Wes Miller looks like a guy who would be carded if he tried to buy cigarettes at a gas station, not like the head coach of a NCAA Division I basketball team.
Yet, the 29-year-old finds himself the leader of not just the hottest squad in the Southern Conference, but one of the hottest teams in the nation.
After a convincing 78-63 win over College of Charleston, the UNC-Greensboro Spartans were left with the tenth win in their last 11 games, and a North Division-leading 10-5 conference record.
This is a far cry from the team Miller inherited after longtime head coach Mike Dement was fired on Dec. 13. The team plays hard, plays together and looks like it would be willing to follow the former Tar Heel guard into a volcano.
"Our players have really made the decision to believe and buy into what's going on," Miller said. "They believe in each other. They have come together as a group. They've become more confident, and the credit goes to them. Their effort and energy has been fantastic. I'm just really proud of what they've done here."
The team comes first for Wes Miller. As I sat watching UNCG, missing its leading scorer Trevis Simpson with turf toe and the announcement coming earlier in the day that the Spartans would be hiring a search firm to find its new head coach, it was hard not to think about Wake Forest and Jeff Bzdelik, who was concurrently trying to win the Demon Deacons' first game since January 21.
The only time Wes Miller mentioned himself in that quote was to say he was proud. He didn't boast of his achievements. He didn't mention the past or any old NBA sayings. He wasn't combative or argumentative. Maybe that's because his team is winning, and everything is well and good when you win. Or maybe it's a difference in philosophy. I don't know.
What I do know is what I saw. I saw a team playing determined and like there was no tomorrow. A team that was undersized and severely limited offensively that battled for loose balls, ran crisp sets offensively, rotated and helped on defense. A team that looked like it was playing to keep its coach, and not a coach trying to keep his team.
For the past 22 months, Wake Forest fans have been told to believe in the plan and to take what has been given to them. Dino Gaudio, coming off an NCAA Tournament win over Texas, was fired for a myriad of reasons, and Demon Deacon supporters were left with a "coaching search" that ended in rumors of Bzdelik's hire a little over two days after Gaudio was removed from the job.
Postseason success was named first, then a culture change, along with a bevy of other buzzwords and excuses. And regardless of the culprits or the reasons why or the issues at hand, the team has won 12 games this year, including the lethargic 59-50 win over Georgia Tech on Tuesday night, and a combined 20 games since Bzdelik took over.
The SoCon is hardly the ACC, but firing a coach midseason would qualify as a major distraction, in my opinion, and UNCG has responded with tremendous energy and poise.
"We've won 10 out of our last 11," junior Derrell Armstrong, who scored 30 points in the win over CofC said, "and the reason for the turnaround is everybody buying into the all-together team concept. We're putting the team ahead of ourselves. That's the main reason from us starting 2-14 to us winning 10 of our last 11. I personally wouldn't want to play for any coach but the guy right next to me. I think he should be back."
I haven't heard anything like that out of the Wake Forest players, and Miller comes without the pretense of an NBA pedigree or prior NCAA coaching experience. He has to prove himself to them (and Spartan Nation at large) and earn their trust, and he has the air of a person who knows that.
That sense of urgency is refreshing.