SIOUX FALLS-The coaching star power was at the Hoop City Classic on Saturday. And this year, that includes a new but familiar name.
Kansas coach Bill Self was in the front row on the sideline Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon taking in a few games at the ninth annual event. The same was the case for Mike Miller, the Mitchell native and first-year assistant coach at the University of Memphis, who had the chance to enjoy the event that used to bear his name.
Both basketball legends in their own right, it illustrated the growing star power of the players in the four-day basketball event that includes both boys and girls high school games, along with NAIA college games at both the Corn Palace in Mitchell and the Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
"It just gets better each year," Miller said. "It just shows what the quality of the basketball is we've got up here. I've always believed we've got players and teams that can compete in this state and I'm glad that more and more players and teams are getting a chance to be a part of it."
The 2018 edition of the event might the most-loaded classic yet, with two national top-25 teams in the event, including No. 1-ranked La Lumiere, of Indiana. The classic also has players committed to Stanford and TCU, with the rest of college basketball's blue bloods following other top talent.
On Saturday, that focused on Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 power forward who plays for Rochester John Marshall (Minn.), a five-star recruit ranked second in the country at his position being heavily recruited by Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke. Both Self and Miller were in the arena for his game. Both also got a look at Yankton sophomore Matthew Mors, who has drawn attention from a number of Power Five conference schools with scholarship offers.
Neither disappointed on the stat sheet, as Hurt rattled off 36 points on 11-for-22 shooting and 10-for-11 at the free throw line in a 74-62 loss to Brandon Valley. The 6-foot-7 Mors scored 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 69-65 overtime win over Minnesota powerhouse DeLaSalle.
Both coaches drew attention from fans and followers for pictures and autographs, getting a special chance to interact with big-time basketball names up close.
"It's really nice up here," Self said. "People are very hospitable and outgoing and certainly the kids and the respective contingents are all having a great time to come great distances to get to play in this atmosphere."
Miller loves chance to coach
Miller, in just his second year outside the NBA, said he's found college basketball coach to be just as exciting as he hoped it would be. Prior to officially accepting the job at Memphis, the leadership of Miller's AAU basketball club and the annual classic carrying his name changed the name to the Hoop City Basketball Club and Classic, respectively, to avoid any potential problems with the NCAA for recruiting purposes.
"It's a little different looking at it as a coach but it's something I love being a part of, I love coming here and being in South Dakota because there's so many people that have been good to me and my family," Miller told The Daily Republic. "It's always been special to me, and I'm just glad I can come back here and be a little part of it."
Saturday might have been the perfect embodiment of Miller's time as a college basketball coach. His Tigers played at noon at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, beating Florida A&M 96-65. Shortly after the game, he made the roughly two-hour trip via jet from Memphis to Sioux Falls to be at the Pentagon in time for the game between Brandon Valley and Rochester (Minn.) John Marshall. Upon landing in South Dakota, Miller tweeted about arriving in his home state.
"You have a lot to balance, being a dad, being a husband, being a good coach," Miller said. "Getting out and watching guys play, that's just a lot of fun, so you find a way to make it all work."
A 17-year NBA veteran and former standout at the University of Florida, Miller, 38, joked that he doesn't find it to be challenging to evaluate talent.
"It's a little easier when you're coaching or when you've played, and you're just looking for that talent, guys that can play and bring their best," Miller said.
Miller's Tigers are 8-5 in their first year under coach Penny Hardaway. They jump into American Athletic Conference play on Jan. 3, hosting Wichita State.
"It's challenging but it's something I've found to be a lot of fun," he added on coaching. "I love the chance to be around the game that I love and the chance to really give what I can give back."
Coaching legend Self sees growth in the game
Self, who also coached his fifth-ranked Jayhawks to a win Saturday-87-63 over Eastern Michigan in Lawrence, Kansas-was in the front row on the sideline with assistant coach Jerrance Howard at the Pentagon.
Self made one other notable trip to the classic in 2013, when he visited the Corn Palace when Findlay Prep (Nev.) played DeLaSalle and Kansas signee Kelly Oubre and Rashad Vaughn were on the Findlay squad. Self, careful to avoid talking too specifically about the game at hand or any of the particular players because of NCAA regulations, said he enjoyed the chance to be in South Dakota again. He joked that he needed to stop letting players like Mike Miller leave for Florida and get them to Kansas.
"Those cats, they only come around so often. And then they all go to Florida," he said. "So we have to change that someday."
Self, of course, is about as proven a college basketball coach as there is in the country. a two-time Associated Press national coach of the year with more than 450 wins, is in his 16th year coaching the Jayhawks. He said the classic shows that there's popularity in basketball everywhere, even in rural states like South Dakota.
"The quality of ball is good but you've got teams from everywhere, local teams and teams from all parts of the country and the quality of the ball is very good," Self said.
Self said he believes the quality of available players is probably as good as it's ever been on a national basis.
"I think what I'm more impressed with is that there's more good players playing basketball today than I can ever remember. I don't know if there's more great players, if there's more true standouts but I know there's more players out there worthy of college scholarships and things like that than we've ever had in the past."