Tim Miles lives by one fictional character’s simple philosophy.
“We can do it. Like Ted Lasso says, ‘Believe in believe,’ ” the San Jose State head coach said. “That’s maybe a little corny, but it’s honestly true. If you keep the faith, great things will happen.”
The Spartans usually find themselves at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference, but Miles is already working on turning that around in his first year at SJSU.
He is taking over a program that went 20-93 over the last four seasons. SJSU finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 5-16 overall record. In his first 10 games at the helm of the program, Miles already picked up five wins and has kept the Spartans undefeated at home.
SJSU only registered three conference wins last season. With an inexperienced team and new coaching staff, it was not surprising the program was predicted to finish 10th in the MW preseason poll. Turning the program around won’t be an easy job, but Miles has a resume that makes him the right person for the challenge.
He knows the Mountain West as he was the Colorado State Rams coach from 2007–2012. He then went on to Nebraska, which is his most recent stop before taking over SJSU. In his second year there, the Cornhuskers were predicted to finish last in the Big Ten before the 2013-14 season. However, Miles took that roster to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1998.
“I’ve been underestimated my whole life, so it goes right with it,” Miles said. “To me it’s no big deal. A guy told me one time that comparison, comparing ourselves to others, steals the joy of our lives. That’s something I try not to do and don’t do. I just worry about who we are and who we can be.”
So who are the Spartans right now? The roster has talented players, including 6-foot-6-inch guard Omari Moore who is one of the top 15 scorers in the league. He’s a versatile player who Miles said can play any position from one to four. Moore made it on SportsCenter’s Top 10 (the second time for the Spartans this season) with a game-winning dunk against Northern Colorado in November.
There is also 7-foot center Ibrahima Diallo who leads the team in rebounds and blocks. The coach said Diallo has been a rock for the team’s defense. There are other players who will be able to contribute throughout the season, but the reality is that there is not enough of them yet.
“We have good players, but we need more of them,” Miles said. “Our depth is not good right now. I think we are at eight or nine scholarship players that we are playing right now, so we are pretty thin in terms of if anything goes wrong.”
Miles is trying to build a strong defensive team. The Spartans are currently allowing opponents just under 70 points per game. Not terrible stats, but the coach said his team has a long way to go before playing how he would like them to play. He also wants them to be a good 3-point shooting team because that’s a bare minimum in college basketball if you want to be successful, he explained.
But perhaps one of the most important skills he wants his players to learn is creating shots, instead of forcing them. He talked about the importance of passing before attacking (check out this Motion Offense Progression video on Hudl). His teaching technique includes watching a lot of film and breaking it down while showing the statistics that prove what methods are successful.
“Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t lie,” he said.
Controlling the pace is important, and although his roster is young, Miles explained that this can also mean being physical and staying focused. The key to doing the right things during a game is repetition.
“Like anything else, do it over and over again so it’s so well rehearsed in practice that it’s going to happen in games too,” Miles said. “I don’t think there is any two ways about it. You gotta practice hard. You have to do hard things. If you don’t overtrain in practice, you will never get it in the games.”
It takes a few years to really turn a program around because it takes development of players as well as good recruiting, however SJSU has shown a promising start already. They’ve had ugly games such as their 79-45 loss against the then-No. 8 Texas with 19 turnovers in the first half alone. However, the Spartans have also shown they won’t always be the underdogs with a 25-point win against North Dakota.
There have been some almost-but-not-there-yet moments for the Spartans such as leading Stanford at halftime in their first road game of the season. That game ended in a 76-62 win for the Cardinal, but with a deeper roster, SJSU could eventually finish out those games on top.
Although it’s going to take some patience, Miles said he has no doubt his team could someday compete for the top of the Mountain West. For now, one of the most important things is to learn to deal with struggles the right way.
“We expect to try to find a way to win every night,” he said. “Disappointment is inevitable. It’s how we hang on to disappointment that matters to me. Are we going to find a way to respond and have a productive practice after a tough game and find a way to get a little bit better? Then those expectations will start being self-fulfilled. Those are some of the greatest moments in coaching.”