Brandon Miller was a rising star when he left the business in June of 2011. Now he's the head coach at Butler University, taking the program into the Big East with the unenviable task of having to follow Brad Stevens' footsteps at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
At least he has a sense of humor.
"We wear the same size shoe," Miller told me over the weekend. "And he even left a pair behind."
Miller was on the fast track a few seasons ago when he made the surprising decision to resign from Ohio State after six seasons with Thad Matta. It came shortly after another highly regarded assistant, Pat Kelsey, left Xavier for a job outside of college basketball. Kelsey returned a season ago when he was hired as the head coach at Winthrop, and Miller got back in last season as special assistant to Illinois head coach John Groce and was brought back to Butler a few months ago by Stevens as an assistant.
Miller says he enjoyed his job at Forest Pharmaceuticals, where he was a salesman calling on doctors and nurses throughout southern Indiana. But after nine months, he had the "itch" to return and has now completely bought in again. He no longer wonders whether it was the right profession for him due to the countless hours on the job during which which he rarely saw his young boys (Mason is now 5 years old and Michael is 4).
Miller will carry on the Butler Way. He played at the school, shares many of the same values and character traits that made previous coaches Barry Collier, Matta, Todd Lickliter and Stevens successful with the Bulldogs. While he didn't give it much thought, there were plenty of others close to the program who felt his yearlong absence from the sport would hinder his chances to lead the program in 2013.
"I never went there and thought about that," Miller said. "This is part of who I am and the path I took. It's me. I was at peace with who I am, where I've been and what I've done."
Miller has a daunting task. He replaces a 36-year-old legend that went from the Horizon League to the NBA in a span of about 16 months. Stevens is responsible for one of the most impressive feats in college basketball history, leading a mid-major program to successive national championship contests. But Miller will have to do it in the Big East, which -- while not exactly the old Big East -- is certainly a couple of notches up from the Horizon and at least a half-step above the A-10. Butler was the elite job in the Horizon; it's arguably not even in the top five in its new conference.
Will Miller be able to keep his calm the way Stevens did after a Roosevelt Jones buzzer-beating game-winner over Gonzaga?
"No chance," he said. "But show me any coach other than Brad who could react the way Brad has reacted in those situations. Brad was terrific being himself. What you saw is what you got. It was genuine."
Miller will be himself. He'll maintain the same core values within the program that have made Butler successful throughout its last four coaching regimes. He's bright, articulate and knows the game.
He's fortunate in a sense: The rule the NCAA implemented a year ago that allows coaches to work with players for two hours per week in the summer has helped Miller familiarize himself with the players. It has also given the holdovers and freshmen an opportunity to get to know him. Butler, which lost leading scorers Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith to graduation, will also have 10 practices in July in preparation for an August trip to Australia.
Miller will still have full-time starters Jones and Khyle Marshall back in the fold and will also return one of the nation's most promising shooters in Kellen Dunham. Stevens raved to me about his freshman class shortly after his news conference in Boston last week, but the key for the Bulldogs this season will almost certainly come at the point guard position, where there is no clear front-runner for the starting spot.
Aussie Jackson Aldridge has been underwhelming in his two seasons with the program and Devontae Morgan hardly played last season as a freshman. Walk-on Alex Barlow is a candidate, as is freshman Rene Castro. Miller could also decide to go with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Jones, who isn't exactly a traditional floor leader.
"We're continuing to evaluate our team on a day-by-day basis," Miller said. "Based on workouts, you learn things about your team."
If I didn't know better, I'd have said that those identical words came from Stevens’ mouth.