Former Kansas guard Aaron Miles has the unique experience of playing in back-to-back Final Fours in 2002 and 2003.
After playing overseas and in the D-League, Miles is now the head coach of the Santa Cruz Warriors — the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors. Miles took the role last August after spending a year as an assistant at Florida Gulf Coast University under his former coach at KU, Joe Dooley. Prior to that, he spent a year alongside Self at his alma mater from 2015-2016.
As No. 1 Kansas takes on No. 1 Villanova this weekend in the Final Four, we caught up with the former Jayhawks star to discuss the dominant KU squad he was part of, the influence of both Self and Williams and of course if he thinks this year’s Kansas squad can win a national title.
JXW: You were coaching alongside Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast, what advice did he give you when you took this job?
AM: Man… he gave me a lot.
AM: He did. You know I learned a lot from him. I had already known Coach Dooley when I played at Kansas, but he gave me a lot of information and a lot of insight.
You know one of the biggest things that he always talked about is that I played the game, so I need to trust my instincts. I still need to do a better job of that.
He talked about that and holding guys accountable.
JXW: Kansas is taking on Villanova in the Final Four on Saturday, you played in back-to-back Final Fours in 2002 & 2003… looking back on that time, what remains your favorite memory?
AM: You know, obviously playing in it… was great — amazing. But how much love and support the fans showed us was unbelievable, man.
Once we made it to the Final Four, we flew back that night, early in the morning man, and it was a packed house. Sixteen thousand, three hundred sitting there waiting on us to walk on the to court and applaud us for ten minutes. You know it’s three, four in the morning, I don’t know exactly what time it was but it was something like that… that feeling… you know, everything that you work for — and for people to see how hard you worked and appreciate it… you know that was unbelievable and to do it with that group of guys man, some brothers of mine that I love — it was unbelievable.
JXW: You know you have a unique experience in that you played under both Roy Williams and Bill Self… how were their two regimes different?
AM: (laughs) Ahh it’s completely different, man it’s completely different. I am blessed, fortunate and I was just telling someone now, not only did I get to play for those two Hall of Fame coaches but now I have the opportunity to coach under Steve Kerr, you know what I’m saying? It’s just amazing for me.
But those two are different man, you know Coach Williams first off – the style of play was different. Coach Self now wants to play fast, but back then he was coming from the Big Ten and Coach Williams, we were playing so fast — we led the country in scoring. You know his thing was if they score, get it out quick, get it to me and we push it up the floor to try to score as well.
Coach Williams always wanted to win 100-99 and coach Self would rather be 1-0 when he first got there, but I think that has changed. He’s always talking about pushing it —playing fast and so forth.
The other thing is you know from a standpoint of their personalities are a little different as well. Coach Williams has more of that — he’s kind of got this fatherly walk to him like everyone straighten up, you know what I’m saying. He’s great you know, he’s not arrogant or none of that — he’s got that presence of like a fatherly figure. When coach Self walk into that room, you know he come in there like that cool ass uncle that walked in.
JXW: (laughs) That’s a great parallel to describe their different personalities…
AM: Yeah, he that cool uncle that you respect, you know but you could go talk to about anything. Just respectful — both of them you know. They both carry themselves in a way that they demand respect.
JXW: How much Kansas basketball have you been able to watch this year?
AM: If they’re playing I’m always going to try to watch them from afar. I’ve been proud of them and happy for them. I think they’ve come a long way… they’re one of the toughest teams I’ve been around, but that’s just Coach Self.
JXW: Who has impressed you the most on this current roster?
AM: To be honest with you, I think they’re all [impressive]… I’ve know them, so I know what they’re all capable of doing. The thing that I’m proud of honestly is Devonte’ [Graham], I love Te. I love Te. He’s got a great personality. He’s a leader, he’s a winner.
You know the one thing that I’ll say for Te, you know… for whatever reason people assume when we lost Frank Mason, it was an integral part — Frank Mason is key to what we’re doing right now as well, you know just because of the influence that he had on the team last year and the year prior. They’ve carried that same mentality, but when we lost Frank everyone was like well Devonte’ Graham isn’t a point guard and I was like arguing like, ‘No! Devonte’ is more of a true point guard than Frank is.’
Frank is an aggressive on the attack point guard — while Devonte’ knows how to get people the ball, when they need the ball.
JXW: Alright, you know I gotta ask you, how far do you see this tough Kansas team going?
AM: Hey like coach said, the hard part is over man.
AM: The hard part is to get here [Final Four], now you relax and just have some fun out there. You playing with house money. That’s the words of Coach Self.
It’s going to be a competitive game and I’m excited for it. I’m excited to be there to watch it.
JXW: So is Kansas going to make it to the championship game?
AM: I wish you could see my face right now
JXW: (Laughs) Hey I gotta get a definitive answer from you — make no mistake I need a yes or no!
AM: Man… of course! I’m cheering them on, always.
Kansas is set to take on Villanova in the Final Four on Saturday night. The game will likely tip off at roughly 8:50 p.m. E.T. It’ll be televised on TBS.