From Dan, To San: Tournament Time
An inside look at the Arizona Wildcats and the journey they endured.
featuring Danny Peters
One of the biggest transitions in life occurs when a person leaves college and looks to build on what he or she has spent years accumulating in academia. In many cases, it’s a substantial shock to the system because of how different it is to negotiate with the world on our (and the world’s) own terms. For former Ohio State guard Danny Peters, his world seems to be in a different place altogether. He’s since left the Buckeye basketball team as the winningest player in the program’s history upon his graduation, while trekking into a career of teaching as an assistant coach for the University of Arizona’s men’s basketball team. Danny has been gracious enough to let me and the rest of the SLAMonline family in on what it means to embark on the daily challenge of becoming a successful college coach, by way of a special “as told to Sandy,” open-letter San Dova Speak-Easy series, dubbed “From Danny, To Sandy.”
It has been an amazing year with this group of guys! They have achieved and accomplished so much since our scrimmage with Utah back in November: 30-8, a Pac-10 Championship, anElite 8 appearance. I am not sure anyone predicted our program to get to this point so quickly, but it is truly amazing what happens when you have a group like we did that buys into the plan for the future.
Last time we spoke, we were getting ready for the Pac-10 Tournament at the Staples Center in L.A. Now that the entire season is behind us, I can truly say that this trip back to L.A. defined our identity for the remainder of the season. Our team improved with each game, maintaining the focus and sticking to the game plan our staff put in place. Our previous L.A. trip went poorly with most of our team being home and collectively becoming too comfortable with the current state of our team. We let our guard down and we paid the price for it. The second time around our players made sure to take ownership of the weekend, and their focus reflected that. We played great basketball for the entire tournament, but Washington and Isaiah Thomas played even better in the championship game. Our team attacked the glass better than they had all year and it carried over into the NCAA Tournament, as we out-rebounded Duke and UConn and hung even with Texas on the boards. We did not finish as we wanted in the Pac-10 Championship. Elementary mistakes in the second half and over time cost us down the stretch. Isaiah Thomas also played out of his mind, and we were a man down with Kyle Fogg hobbled with a bruised thigh, neither of which helped us.
Back in Tucson, our team went to Cole and Jeanie Davis’ house for the Selection Show along with our staff, administration, and other donors. The NCAA tournament committee had a sense of humor matching us up with the Memphis Tigers and former Arizona Wildcat (and current Memphis head coach) Josh Pastner. A collective laugh came from the entire group as both of our names came across that line.
As we headed to Tulsa, our team did a phenomenal job of not looking ahead and focusing at the game we were guaranteed. Jordin Mayes gave us a great lift off the bench against Memphis as we snuck by to advance and play Texas in the Round of 32. Charles Barkley may have been the only analyst to pick us to win — thanks Chuck!!! Fortunately, we had a good whistle and made great team winning plays down the stretch to win the game. Big free throws late in the game always help, but when you practice them everyday, your confidence in them going in only increases. Coach Miller preached each practice that “free throws win championships,” he could not be more correct. Before the Texas game I tweeted “Amazing how important under, side, and full court out of bounds execution has been in the Tournament. Details, have a plan and execute it!” Ironically how true this is and how it came into play for our game. VCU won its Sweet 16 game on out-of-bounds plays. Listen to details and execute!!!
When we returned from Tulsa for 36 hours in Tucson, the buzz around the city was incredible. Our fans lined up outside McKale to send us off to Anaheim. Arizona is a special place that loves the program and will support it through any circumstance. Our staff and team could feel that something special was going to take place in California. When we arrived for our match up with Duke in the Sweet 16, the Honda Center became a home crowd as the “U of A” chants carried through out the arena. That was by far our best game of the season as a collective team. We played our best basketball that night and some may say we were “unbeatable.” That is all attributed to our teams focus to the game plan. We executed exactly what Coach Miller asked and the score reflected that. I must nominate Duke’s Kyle Singler for “One Shining Moment” when he dove to tap the ball from behind as Derrick Williams had a breakaway dunk! That was impressive.
Early foul trouble for Derrick and a poor shooting night collectively, sank us against UConn. Our team was unable to get in the flow of the game, which we were fortunate to have on Thursday. Derrick definitely made a name for himself in the tournament and with the dunk he had in the second half. I think he put Roscoe Smith, Okwandu, Michael Olowakandi, the referee, and the tuba player from the band in the rim on that dunk! Kyle Fogg did a tremendous job guarding Duke’s Nolan Smith and UConn’s Kemba Walker the entire weekend, he really improved from last year defensively! Our lone senior Jamelle Horne rebounded at another level in Anaheim and was a great teammate through the season. His “team first” attitude was contagious and was responsible for making this season about winning! He definitely was a major contributor to setting the tone.
Thank you to all of the fans that showed up at the McKale Center after our return from Anaheim. Arizona is truly a special place and every one of our players knows that. Each of them tasted success this year, and I am sure it will be a staple of our program into the future.
Congratulations to the Kentucky, UConn, VCU and Butler programs making it to the Final Four. It is a great accomplishment, and how sweet the feeling is to be playing in April and competing for a National Championship.
I need to focus back on my academics since I have not been in a classroom in some time. Stay in touch, Sandman — I will reach back out to you for spring workouts and summer camp.
You can pick up more bits of Danny’s ride through the recruiting circuit and his thoughts on the game via Twitter (@PetersDanny).
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist, and fitness enthusiast whose work has been published by US News, Yahoo!, featured in Robert Atwan’s “America Now,” and now in Buckets and Playmaker magazines. You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook and Twitter.