Oregon State Coach Ralph Miller's face is often a vision of Biblical wrath that strikes fear into the souls of players who commit the cardinal sin of crossing their legs on defense. But a serene smile—picture John Huston doing Mister Rogers—softens Miller's features when he talks basketball. This is a man who learned what he calls "the simplicity of the game" in the 1930s from Dr. James Naismith and Dr. Phog Allen. "I'm willing to adjust anything if you show me a better way," says Miller, 63, "but nobody has shown me that for years and years. Decades in fact."
Last season the Beavers were bothered by injuries, got off to a bad start and finished 20-11. Their string of three Pac-10 championships was snapped by UCLA, and they lost to Fresno State in the NIT quarterfinals. "We were a good team at the end of the season." says Miller. "How good we can be this year depends on how well our inexperienced players perform. And what I can figure out."
In practice, Miller puts his players through full-court drills that stress pressure defense and crisp passing. "They're fundamentals, stuff you've learned since junior high school." says senior Guard Alan Tait. "Only you never think you're that bad at it until you get here."
Fundamentals are what All-America senior Forward Charlie Sitton is all about. Hard-nosed enough to play the pivot, savvy enough to move to the point, the 6'8" Sitton so stirs Miller, whose penchant for understatement is legend, that he says, "Charlie does get a lot done." Foul trouble for Sitton, who averaged 18.8 points per game last year, means trouble for the Beavers. They lost eight of nine games in which he fouled out.
Carrying nearly as big a load as Sitton will be junior Forward A.C. Green, a rugged defender and rebounder whom Miller wants to shoot more. Green still averaged 14.0 in 1982-83.
At center, sophomore Steve Woodside can score but he was benched last year because of un-Beaverlike defense. If Woodside doesn't improve, sophomore Tyrone Miller, a tad short at 6'7", but bulky at 225 pounds, will play ahead of him. At guard, sophomore Darryl Flowers has playmaking skills, while Tait is a dependable shooter.
Oregon State isn't loaded, but Miller has something extra: UCLA hasn't beaten the Beavers in Corvallis since 1979. "I think I understand UCLA as well as anybody does," says Miller. "Of course, we don't change our game."
Dr. Naismith would approve.