When North Dakota plays at San Jose State on Friday, the head coaches for both teams will have plenty to talk about
The connection between UND's Paul Sather and San Jose State's Tim Miles goes back nearly 30 years
Roughly 30 years ago, Tim Miles made a recruiting trip to Paul Sather’s home when the UND men’s basketball coach was a senior in high school.
At the time, Miles was on the staff at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.
“Paul was lanky and a dunk machine,” recalled Miles. “I think he broke his wrist like four times. And he was a hockey player growing up. He could slide and guard people like crazy.”
Miles now is in his first season as the head coach at San Jose State University -- UND’s opponent Friday night. And he looks forward to competing against Sather, who went on to play at Northern State after high school when Miles was an assistant coach for the Wolves.
San Jose State is the sixth head coaching position for Miles, who has developed winning programs at all of his stops. He’s now hoping to make San Jose State a contender in the Mountain West Conference. The Spartans are 3-3 so far under Miles, who took over a program that posted a 20-93 record the past four seasons.
But Miles’ track record suggests San Jose State will improve -- perhaps at a faster pace than most expect. His first head coaching job was at Mayville State, where he became the head coach in 1995. The Comets won one game the season before Miles arrived. However, Miles led the Comets to the NAIA National Division II tournament in his first season at Mayville and repeated the feat in his second season.
That began his upward trajectory in college basketball. Now, he hopes that trend will continue at San Jose State.
“San Jose is a huge metropolitan area in the country’s biggest state,” said Miles. “There is everything to do here. You name it. We have pro sports, great weather and we’re close to the beach. I went hiking in the Redwood Forest with my son last week. It was a spectacle of nature.”
But his main mission now is improving San Jose State.
“We have to carve out our own niche here in San Jose,” said Miles. “It’s challenging but we have a great group of kids.”
San Jose State has won its last two games against Northern Colorado and South Dakota. When the Spartans host UND on Friday night, it will mark the third-straight game in which Miles is going up against former players he helped guide during his career.
Northern Colorado assistant coach Dorian Green played for Miles at Colorado State; South Dakota assistant Johnny Trueblood played for Miles at Nebraska; and Miles was an assistant at Northern State when Sather arrived on the Aberdeen campus.
“It’s fascinating to be out here in Northern California and have a run of three straight games against coaches in the Midwest that I really know well,” said Miles.
Sather also recalls the recruiting visit Miles made to his Minnesota home some 30 years ago.
“Tim did a home visit with me with (Northern State) coach Bob Olson way back in the day when I was a senior in high school,” said Sather. “He means the world to me. He’s a mentor for me. He’s a wonderful guy and I’m glad he’s back in coaching. He’s going to do an awesome job at San Jose State. They’re already competing and starting to play the way he wants his team to play. You can already see it.”
After Mayville State, Miles went on to coach at Southwest Minnesota State, North Dakota State, Colorado State, Nebraska and now San Jose State.
“His roots mean a lot to him,” said Sather. “He’s got a lot of people like me who have been touched by him. We’re all pulling for him, except, of course, on Friday night.”
Both San Jose State and UND are trying to find their identity in preparation for their respective conference seasons. For UND, that mission is challenging since it lost two high-profile starters from last season -- Filip Rebraca (Iowa) and Tyree Ihenacho (James Madison) -- to the transfer portal.
Miles, however, suspects UND will recover from those departures sooner than later.
“I have a ton of respect for Paul,” said Miles. “We know we’ll have our hands full with the Fighting Hawks. I know it’s disappointing for Paul to lose those guys from last year. But he’ll have those guys up and running in no time.”
North Dakota at San Jose State
When: 9 p.m., Friday
Where: Provident Credit Union Event Center, San Jose, Calif.
Radio: 100.3 FM
Records: San Jose State 3-3; North Dakota 3-5.
Of note: Tim Miles is in his first season as the San Jose State coach. Miles, whose first coaching job was at Mayville State, has a career record of 402-347.