Former Pitt star Sean Miller creates dilemma for ex-teammates as coach of Xavier

GREENSBORO, NC — They sat behind the Xavier bench and drew for the coach they call “brother” even three decades after their official union ended. Sean Miller’s heavily favored team made it a worrying two hours for Jason Matthews and Darrelle Porter. The Musketeers fell 13 points in the NCAA tournament opener against Kennesaw State before rallying to take the lead and play an attempt at a game-winning shot with blocked seconds.

As it turned out, that was the easy part of the weekend.

DECOURCY: Nunges block preserves Xavier’s rousing comeback

On Sunday afternoon, Xavier plays Pitt in the second round of March Madness. Back then, Matthews, Porter and Miller were teammates with the Panthers from 1987-1991. Of course we know who Miller wants to win. How are the other two dealing with it?

“It’s a happy conflict, that’s how I like to describe it,” Matthews told Sporting News. “I kind of feel like Jason Kelce’s mom. All she has to do is sit and be happy for the winner and comfort the other.”

TSN’s MARCH MADNESS headquarters
Live NCAA Bracket | TV Guide | prediction tool

All three are among the great players in Pitt’s history. Matthews is ranked #6 among the Panthers in career standings. Porter is #4 in assists while Miller is #2 in that category. They were part of a Big East regular-season championship as freshmen and made three NCAA tournament appearances, missing a fourth in large part because Miller missed her junior year with a foot injury.

That kind of connection doesn’t end with graduation, which perhaps has reason to envy those who weren’t collegiate athletes. They have been in touch ever since and see each other as often as life allows, and Miller’s job provides opportunities to keep in touch.

“Sean and I, we’ve been playing AAU ball together since we were 10, 11, all the way up,” Porter told TSN. “The long-term relationship is what it’s all about.

“Man, that is an unbelievable circumstance. This is the second time this has happened since Sean has been training. I’m in a no lose situation. You let your brother play against your alma mater? There is no way you can lose.”

It’s not the first time those involved have dealt with it. Matthews and Porter had practice dealing with it in 2009 when Xavier reached the Sweet 16 as No. 4 and played against Pitt, No. 1. That was the last game of Miller’s rookie stint as Musketeers head coach before he left to take charge of the Arizona program.

The game was in Boston, and Matthews and Porter attended, along with Pitt’s classmate, Bobby Martin. Porter recalls sitting next to Bill Murray at the game, which he appreciated because everyone who saw him televise the game was more fixated on his proximity to a movie star than what team he favored while watching .

“I could go through the whole game without any facial emotion. I might wear sunglasses so people can’t even look into my eyes,” Porter said. “And then I’ll be the happiest person in the gym, no matter what, and then I’ll be fired up for Calipari to win the next game.”

MORE: Kentucky shakes off the ghosts of St. Peter’s with inaugural win

The college basketball world can be small at times, but on Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum, it was tiny enough that everything could have been stuffed into a phone booth, if such a thing existed. It all started with Miller coaching Xavier in his team’s opener game in the Midwest region. Pitt, number 11, followed and blew out the favored state of Iowa. After a brief hiatus, Kentucky took over the court under John Calipari — who was Pitt’s assistant coach and head recruiter in the 1980s and was able to bring Miller, Porter, Matthews, Martin and Brian Shorter to the Panthers program before leaving to head coach in Massachusetts to become a year later.

Something like this can’t escape a coach in Miller’s position, much as he would prefer to only train against a random No. 11 and focus only on promotion to the NCAA Sweet 16. This circumstance has become a story; In the March Madness hierarchy, an enticing story ranks second only to the buzzer beater and excitement.

Miller recalls the 2009 game in which his Musketeers were No. 4 and the Panthers, led by future NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, were a No. 1 chasing their first Final Four since 1941 when the The tournament only had eight teams. However, apart from the result and the clutch shot from Panthers guard Levance Field that won it, he can’t recall seeing the heartbreaking regional finals loss to Villanova.

“As soon as you get kicked out of the tournament, you just disappear for a few days,” he told TSN. “Of course I would have picked for Pitt and Jamie Dixon, both because of my fondness for him and because of where I went to school.”

Miller doesn’t seem to spend much time reminding his players what a significant player he was at the collegiate level: Big East rookie of the year in 1988, second-team All-Big East as a senior in 1992. Two of his players at XU’s press conference was unaware of his background as a ballhandling magician who demonstrated his skill and was interviewed by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show at the age of 14. one, center Jack Nunge, had come across a video on YouTube.

However, from his playing career he knows what to expect on the wrong side of the result in Sunday’s game. “It’s a brand new season and it’s ending fast,” Miller said. “And sadly, I learned that in college in a heartbreaking way.”

Miller didn’t want to talk about it, and that won’t surprise anyone from Pittsburgh. The Panthers were No. 2 picks in 1988 and faced Vanderbilt in the second round. They controlled much of the game and had a 3-point lead in the closing seconds. Vandy’s star center, Will Perdue, was even fouled out of the game. But a player named Barry Goheen, whose name still remains something of an obscenity among Panthers fans of a certain age, was allowed to break up in the left corner for a 3-pointer that tied the game and forced overtime. The Panthers lost there.

That was 35 years ago. Porter still resides in Pittsburgh and directs the Ozanam club’s basketball program, which has existed for 55 years and helped found future college legends such as LaSalle’s Kenny Durrett, Notre Dame’s Dwight Clay and Pitt’s Sam Clancy. The western Pennsylvania region is enjoying a resurgence in basketball talent, with NCAA tournament players such as Indiana point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, Kentucky freshman guard Adou Thiero, Purdues Ethan Morton and Pitt guard Nelly Cummings.

Matthews is a real estate investor in Tampa but remains involved with the game through his son Brandon, a USF Bulls program manager, and his relationship with Miller and with Pitt.

Matthews told TSN his mom was a huge college basketball fan who texted him all Friday. “She was wild in every game,” he said. “She’s already worried: So how are you going to deal with it? I was like, ‘How are you going to handle this?’ She said, “You know I’m with Sean. I’m always with Sean.’ I said, ‘Well, you didn’t play for Pitt, so you can do that.’

They will sit at Sunday’s game with Miller’s wife Amy, also a Pitt product. Porter and Matthews have known Amy since they have known Sean. There’s no doubt where their loyalty rests.

“She thinks differently than I do!” said Porter. “First is husband, second is school – and second is closer to 100 than 1.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *