In his four years at UCLA, Reggie Miller averaged 17 points a game, shooting 44 percent from distance in his senior season. His number’s retired at UCLA and he’s a member of the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.
Of course, after he left college, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Pacers where he became one of the game’s most prolific clutch performers.
Since hanging ’em up, Miller’s been a staple of TNT’s NBA and NCAA coverage. He’s spent more than a decade behind the mic and this year’s NCAA Tournament will be the seventh he’s called. We caught up with Reggie to talk about where his Bruins are headed in this year’s Tourney and what he thinks about Lonzo Ball.
SLAM: What have you seen from Lonzo Ball and the rest of your Bruins?
Reggie Miller: Hopefully they’ll show out here in the Tournament. Like David Levy was saying about the West Coast teams finally having the presence and emergence. Look, I’ve always liked Lonzo’s game, growing up in the inland empire, obviously we’ve heard of the Ball brothers. This is going to be another place for him to showcase his talent.
SLAM: What are the expectations?
RM: Short of a Final Four, I think that’s what most people are going to assume. But it’s game by game. What I do like about this tournament, and we’ve been talking about this internally, no longer do you have the days where you’ve gotta have a big. You’ve got to have great guard play. That’s one thing UCLA has, with Alford and Ball. Two guys that can control the tempo. Both can make shots.
We saw that last year with Villanova. No one was picking Villanova. I was like, Guys, it’s all about guard play! And being able to play good defense. That’s the only thing that’s a question mark a little bit for UCLA. They don’t play great defense, but over their last five ballgames, they’ve kinda gotten back to that.
Case in point, that Arizona win when they went to the zone. That was probably their best defensive effort of the season. If they can play like that, mix up their coverage, anything is possible.
SLAM: Have you had a chance to spend any time with the squad?
RM: A little bit. I’ve talked to Steve. He wanted me to come by. They got off to a quick start and he wanted me to come by and talk to them. I was like, I’m not coming to talk to them because I’m not going to be the one responsible for when they first lose.
It’s good having those conversations with Steve because UCLA can be a hard place to coach because of the mystique and history. Sometimes you’re living under John Wooden’s shadow. But he’s accepted the challenge and just look at the results.
Hopefully they can carry this momentum. I think it’ll be a difficult Pac-12 tournament with Arizona and Oregon both vying for a No. 1 seed. Maybe they get two No. 1 seeds out West. Who knows? But it’ll be very important for [UCLA] to at least get to the Pac-12 championship game if they really want that No. 1 seed out West.
SLAM: You mentioned the mystique and history of the program. Do you ever feel those butterflies from when you were playing?
RM: Absolutely! This is the best thing about this being my seventh year covering college basketball. You almost take it for granted. I played 18 years and I think this is my 12th year at Turner, and you call games professionally, you kinda get jaded because you’re seeing the best players. It’s good to take a step back and go back to where it all began.
Four years for me at UCLA and see the development and the excitement on a lot of these young men’s faces, having a chance to dance. That’s what it’s all about. And there’s so much parity this year. There’s not any one or two dominating teams. It’s all about getting hot right now.
There is legitimately, in my opinion, 10 teams that can run the table. UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina. Don’t be surprised by SMU, Butler, who I’ve always loved being in Indiana. It’s all about fundamentals. Great guard play, good defense, they can shoot the basketball and they rebound.
SLAM: Lonzo’s most likely leaving after this season. Are you a fan of one-and-done players?
RM: I am not, but I’m not gonna hold a young man from pursuing his dream of becoming a professional athlete. If that’s what the rules will allow, then so be it. It waters down both brands because a lot of guys are not as good as they think they are coming in. It hurts them. And it kinda depletes the college system because if you get a guy two, three, four years, it makes the college game that much better.
I’m not a fan of it but I’m not gonna be critical of a guy making a lifelong decision, not only to help out himself, but to help out his family’s structure.