Helping his sister launched new Gopher coach’s career

Photo by Charles Hallman Marwan Miller

Who’d have thought that watching his younger sister play basketball would eventually lead Marwan Miller to his current career.

“To be 100% honest and transparent with you,” admitted Miller as we sat and talked at the Gophers’ women’s basketball offices on campus last week, “I had no thoughts of ever coaching anything. I have a younger sister and I was going to her games.” 

From his vantage point, he could see her frustrated, her competitiveness worn on her sleeve as she tried to follow directions from her coach, who was her school’s science teacher. “It drove me crazy because my sister is competitive and she’s upset about why she’s coming out or why they’re losing,” her brother recalled.  “Next thing I know I’m coaching from the stands.”

Soon, said Miller, his sister’s coach invited him to join him, “and from that point on, it just started and little did I know it, it will turn into a career.” That was around 1999. Late last month Miller joined the Minnesota women’s basketball coaching staff as an assistant.  

“He has experience coaching players to their fullest potential on both sides of the court,” said Minnesota Coach Lindsay Whalen of Miller in a released statement.

“I’ve never coached boys,” noted Miller.  “I’ve never…wanted to. It’s always been girls’ and women’s basketball.”   

Ironically, another Miller, Gophers Assistant Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller (no relation), is among the reasons why Marwan now finds himself in Gopherland. “The relationship we have with Shimmy, I trust her,” he explained. 

“She reached out and we talked about [the then-opening on the Minnesota staff]. When we talked and I could tell she was genuinely happy and genuinely excited about coming to work, that was it for me. It was a good opportunity.” 

Marwan Miller is the Gophers’ first Black male assistant coach since Marc Wilson (1997-2001).

“I’m originally from Columbus, Ohio, played college football and a little basketball at Division II, but I’ve always been based in Ohio,” he said proudly. “There were some other opportunities to leave Ohio, but none of them sounded like the right thing.” After conferring with his wife, “She was like, yeah.”

Just as he never envisioned himself in coaching, Miller said that he never saw himself in college coaching: He has been a high school head coach, a high school assistant, AAU assistant and head coach, and assistant coach at two colleges, the last six seasons at Ohio University.

“The college idea came up actually about my fourth or fifth year coaching high school and traveling” in the mid-2000s, noted Miller.

In his six seasons at Ohio, Miller helped the Bobcats to one 30-win season and a 26-win campaign, four postseason berths, and the MAC regular-season title (2015-16). He coached Cece Hooks, one of the school’s best women’s basketball players, who set both Ohio and conference scoring records with nearly 3,000 career points. In 2020-21, Hooks became the school’s first All-American since 1986.

All total, Miller coached six All-MAC honorees, five Defensive Players of the Year, seven All-Defensive team members, four All-Freshmen, two top freshmen, and one Sixth Player of the Year.

No different than most Black coaches, Miller tried to steer clear of being typecast. “I was told probably about three years ago that [during a coaching search] somehow my name was brought up,” he recalled. “And the response was, ‘Well, he’s a recruiter.’

“I have always done more so that I don’t get pigeonholed into that,” stated Miller. “I’m gonna coach. I’m going to recruit. I’m going to coach on the floor. I’m going to coach you hard.

“I had a couple of coaches that really affected me and helped me to become a better person,” said Miller as he embarked on his new position at Minnesota. “I want to be able to give that back to more kids. That’s what kept me going.”

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