Handmade signs at the Dec. 1 SoCon season opener screamed players’ names: Simpson, Armstrong, Potts, Paulos. And the coach who revitalized the team last season. “We love Wes Miller,” one said. “It’s Miller Time,” said another.

Miller is used to cheers. The Greensboro native was part of the Tar Heels’ 2005 national title team. During his junior year, he led the Tar Heels in three-point shooting. In that 2005-06 season, he was named the team’s defensive player of the year and most improved player. The political science major played professionally one year in England, before assistant coaching stints at Elon, High Point and UNCG.

He had long aspired to join the coaching ranks. Miller recalls a conversation with Coach Roy Williams before he became a Tar Heel. “He asked me, ‘What do you want to do when you’re finished playing basketball?’ My answer was that I want to coach.”

The Athletic Director’s Scholar Athlete Award recipient had learned a lot as a Tar Heel. Upon becoming UNCG men’s basketball interim coach last January – the youngest in Div. I – he drew on that, and he sought Williams’ advice.

Miller endured six losses before the team embarked on a wild winning streak. During one stretch of last year’s SoCon season, they won 10 of 11 – many at the last moment. At the end of an overtime victory over Appalachian State, some students rushed the floor. At the postgame interview, Miller explained he had made a coaching mistake late in the game. “These guys had my back tonight,” he said.

In later interviews, players explained there was a feeling of everyone having each other’s back.

The team went on to win the SoCon North. Trevis Simpson was named All-SoCon first team. Derrell Armstrong third team. Miller was named the media’s SoCon Coach of the Year. At a news conference in the Greensboro Coliseum, with Coach Williams among his many supporters in the audience, Miller was named the Spartans’ head coach – no more “interim” in the title.

This year’s season begins a new chapter. The team features several new players. Next year’s strong class of recruits was announced last month.

Preseason features in YahooSports and on ESPN.com created buzz. The team was picked to finish first in the North Division, with Davidson finishing first in the South.

Before the season started, Miller spoke of the vision he and the team have. Big dreams.

But the focus is the here and now. They entered December with one win, five losses. They had held the lead against the Big East’s Rutgers and ACC’s Virginia Tech in the second half before falling. All eyes were on the SoCon opener vs. The Citadel – the final game before a break for exams. The Spartans came together defensively and offensively, winning 84-54. One student section resurrected the “I believe that we will win” chant heard during last year’s run.

Afterward, Trevis Simpson said, “Tonight felt good. It reminded me of last year….Everybody was in it. We might have a mistake here and there, but we had each other’s back.”

He and guard Drew Parker spoke of the intensity and competitiveness in the previous days’ practices. Miller told the press he looked ahead to the next couple of weeks of practice – a chance for the team to learn more and to build on that competitive spirit.

“If you practice well, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to play well, but it’s the best chance you have,” Miller said. “It gives us the chance, if we do it for the next two weeks, to have a good team and a good season.”

The next home opponent is Wake Forest, Dec.22. The next SoCon home game is against Wofford, Jan. 16. See full schedule. Students have no admission charge; others may purchase tickets here.

Get some pointers from Coach Miller on shooting three-pointers. And see a highlights clip of the win against The Citadel.

Photography by Chris English, University Relations