U19 World Championships produce different defensive approach for Arizona’s Sean Miller


A trademark for Arizona teams in recent years has been their stinginess on the defensive end of the floor, with the Wildcats using the pack line defense to limit quality looks in the paint. In each of the last two seasons Sean Miller’s teams have been ranked in the top five in adjusted defensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy, leading the country in 2013-14 and finishing third in that category this past season.

Yet while that stifling half-court defense will be something he looks to call upon while coaching the United States U19 team at the upcoming FIBA U19 World Championships, the team’s depth and athleticism have resulted in a slight change to Miller’s usual defensive approach. The Americans will use a full-court press after every made basket and dead ball in this event, as noted in a story written by Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.

The goal, just as it was two years ago when the U19 team led by Billy Donovan with Miller and Ed Cooley serving as assistants won gold, is to speed up the game against teams that will in all likelihood aim to keep the action at a more methodical pace.

While the Wildcats press only in spot situations, USA Basketball believes a constantly pressing defense and energetic, well-spaced offense can maximize the talent, length and athleticism advantages the Americans tend to have in international competition.

So USA Basketball plays differently. And Miller will coach differently.

“When the press is great, is when he (opposing ballhandler) catches the ball, you speed him up, and he turns without you fouling,” Miller tells the players.

This will be interesting to watch, especially when considering the fact that since FIBA changed the scheduling of this event to every other year in 2007 (as opposed to every four years) the United States has yet to win back-to-back gold medals. This is a roster filled with athletic players who can make things happen in the open floor, and the pressure defense can make the Americans even more difficult for opponents to deal with.

The United States tips off its tournament June 27 with a pool play game against Iran.