. It was definitely something that. When I watched it just like you, I’m a little bit older than you. I’m 50. So when I go back in time and I think about that, I just remember how overwhelming his presence was both from a basketball standpoint.
But as you said, also from a culture standpoint, and even though we didn’t have that 24 hour social media window into his life, like we do with some of the guys today, he still resonated so much. Around the world with everyone that, that came through in the doctor. And the other thing that I really took away from it is just that competitiveness, that one was in that era.
And then two, he just took that to a huge extreme, and I think the Roy Williams quote, just about how he was a guy who could have turned it off. But never did. [00:06:00] And I think that speaks more to who he was as a basketball player than anything else that came through the documentary.
Wes Miller: [00:06:06] Ah, that’s so well said.
And that’s a lot of the stuff we talked about with our guys, you know, is that his will to win was the greatest, you know, of all time from our perspectives. Right. And I think that came through, as you said, and I think that resonated with them. You know, and, and, and we talk all the time, you know, in the law, again, we, we, we love talking about this stuff, but we talk all the time about how the culture of basketball and the NBA, you know, is changed from the eighties and nineties till now and how it wasn’t that friendly.
So for them to, to see the, you know, the, the couple episodes where they talked about the feeding, the bad boys, and, you know, to see the, see just how contentious some of those. Rivalries were and how was it? Different type of approach. And it was so much more physical. Like our guys would talk about [00:07:00] that, you know, the day on Monday mornings and we were Monday afternoons when I talked to him on FaceTime or whatever.
So I agree. I thought that came through and I thought it was really good for those guys to see.
Mike Klinzing: [00:07:09] I think that’s the one thing that makes him stand out is just that competitiveness, that spirit that said I’m not going to lose, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. And when you’re in the MBA environment and you have all these guys that have the tools from a physical standpoint, that NBA players do.
And then you just look at his mind and how far ahead he was in terms of that competitiveness. To me, that’s what made it, made him stand out more than anything else.
Wes Miller: [00:07:37] I agree for this next generation of guys to be able to get a snapshot of that, even though they didn’t live through it, I thought was really cool.
And I think that that documentary, I think will affect young players today. I really like he’s had such an effect on people over the world, especially in the game of basketball. And I’m sure from just talking to you, just me and you, like if we were affected watching it, right. Like when we were growing [00:08:00] up.
So I think that he’ll have a continuous effect and I think this document has to be another way that he’s influenced people.
Mike Klinzing: [00:08:07] I agree with you a hundred percent. All right. Let’s jump back to you as a high school player. What’s your best memory from when you were playing in high school?
Wes Miller: [00:08:15] That’s such a great question because we asked that question to every single player on our team.
In our last zoom, we do, we do like an icebreaker to start every zoom meeting during the quarantine. So, you know, so everybody talks and maybe, you know, we’ve one thing we’ve tried to do is try to learn something about each other that we may not have known, you know, on these, these meetings. So that was our last icebreaker to start our zoom talk a couple of nights ago.
And when I went, I answered honestly to them. So I’m going to give the same answer to you. in 2002, I was a senior in high school at new Hampton school, which is a prep school up in New Hampshire. And we beat Worcester Academy in the New England championship game. [00:09:00] and Worcester Academy had Jarett Jack at point guard and a guy named Craig Smith.
on the interior who both ended up playing in the NBA, among a bunch of other great players, like there’s a guy named Brendan Winters. That was a, I think player of the year and the Southern conference at Davidson, you know, went on, he came off the bench. I mean, it was a unbelievable team. We beat and we had a pretty good team as well, but to, to win a New England championship for the first time.
And in that program’s history in 2002. So that was by far my best basketball moment from high school.
Mike Klinzing: [00:09:32] Let’s talk a little bit about your recruitment. Talk about what that was like, your decision making process. Obviously you were at a prep school, which played into your recruiting and just how your process went along.
So just talk a little bit about how you ended up at James Madison, and then we can transition into how you ended up making the decision to go to Carolina.
Wes Miller: [00:09:51] So, I mean, I was pretty under recruited as a player. I, I wasn’t, underexposed, I played on, you [00:10:00] know, great AAU team to play with the Charlotte Royals.
you know, which was, in those days at Nike program out of Charlotte and out of North Carolina and, you know, Rashad McCants was on my AAU teams and a bunch of other guys. So we were one of the better AAU teams in the country. So I was highly exposed there and then play with a couple NBA players on my prep school teams up in New Hampshire.
And that was like, you know, really high profile prep, school teams. So I was highly exposed. I think everybody saw me play, but not many people recruited me. And I, you know, just being under six feet, you know, not the most athletic guy off the floor. you know, I think I was overlooked probably for good reason.
And so my recruiting was primarily, you know, Ivy league and Patriot league schools. you know, some schools in the Southern conference, military academies, things of that nature, and then some opportunities to walk on. Let’s recruited, [00:11:00] walk on it, you know, Carolina wake forest, and even Stanford talked about that a little bit.
When coach Montgomery was there. So, that was kind of like the nature of my recruiting going through my senior year. I desperately want to do a 10 Davidson. You know, I, they had recruited me, but not offered me a scholarship for a couple years. I’d spent some summers, you know, I lived in Charlotte, so driving down to Davidson, which was a pretty short drive to play pickup with their players.
and they had a really good program. This is before Steph Curry, obviously, but they were still, still really well known and it had a lot of success under coach McKillop. So I kind of was holding out throughout my senior year, hoping that they would pull the trigger. And at the last minute, you know, they did not.
And then I was kind of sitting there and March not knowing what I was going to do. And I took a visit to James Madison, had a great time and, just kind of, it was, it was a pretty, you [00:12:00] know, quick decision. It wasn’t something I’d been thinking about. I kinda. Like most people I’d approach the recruiting process strategically and was really, you know, they thought through things and taken my time.
And then James Madison called me in early March and offered me a scholarship. I visited two weeks later and committed and you know, and like, like a lot of young people probably made a little bit of a rash decision.
Mike Klinzing: [00:12:24] Do you remember being frustrated that you weren’t more highly recruited with the type of teammates that you were planning with and the guys that you had an opportunity to play against.
Did you ever feel like man, I’m as good as them? How come I’m not getting these opportunities that these guys that I’m playing with and against are getting, I know I can compete at this level.
Wes Miller: [00:12:43] Absolutely. I mean, I think people that know me well would say that I have a pretty big chip on my shoulder and competitively.
You know, it, it, I don’t hide it, you know? And so I certainly that’s certainly like, was really [00:13:00] obvious when you watch me play basketball. And that burned inside of me pretty bright. I was really motivated as a player and, tried to get the most out of what I had. And, and I did, I wanted to prove that I could play with anybody and, and mentally, I think, I believe that like, looking back on those days, but it was frustrating, you know, that you thought you could, you know, you could play with anybody and you weren’t being recruited that way.
Mike Klinzing: [00:13:23] So you get to James Madison. What is the adjustment like from a, from a playing standpoint, you get out on the floor, just explain what your freshman year was like.
Wes Miller: [00:13:33] Well, it was in some ways it was great. I tell everybody I had a really cool experience there. don’t regret. That experience at all. in fact, I learned a lot about myself and it propelled me to my experience at North Carolina, which was life changing.
But, you know, as you get into coaching, your, your ability to relate to young people is [00:14:00] it’s super important to what we do every day, whether it’s in recruiting or your current players. And so I, I think back to the experiences I had at James Madison all the time, When I’m, when I’m trying to relate or understand what archives are going through, you know, or what guys will recruiting they’re going through.
So I really value that time, but I mean, my freshman year was up and down. I mean, I played, I had at a really good role coming off the bench, you know, I played significant minutes in the rotation as we got into until conference play. I, you know, I had some bunch of double figure scoring games and, you know, we won some games against George Mason and BCU.
You know, where I at William and Mary or, you know, or I hit a bunch of threes. And I mean, I think the senior night Jeff Capel was coaching at VCU. I got fouled, but like a two seconds left a down one and made two free throws, you know, under two seconds to win the game. So there were some great moments, but there were some difficult moments too.
We had a disappointing season that year. [00:15:00] We had a really talented team with like five seniors and two juniors, all were rotation guys. So seven upperclassmen. And we, we kind of underachieved, you know, we probably had a chance to compete to win that league and, you know, finished around 500. So it was a really, it was a really frustrating year at times, but as a freshman, being able to step into a great league and the Colonial at that time was a great league, you know, and contribute and, you know, have some great moments t that’s kind of how I look at my freshman year.
Mike Klinzing: [00:15:28] So what were some lessons that you took from that? That you now apply when you’re building relationships with your kids that you coach today?
Wes Miller: [00:15:35] Well, I mean, wow. Probably to narrow that down would be unfair. I mean, everything, right? Like, you know, to remember how I felt as an incoming freshmen, you know, when we deal with our incoming freshmen, remember how I felt when I moved into the dorm for the first time, you know, and the things that, you know, I really appreciated and valued things that maybe I wish were done better, you know, to [00:16:00] re, to remember.
You know, the, the mental ups and downs that we go through. You know, I think, I think trying to have a real understanding of those things helps is when you’re formulating whatever your value system is, or your protocols are for how you deal with, with your, with the people you’re leading. Right. when they’re going through those same things.
And so, you know, we have a really, I don’t know, like strict process for how we deal with. Our players when they show up for the first time in summer school, you know, like how we manage, manage that with their families and, you know, like they’re moving in and all that kind of stuff. And that’s just one very small example, but I, it goes back to how I felt, you know, you know, remembering that it’s a little.
You know, scary when you move into a college dorm for the first time, you know, when your parents leave, you it’s really scary for your mom, you know? So we try to always do a good job with mom [00:17:00] on, but like, you know, and so that’s just one example, but there’s probably hundreds like that. And I always kind of look back to my experiences and try and try to relate to them.
All right. So then
Mike Klinzing: [00:17:10] how does the opportunity to go to North Carolina? Just explain how that comes to pass.
Wes Miller: [00:17:16] Wow. It’s it’s, I’ll try to keep it short, but just like anything in life, you know, it’s amazing how things happen. But when I was playing in new Hampton were shot in the cans, again was my AAU teammate.
And, we were really close friends growing up and we were teammates and prep school and roommates and prep school. And he was being, you know, he was a, McDonald’s all American and he’s been recruited by everybody in the country. literally everybody. And so. The, if you got to think back to like, Oh one Oh two, you know, cell phones were out for sure, but not every kid had a cell phone.
And I remember I had a note, like a Nokia long, skinny cell phone in those days in Rashad didn’t and a lot of [00:18:00] guys didn’t have them and there was only one payphone in our dorm. So, you know, it was really hard to get ahold of players different than it is now. And so a lot of the coaches somehow found out that you could get to Rashad by calling my phone, you know, which was, which was annoying.
Sure. I wanted to be recruited by the schools that were calling Rashad and, you know, they would call, they would call my phone, but not to talk to me. And so, I’ll never forget, a lot of them will call and just kind of asked to put Rashad on the phone, but Joe Holladay was recruiting Rashad McCants.
He was Coach Williams assistant at Kansas in those days. And he would call me and, and we would talk for like 20 minutes. And then he probably talked to Rashad for like five minutes and then hang up. So we just got to know each other. you know, not that he was recruiting me by any sense. but we built the relationship and I always thought he was really genuine, [00:19:00] which he is.
And w you know, fast forward a year and a half later. I was transferring from James Madison. I was, took a visits to Columbia and Penn, and I was going to choose between going to one of those two places in the transfer process. Coach Williams and his staff had just gotten the job at Carolina and Coach Holladay, you know, reached out to me about possibly walking on and asked me to come down and sit down with Coach Williams in Chapel Hill, my dad and I, and kind of do an unofficial visit.
And I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really interested in it and I never kind of viewed myself as a, as a walk on. but, but decided to go down there and sat down with coach for two hours. And that was amazed that he spent that much time with me. but I remember the kind of the defining moment he asked, asked me what I wanted to do when I was done playing basketball.
When I told him I wanted to coach and he was adamant that. You know, being a part of the North Carolina basketball family would give me the [00:20:00] best chance to have success in coaching. If that’s what I really wanted to do. And he, he didn’t mean it. He said, I don’t mean it arrogantly, but you know, you just look at the history and the tradition, and you’ll be a part of that and you’ll be able to use this network.
And so that was a real defining moment in my decision to go to Carolina. And I’ll be honest, when I was driving at chapel Hill that day, I had no intention of going there, but it was. Trying to think about life after my four years of college, that probably influenced my decision there the most.
Mike Klinzing: [00:20:28] So that conversation resonated with you immediately.
Wes Miller: [00:20:32] It did, it really did it. And, you know, coach, if you, anybody that’s ever really been able to spend time with him, he has a way of explaining things and communicating things that resonate, you know, and penetrate you. And, you know, I remember that that. Really impacted me, especially as I left. And I thought more about that.
you know, certainly I wanted to play. I like, I didn’t, I wasn’t a coach when I was [00:21:00] 19 years old. Right. That guy that was a full here, man. I shoot. I still sometimes kinda think like a player. I wish I could still, I wish I still had it, you know, but I wanted to play. And so it was hard to get my mind around going somewhere where you, you knew deep down, you may never play.
and I was really scared of that. cause I couldn’t imagine not competing, not playing. He made it really clear that I’d have opportunities, that, you know, whether I was on scholarship or not would have nothing to do. And he talked about other guys he’d had like CB McGrath, you know, that had played and had a role, even though they weren’t, you know, scholarship guys.
So speaking to that really influenced me too, but I think. Ultimately, it was a longterm decision when I, when I got to a place maybe a week later, that that’s what I decided to ultimately do.
Mike Klinzing: [00:21:50] So obviously that piece of it has been beneficial. As you look at your coaching career, talk a little bit about what the experience was like as a player, [00:22:00] obviously, your first year, there’s a national championship.
Pretty good. Second year, you get to start a lot of games and play a lot of minutes. So it seems like it worked out on both fronts. Talk a little bit about your playing experience at Carolina.
Wes Miller: [00:22:14] Yeah. So, you know, listen, it was, it was overall, it was a dream. Right. I, you know, I lived out a dream, you know, when you look at it, big picture, but yeah.
When you go back and break down the process of, it was really difficult to show that it was really hard at times. And you know, my first couple years were really difficult years because, you know, I was up against Raymond Felton every single day for two years. And is it maybe as a red shirt, it wasn’t that challenging.
Because you couldn’t play anyway. And so you just kind of play with a little more freedom and confidence and practice every day. but by my first year eligible, my second year we won the national championship, as you mentioned. So my red shirt, [00:23:00] sophomore year, 2004, 2005, we win the national championship at the end of the year, which at this point in my life is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever been a part of and has impacted me in everything I’ve done since then.
And it’s one, it’s one of the great lessons that I tell my team every year, because, but if you. If you go back to that year up until the sweet 16, it was probably the most difficult year of my life to that stage, you know? And I’ve had a pretty darn good life by the way, but I wanted to play so bad. I loved playing so much and I didn’t play all year and I was miserable.
You know, I was, even though we were good personally, I was miserable on the bench, not playing and not getting in games. no, I. I was a good teammate and I understood that, you know, my role and I didn’t cause problems in the locker room. I don’t mean to say that, but I think if you asked the coaches back then and teammates, like I was, it was a [00:24:00] tough year for me, not just not playing, even though we were the number one team in the country.
so that was a really difficult thing for me as a competitor and as somebody that had played on every team, I played on my entire life to that point. No had I’d been a starter or my year JMU was a key reserve on every team, my entire life. And then, you know, you’re sitting there on the end of the bitch, but what was really cool about it, and what’s really cool now is that year changed my life and changed the outcome of my life.
Moving forward. Because I was a part of something so much bigger than myself, but I didn’t even realize it at the time. And then, you know, until you get into the tournament, you look up and you go, wow, like this is pretty neat. We’re in a sweet 16 or, wow, this is pretty cool. We’re in the elite eight. And then you’re in the final four running out for an open practice in front of 50,000 people.
And, you know, like then, you know, at least me, it was like, wow, okay. You know, like, I can’t believe I’ve been so shortsighted all year. So I [00:25:00] really grew up a lot that year. And was really able to put some things in perspective. And now I look back and I’ve never been introduced anywhere since then. You know, when I asked to speak and we speak all the time as his head coaches all over the place, I’m never introduced anywhere without being called a national champion.
And so, and I, and I really think that’s benefited me in ways that I don’t even understand yet. And so I think it’s a really powerful lesson for young people to hear when. When the organization has success. Everybody benefits, everybody, everybody gets more than they otherwise would have gotten. And I’m a testament to that.
Because I played it. This is another thing that’s really interesting. And I asked my team this every year, you know, this was 2005, we’re 15, you know, years later now. And it’s not that long ago. And I asked them, Hey guys, how many minutes do you guys think that I played the national championship game? And they’ll go, well, 10, 15, you know, how many points do you guys think are scored?
What you probably hit a couple of [00:26:00] threes because people always tell them that I was a good shooter and I’ll go, guys, I didn’t get in the game. I didn’t check in. And nobody even cares now. I mean, seriously, that Carolina fans come up to me sometimes go, I remember watching you, you know, in the final four national championship game.
And I’m like, I, I didn’t even play in that game, but I played later in my career and people just get you the point is. You know, time goes by and people don’t care about your personal accolades. Like we think they do in the moment. You know, people just care that you are a part of something. And, and so I think it’s been a really cool lesson to teach my team.
And it’s something that I don’t talk a lot about my playing career at all, but that, that is one thing that I talk about to start every year that if our team has success, we’ll all get more personally at the end of it than we otherwise would’ve gotten.
Mike Klinzing: [00:26:48] Do you think it also helps you to have more empathy for the players at the end of your bench, who don’t play as much, who are your reserves.
Whereas if you had maybe stayed at James Madison and never had to [00:27:00] go through that experience of not playing that maybe you would have had a more difficult time relating to their experiences.
Wes Miller: [00:27:06] I actually think this is a strength. I was able to, I’ve been every single thing you could be on a basketball team as a player.
you know, I was the. I’ve been S I was a starter. you know, I’ve been at key my senior year. I came off the bench. My freshman year, Jamie came off the bench as a key reserve. My junior year at Carolina. I was a starter. I obviously started all through high school. my sophomore year at Carolina, I, you know, was buried on the end of the bench, trying to figure out how to get a minute and, you know, I red shirted.
So I, I know what it’s like to be. Not even be allowed to play in the games. And then my, I played one year professionally in England and I was the best. I was the best player on my team there, which tells you a lot about how good that team was, you know, if I’m the best player, but that was the first time in my life.
I’ve been on a team, a competitive team that where [00:28:00] I was the best player. And so I feel like I’ve kind of been in, in some way in every position you can be in as a player. And I understand the. The things that are great about that. And the challenge is like, I tell you what being the best player on a team is much more difficult than people think.
You know, I think some people, sometimes players make man he’s the guy that gets the most shots or, you know, gets to do the most, or has the most leeway offensively. But that also comes with a lot of challenges. People don’t realize, I, I couldn’t couldn’t believe. That was the last year I played competitive basketball in England, how tough it was to be at the top of every scouting report and, you know, have the best player, defensive player assigned to you every game.
And it’s, it can be very, very difficult and frustrating. So, no, I think plain. Different roles from my, you know, prep school all the way through professionally is really helped me try to relate to the guys that play different roles on our team.
[00:29:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:28:59] What’s your funniest story of playing overseas.
Wes Miller: [00:29:03] Okay.
There’s quite a bit. I mean, I don’t know if they’re funny. There’s quite, there’s quite, there’s quite a few stories. I don’t know if they’re funny or not. They’re funny. You’re now looking back on them, but I remember. You know, like my perspective at 37 is so much different than, you know, 24, 25, but I’m sure, you know, you’re coming off of, I was coming.
My last game I played in college was in the elite eight against Georgetown to, you know, to go to the final four. And we were up eight or up eight or 10 with like eight minutes left and ended up losing an overtime. But I mean, you know, that think about your playing. We were playing in New Jersey in the Meadowlands and national television on the biggest stage against, I mean, shoot everybody on that court was probably an NBA player. I think I played double figure minutes in that game. So that was my last [00:30:00] college game. And then my first professional game, I think I played in front of like, 100 people.
and so the transition from, you know, what I had been doing, I thought you almost feel like you took a bunch of steps backwards, right. From going from that because everybody hears professional basketball. Like that’s just a very loose term to me because there’s everything from rec ball to the NBA and everything in between and so that was really difficult for me, but I think where it really hit me the first time, you know, we, we, our first road trip. They told us to show up at the, the arena we played in. Gosh, like let’s just say, they said show up at noon and we’re going to take a, take a bus. so I, you know, if you, if you played basketball for coach Williams and you’re supposed to be anywhere, you know, you get there 10 minutes early or you’re not going to be comfortable.
Right. And so I think I got there 10 minutes early. And not only did we not [00:31:00] leave until like one 30, like an hour and a half later. Cause the, the bus didn’t show up, it ended up not being a bus. It was, it was two vans and a car. We caravanned up to New Castle, which is, we were in London, New Castle’s far North in England.
And I I’d have to go back and like do it on that quest or Google maps or something. But if it felt like a six or eight hour drive in two little vans and in a car following behind us with the whole team. And I think that was the moment that I went, man, professional basketball is a really loose term,
And I don’t know if I’m going to have a career in this cause where I’m starting, you know, to where I have to go. I don’t think I’ll ever get to where I want to go, but I, I don’t know that that was like a kind of an aha moment.
Mike Klinzing: [00:31:50] And so was that what led you to say, Hey, I’m going to pack this in and get started with my coaching career.
Wes Miller: [00:31:55] No, no, not at all. That was really, again, that was our first road trip probably in September. [00:32:00] No, I, it wasn’t that simple for me. It was really hard to hang them up for me. I loved playing. I, I can’t stress that enough. I, I, I still wish I could play. I miss being able to play basketball, I love playing the game.
but I just think as I went through that year, you know, I realized that, you know, my ceiling was pretty low. And that, you know, could I, you know, hang on and play a couple years and, you know, move up a league or two, I’m sure I could have done that, but that I, I did want to accomplish something professionally.
I wanted to get on to a real career. And I think I kind of realized as I went through that year, that, you know, I wasn’t going to have a real career per se, as a professional basketball player. and so throughout that, That time in England, you know, I started formulating this idea that I wanted to get into coaching.
So it was really, by the time I got home, I was, I was ready to start a new path and jump right into coaching.
Mike Klinzing: [00:32:58] Was it something [00:33:00] specific about coaching that you loved or was it more just, I knew I wanted to be involved in the game.
Wes Miller: [00:33:04] Yeah. I think I’ve said this to people because players come in to my office all the time.
Hey, I want to coach, I want to coach and that’s kind of how I was. I think it growing up and even at that stage in my life in college and right afterwards, I wanted to coach because it was an extension of the game. Like I was in love. I’ve been in love with basketball since I can remember. So that was just natural.
Right? You play. And then you coach, I don’t think I understood. You know, coaching at all. And I don’t, I don’t think I understood what coaching was all about. It was just like you said, an extension of the game it’s really well said now. And I think when most young people say they want a coach, that’s more, what they’re saying is I want to stay in basketball, you know?
And, and that was, that was probably me at that stage.
Mike Klinzing: [00:33:51] So when you do start coaching, what was something that was surprising to you about coaching that maybe you didn’t know, coach has spent so much time on this or they, [00:34:00] you didn’t know? They did that. What were some things that were surprising to you?
Wes Miller: [00:34:03] Everything, honestly, everything. I, I tell people, you know, often now that I thought I wanted to coach growing up and then I got into coaching and for my first two or three years, if I’m being really honest now I’ll probably, wasn’t capable of saying this at the time. But my first two or three years in coaching, I’m not sure if I knew I wanted to coach or not, you know, as I started to figure out what it was.
And then, you know, after two or three years, I think it really hit me that not only do I want to do this, but it feels like it, it feels right inside of me. Right. It just feels like, you know, I, I don’t, I don’t like fate that I found a profession that. You know, I get out of bed every morning with energy to go do what I do every day.
So I think it was, you know, like if you asked me [00:35:00] when I was eight years old, what do you want to do when you grow up? I say, I want to be a basketball coach, but I don’t think it was till after a couple years, coaching basketball at the college level that I really realized in my heart, this is, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Mike Klinzing: [00:35:14] So, what were some of the first things that you looked at and said, Hmm, this isn’t what I thought I was going to be.
Wes Miller: [00:35:19] Well, I mean, you know, I got hired by Ernie Nestor gave me my first job. I’ll forever be grateful for that. And I was the third assistant and the ops, which it gets, it’s always funny how quickly things have changed, right?
There’s no, they don’t have those jobs in division one anymore. But I, I believe I was making like $20,000, I may or may not have had benefits. I mean, and you know, you’re at, so I wasn’t even recruiting, which I really wanted to do. you know, I was basically doing film exchange and team travel and, you know, skill development and, and that type of thing.
And so, you know, I [00:36:00] think sitting in there. Doing film exchange, you know, all summer working on the film exchange was probably like that moment, like, man, didn’t realize this is what happens, right? Like I, you know, and film exchange was so different. Cause it wasn’t digital when I first got into it, you know, I remember that just being, feeling like, wow, this is, this is a job.
Like we’re not on the court all day. And I think that’s the hardest thing for a lot of guys that they played when they get into coaching is. Especially in college is a lot of the work is done that you do. I mean, 80% of the things we do don’t involve basketball. Like the basketball is the reward, that’s the fun stuff.
And so it is, it is a job in a lot of ways. And I thought that was a transition for me, for sure.
Mike Klinzing: [00:36:45] So let’s jump ahead a little bit and talk about the transition from when you go from being an assistant to being a head coach and obviously the level of responsibility. Jumps at that point. So just talk a little bit about what [00:37:00] that transition was like for you.
Wes Miller: [00:37:01] I’ll tell you what, when I coached my first practice, I knew I wanted to coach forever. You know, like it was, it was like the same thrill or adrenaline, adrenaline rush I ever got from playing a game, but multiplied, you know, and so I, I was young. I was 27. I believe when I became the interim coach. I mean, we had really had a tough year and a half. I’ve been at UNC G for a year and a half. My first year we started my first year as an assistant at UNC G. We started the season. 0 and 15. which is incredible to think about. And again, I was a young assistant, but 0 and 15 is miserable. If any, when people complain about losing, I always go, man.
We won our 16th game at Appalachian state. And it was about as exciting as winning the national championship in 2005. yeah, I’ll never forget that, but, you know, we’ve had [00:38:00] a tough year and by the way, there were a lot of things that were not set up in our favor. I mean, if you go back and look at the non-conference schedule in those years at UNC G you know, I think the year that we were Owen 15, I think we played of 11 non-conference games.
Seven of them were against the ACC. We played VCU. Richmond and East Carolina and North Carolina, a and T does, where are 11 non-conference games and VCU, I think went to the final four that year. Richmond, I think was coming off a sweet 16 season. And, you know, Jeff Leibow, I only know if Jeff was there. It might have been the year before Jeff got to East Carolina, but they were, they were really good.
So my point is. You know, Oh, and 15 was bad, but we weren’t really set up for success either. and so it was a difficult year and a half and we’d lost a lot and it was unfortunate, but Mike was let go and, you know, the athletic director [00:39:00] comes and goes, Hey, we’re gonna make you the interim coach. And just finish the year off.
We’re going to do a national search and you know, you’ll be a candidate. but you know, kind of one of those things that, you know, used to be like, you got to go do your job at Alameda. It was exciting. Like looking back on it. Cause you get to, you get to be the head coach, you get to coach your own practice and do things your own way.
And I think as assistants, you always sit there and you know, you have opinions when you’re a head coach, you get to make decisions. And so that was exciting. It was kind of a, nothing to lose scenario. but I’ll never forget coming out of that first practice. Like, wow, this. This was better than playing and, and that, that was kind of another aha moment.
I think, transitioning into being a head coach.
Mike Klinzing: [00:39:40] As you were working up as an assistant, and you were thinking about your career and the path that you were going to take. Had you been preparing that someday you were going to be a head coach. Did you have notebook computer file, things that you had put together that you said, if I ever get a chance to take over my program, These are the things that I’m going to [00:40:00] start to try to do from day one.
Did you have that kind of thing in place or was it more like I’ve been an assistant head coach and position is kind of far off, down the road. Just where was your mindset at that point?
Wes Miller: [00:40:13] Yeah, one of my first practices at North Carolina, you know, Coach Williams called me over and shoot. I was my first couple of years at Carolina.
Every time he talked to me, I was nervous, you know, he’s, he’s changed a lot now, you know, he’s adjusted to the culture now and to the kids now, but in those days, you know, the head coach didn’t talk to you a lot, you know? And so he called me over on that. I’ll never forget it. And he said, Hey, you know, you still want to coach.
Because that was again, was a big part of how he recruited me. So yes, sir. And he said, well, I want you to keep a notebook of everything we do here. Keep every practice plan. You know, keep, keep a notebook of everything we do. And I did that. you know, I, I didn’t, I didn’t [00:41:00] always keep a good track of practice plans, but I did have, you know, th one of the guys on staff print them all out for me at one point.
So, but I kept all that stuff. And as I got into, into coaching and became an assistant, I absolutely wanted to be a head coach. And so I would, I keep notebooks and I, I was really big at learning from other people and going to clinics and. Yeah. So I had an idea of, if I become a head coach, this is what I want to do, and this is how I want to do it.
Mike Klinzing: [00:41:26] Absolutely. What was the biggest challenge in terms of building the kind of culture that you knew you needed to have there in order to win?
Wes Miller: [00:41:34] While he was really, there were so many challenges in that sense, because we had lost the program had lost for a really long time. And again, I want to. I can’t be clear enough that I don’t think if you look back at the way, things were set up from a scheduling standpoint and a bunch of other dynamics that were at play, then it wasn’t set up to be successful.
But [00:42:00] regardless when you lose like that, it becomes a part of your day to day mindset, right. And your day to day attitude. And that was really present in that program. And as I look back now, it’s really clear. I wasn’t prepared to change that. You know, I, I, I thought I was, I thought I could. but I wasn’t in it.
It took a couple years to try to, and an, a ton of mistakes and a ton of errors. And I’m really fortunate. I’m still here because honestly, after my second full season, so two and a half years in as a head coach, you know, we had seven guys walk out, you know, walk out on us in a three day stretch after the season.
No, it’s seven guys, either transfer or turn pro in a three day stretch. And honestly thought I was going to lose my job. And you know, you look back on that. And that was one of a real, that’s the most difficult professional moment, you know, those, those years that I’ve ever been through, [00:43:00] but we learned so much making those mistakes and the administration, you know, the leadership at UNCG stuck with us when a lot of people would have probably let us go.
And, you know, I think that helped us. Learn and grow and formulate a value system and figure out an identity and a couple of principles to live by. And I think that’s kind of led to some of the success, the relative success we’ve had since that day. So, you know, those first two or three years were incredibly hard.
I, I probably screwed it up about as many ways as you can screw it up. but I value that now more than ever because it’s probably where I learned the most. In terms of building, you know, a mindset or a day to day approach or culture, whatever terminology you want to use.
Mike Klinzing: [00:43:46] All right. Two questions related to that one.
What is a mistake that you make in those early years that someone else who’s just becoming a head coach can learn from. And then number two, what’s something [00:44:00] that you think back to those early years that you weren’t very good at then? That you feel like you’re much improved that today?
Wes Miller: [00:44:06] Yeah. Well, the first mistake is probably, you know, feeling like I had to act like a head coach or ho you know, carry myself like a head coach or communicate with people like a head coach.
You know, when you’re probably looking back on it, didn’t have a lot of confidence. That I was ready or prepared. Cause I wasn’t right. I was, I wasn’t, I didn’t have a ton of experience. I’d never been a head coach. And so, because deep down, I probably knew I wasn’t prepared or wasn’t ready. I would, I felt like I had to act a certain way or be a certain way instead of being genuine and being myself, you know?
And, and so I think that, and it’s kinda hard to explain that, but I think that would be the biggest mistake I made, you know, just [00:45:00] realizing. You know, that you just be, you, you know, and, and be authentic and be genuine. And, you know, that’ll be good enough, I think. And I look at what we do now, you know, I think in those days I was so scared to make a mistake or.
Admit to a mistake, you know, now I know, I don’t know everything and I’m comfortable with that. I’m going to try like hell every day to try to figure it out and get better and grow and learn. But I realized I don’t have it all figured out. I think in those days I knew deep down. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I didn’t want anybody else to know that
Mike Klinzing: [00:45:36] That’s so true. That is, that is so true.
Wes Miller: [00:45:38] Yeah. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I’d like to, if you get, you know, always that question. Could you go back and tell your younger self something? I’d say, you know, I’d go say, Hey, be yourself. You don’t have to act like somebody you’re not. And it’s okay that you don’t know.
In fact, embrace the fact that you don’t know and admit that you don’t know and just get crazy about learning and grow.
Mike Klinzing: [00:45:58] What’s then something [00:46:00] that you’ve gotten a lot better at, whether it’s something off the floor on the floor, teaching wise, just that you’ve improved on over the course of your career.
Wes Miller: [00:46:09] You know, I had a really good friend of mine, one of my great friends in coaching. High school coach at, Lankier prep. A guy named Adam . You used the term and he read it somewhere. So I don’t think it’s an original term, but he talked about relationship equity. You know, I used the term, I thought that was like a great term.
He told me that on the phone yesterday. And I think, I think just spending time and energy on building like real genuine relationships with the people in our organization, our staff members. You know, players, you know, people you know, families, like, I think that’s something that every year I value more and more, and not only, and it is strategic, like, cause it’s so important to the fabric of what we’re trying to do.
[00:47:00] But at the same time, what I learned is I enjoy that, you know, that I really enjoy. Building these positive relationships with people that I care about and that the more we invest with into each other, the more care and love there is, and that type of thing. So I think like there’s something, when I got into coaching, it was about basketball, right?
Like this was about a love for the game as I’ve been fortunate to stay in this profession over time that hasn’t, I haven’t lost that at all. I love the game. I maybe more now than ever, but. You know, I, now I also have feel so much value and purpose and working with people. and, and, and, and feeling like in some small way, you’re able to help some people, if that makes sense.
Mike Klinzing: [00:47:46] No, it makes total sense. And I think that’s something that the entire coaching profession has shifted in that direction. And when I hear a coach like yourself or other guys that we’ve had on the podcast, That’s a theme that comes through very often is [00:48:00] that those relationships have become so much more important to them than maybe they were at the beginning of their career, as they were focused on just like you said, I love basketball and I want to be involved with basketball and basketball was number one.
And as you realize, as you go through this, those relationships are really what matters and that’s really what’s important in basketball is the vehicle for creating those relationships and helping to move them forward. And obviously with your players, Helping them to be able to have the success that you want them to have in their life.
Eventually we’re pushing up on your time limit here West. So I want to ask you one more question. It’s kind of a two parter and then we’ll wrap things up. What is your biggest challenge moving forward at UNC Greensboro and then to. What is your biggest joy when you get out of bed in the morning, what’s something that just drives you.
Like I can’t wait to get to this part of my job.
Wes Miller: [00:48:50] Hey, well, I’m gonna start with the second question. That’s okay. Sure. I say this all the time. I like to feel. Like a fire in your [00:49:00] belly. When you wake up in the morning to go do what you do has to be one of the greatest gifts, right. Or greatest blessings.
And I feel that like, I, I feel this intense sense of purpose every day. And I just don’t take that for granted. I think, you know, for me it’s changed the answer to your question, the second question changes in different points of the year, right? Like, I mean, When we start practice, man, I’d wake up like thinking about practice.
You know, my players would probably laugh if they hear that because they know it’s true. Like, but I wake up like thinking about what we have to accomplish that day in practice and how we’re going to structure that practice. And, you know, w what I have to talk, you know, having that conversation with certain guys on my staff, as I’m writing that practice, I’m going to write the practice I’m in the shower, like thinking about all these things or.
You know what player I have to talk to about some thought we had, I wake up thinking about [00:50:00] basketball and like what we have to accomplish as a team in practice or in that game, whatever. so during the year that I’ll wake up thinking like that, I think in the off season, I think I probably wake up thinking about.
You know what we gotta do to get better individually, a little bit, a little bit more, right. I’ll wake up. Thinking about, is Isaiah Miller going to get his shots up this morning? Like, is he getting this form shooting then? Because he’s got to work on his free throw shooting in his three point shooting, you know, I wake up thinking about is James Dickey.
No doing his extra stretching. Cause we got to work on is, you know, like flexibility in his hips. I mean like that, I think probably wake up with like this deep sense of purpose to try to make sure they’re they’re developing. if that makes sense and in all kinds of ways, but I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s one thing I just wake up excited to.
The attack, the job. I really do. I can tell you this, I don’t wake up thinking about like balancing budgets and stuff. So there are parts of the job. I don’t
Mike Klinzing: [00:50:56] the administrative stuff. You’re not waking up dreaming about that.
Wes Miller: [00:50:59] No [00:51:00] doubt. Then what was the first question again?
Mike Klinzing: [00:51:02] First part was, what’s your biggest challenge moving forward?
Wes Miller: [00:51:03] Oh, you know, there’s, there’s so many of them and we haven’t arrived by any sense, but I think it was interesting. you know, and we’ve talked about this a lot this spring with our team, you know, W w we struggled here for a long time and we had a group of guys that kinda dug in with us. And I think about like Dionte Baldwin and Francis Alonso and Jordy Kuiper and Kayel Locke and Nick Paulos.
And, and if I keep going, I’ll leave somebody out. But the list goes on, those guys know who they are. That dug in with us because they were, and they were so sick of losing. They were willing to do anything. They could to change that. And the program turned the corner, you know, under those guys leadership on the court and they kind of instilled some of those values in the next group.
Right. And then, you know, the next group instilled some values, but [00:52:00] I think we’ve been able to put together, you know, In my opinion, five years of, of really good basketball teams. And the, the second half of my team five years ago was the first team that played in a non-conference or a post-season tournament.
Here we, in the first time we had a winning record in the Southern Conference. We were 10 and eight and league that year. So, you know, as I look back this past year’s team, which was a great team and we had a great year, even though we didn’t finish well, You know, it was the first time I had guys on my roster that had never lost, you know, like this, this, the senior class I had this year, which James Dickey, Kyrin Galloway, Malik, Massey, they were unbelievable players in our program leaders.
What they’ve meant to this program, can’t be expressed in words, they want 104 games in four years, you know, they won 25, their [00:53:00] freshman year 27. Their sophomore year, 29, their junior year and 23 this year. And I think we’d had a chance to win some more in the nit. And so they’d never lost. And I think it created a different type of challenge because they didn’t remember that good that they didn’t experience it, what it was like to really lose.
And I think so one of our challenges is trying to figure out how to get that type of a fire to burn for lack of a better, better term with a bunch of guys that have had a lot of relative success. And I think that that’s that challenge that I think a lot of programs have when you have some sustained success is trying to figure out how to you take another step forward and a psychologically like that.
That’s one thing we thought about a lot during this quarantine.
Mike Klinzing: [00:53:50] It’s a different mental state altogether to go from being a losing program, to being a program that wins. There’s obviously that chip on your shoulder that you talked about [00:54:00] earlier and now to keep success going.
Wes Miller: [00:54:05] That’s a challenge in not only to sustain it, but to, to build on it.
Cause we’re not going to be okay. Sustaining anything, right? Like this is about growth and not, you know, it’s just funny, you know, and this is, this team this year was phenomenal. I had so much fun coaching them. Like we have unbelievable kids and, but there were times and shoot arounds. Where, like a little detail would be overlooked and it would frustrate the heck out of me.
Cause I remember losing, I remember Owen 15, right? We talked about that earlier. and those details are separators and you know, couple of years ago, we, we had guys that remembered losing games because of that particular detail or something like it, they would step up and be, and you know, Express that to the team.
And in, at times we didn’t have that this year. And again, we had unbelievable leadership, like, you [00:55:00] know, our, our seniors in our upperclassmen leadership was exemplary, some of the best I’ve ever seen, but there was, there were some things that weren’t there. And I actually blame myself as a coach for not recognizing that earlier.
And now we’re trying to figure out how to get more detail oriented, but I think some of that. Happened in our program previously because guys were just so sick of losing and now we need to figure out how to have that same type of edge or chip, as you mentioned, you know, without having to go through that type of year, we hope.
Mike Klinzing: [00:55:30] Absolutely. Well, I can’t thank you enough for spending an hour or so here with us this afternoon. Want to give you a chance before we get out to let people know how they can follow your program, find out more about what you guys are doing, and then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap up the episode.
Wes Miller: [00:55:46] Okay, sounds good. Thank you so much for having me.
Mike Klinzing: [00:55:50] Absolutely. What’s the best way for people to follow UNC Greensboro basketball?
Wes Miller: [00:55:55] On our website, you know, what you can find on Google? I [00:56:00] don’t even know the UNCGspartans.com. Yeah. And then, you know, obviously our, our, Instagram and Twitter handles will be great as well.
Mike Klinzing: [00:56:08] Awesome. We’ll put that all in our show notes. Can’t thank you enough, as I said for spending some time with us this afternoon, it’s been an absolute pleasure getting a chance to learn more about you and your program and to everyone out there, thanks for listening and we will catch you on our next episode.