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Former player excited about becoming coach, building on tradition

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PHOTO COURTESY BUTLER UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS / Brandon Miller, a former standout player and assistant coach for the Butler men's basketball program, is the Bulldogs' new head coach.
PHOTO COURTESY BUTLER UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS / Brandon Miller, a former standout player and assistant coach for the Butler men's basketball program, is the Bulldogs' new head coach.

A total of seven men can claim they coached Brandon Miller either in high school or college.

Packed tightly into this claustrophobic revolving door spanning from the fall of 1994 to the spring of 2003 are two Alfords, Butler’s University’s current athletics director and the person who has led Ohio State to five Big Ten titles in nine seasons.

One could view this as too many voices for a young man aiming to contribute to the programs he dearly loves. Looking back, however, Butler’s new men’s basketball coach sees himself as the luckiest young coach in the world.

“I’ve been blessed to be around great coaches. My dad (Roger) was a coach for 39 years, so I grew up in a gymnasium,” said Miller, 34, who continues to settle into his new role after being promoted to head coach on July 6. “Each of them has a unique way of doing things, so there’s no question that it’s been very helpful.”


Name: Brandon Miller

Job: Butler University men’s basketball coach

Age: 34

Born: New Castle

Family: Wife, Holly; sons, Mason, 6, and Michael, 4

High school: New Castle (1998)

College: Butler University (2003)

Did you know? Despite playing only three seasons in a Bulldogs uniform, Miller still managed to become part of the program’s 1,000-point club ... made both the All-Horizon League Team and All-Horizon League Defensive Team following his senior season (2002-03) ... Played as a college freshman for New Castle legend Steve Alford at Southwest Missouri State but transferred to Butler after Alford was hired to be the men’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa.

The list is impressive, in order reading: Sam Alford, Curt Bell, Steve Bennett, Steve Alford, Barry Collier, Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter. That’s a total of 1,189 victories at the Division I level, not to mention many more in the high school ranks.

A four-year varsity point guard at New Castle High School, Miller played one season for Steve Alford at Southwest Missouri State and later for three different head coaches at Butler. Miller insists he watched, listened and picked up something from each and every mentor.

Factor in he’s been an assistant for the departed Brad Stevens as well as Illinois coach John Groce, and Miller has been able to challenge some of the best minds in the basketball business.

Stevens in his six seasons became famous for his professorial air with his angular build, folded arms and steely glare. Miller is different. He’s a grinder who as a player didn’t care whose toes or feelings he stepped on.

Miller is the 22nd head coach in a Butler program dating back to 1896. It’s a return to the Hinkle Fieldhouse hardwood he first played on as a high school freshman in 1995 single-class semistate games against Alexandria and eventual state champion Ben Davis.

The latter, a 65-60 heartbreaking loss in the evening finale, proved to be the final game coached by Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer and Johnson County resident Sam Alford.

Miller is confident he and Hinkle Fieldhouse go back even further. That at age 4 he helped make up the green-shirted mass making up the New Castle cheering section the day Steve Alford went for 57 points against Broad Ripple in the 1983 Hinkle Semistate.

Either way, he’s back in his comfort zone attempting to generate new layers of success for a men’s basketball program that seems to become more relevant both locally and nationally with each coaching change.

Daily Journal sportswriter Mike Beas recently caught up with Miller to gauge his thoughts on this opportunity of a lifetime.

How surreal is this: You the former Butler player now coaching the Bulldogs?

It’s a dream come true. The culture. The environment. The people. It’s a special place. I’ll never forget walking into Hinkle Fieldhouse as a young kid and then as a high school basketball player and the goose-bumps it gave you.

Brad Stevens would never refer to himself as a legend, though at Butler he is one. What kind of pressure comes with that?

Brad Stevens is an unbelievable coach. He was obviously terrific. For Butler it’s an exciting time because you’re going into the Big East and the renovations going on at Hinkle Fieldhouse. You just try to focus on what your job is.

Fair or not, Butler has the reputation as a stepping-stone job. Does that impact you at all while recruiting?

I have not noticed that at all. The place it is today is based on the last 10-15 years, which have been a special time. The resources coming in from the (Big East) TV contract and the renovations going on at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It is just a different place.

Being from New Castle, you had a lot of great guards to idolize while growing up. Did you have a favorite?

There were a lot of great players, but being able to play for Steve Alford ... he was the guy when I was growing up. You went to all his camps, and he’s still a close family friend. Steve is just a very good person, the way he carries himself on and off the court. He did what he needed to do to make himself the best basketball player he could be.

Legend has it you had a key to (New Castle’s) Chrysler Fieldhouse before completing elementary school. Any truth to this?

My dad was a coach, so I don’t know if I ever had the key, but it wasn’t too far away. I don’t remember never being able to get into the gym. Chrysler Fieldhouse was a special place to work out.

You were famous in your days as a player for how tenacious and competitive you were. How many broken bones and stitches in your past are attributed to basketball?

(Laughing) Too many to count. And that is a serious answer. I’ve broken my nose multiple times, broken my arm, torn my ACL ... and if you go to stitches, you’re talking a whole different area.

Is your coaching style as two-fisted as you were as a player?

I’m not exactly sure how I would describe my style. I will coach with some emotion. It’s who I am. But you have to be level-headed and be able to make decisions on the fly.

As a 1998 high school graduate you were able to play in three single-class postseason tournaments and one as a Class 4A program. Your thoughts?

I grew up in an era where there was one class. I loved the one-class system and the idea of having one state champion. I do see the other side of it, but at the same time I loved playing in the old-school tournament.

Ten people will give 10 different definitions of what the Butler Way is. How do you describe it?

It’s hard to put into words. The best way is the Butler Way encompasses the culture and environment that’s been built through the years. That starts with people. It’s truly a value-based basketball program that parallels a value-based university.

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