By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
Xavier's men's basketball players enthusiastically endorsed the promotion of Sean Miller to head coach Thursday but expressed disappointment over the way Thad Matta handled his departure for Ohio State.
Xavier players (from left) Justin Doellman, Keith Jackson, Brian Thornton, Boubacar Coly, Will Caudle and Justin Cage join new coach Sean Miller's son Austin, 9, as the elder Miller was presented to the media and fans Thursday in Schmidt Hall.
The Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
"We had no idea," sophomore Justin Doellman said. "We didn't find out from Coach Matta. We found out from the media. That's heartbreaking, because we've been through so much with Coach Matta - blood, sweat and tears - and finding out from other people was disappointing. But it's a business and the way life works. You've got to move on."
Recruit Derrick Brown, a Chaminade-Julienne senior who had XU at the top of his list, said Thursday that he might do just that in light of Matta's decision.
"I'm still considering them since Sean is the coach," Brown said. "They're still on the list, but not as high as they were."
Junior Will Caudle said he thought Matta would handle the situation differently.
"We heard about it on ESPN and the Internet," Caudle said. "We weren't for sure until he told us. It was pretty tough. It's not that we lost respect for him, but that didn't seem like something he would do. We were disappointed."
Asked if he expressed those feelings to Matta when he met with the players Thursday night, Caudle said: "I did let him know. I told him, 'I wish you could have told us a little earlier instead of us finding out from the media.' He said he didn't know."
Brian Thornton, a junior transfer from Vanderbilt, said Matta's departure is especially difficult for the newcomers.
"We had been directly recruited by him," Thornton said, "and he told me that he would be here the entire time I was here. He was one of the main reasons I came here. But I think Coach Miller will take us to places we've never been before."
For incoming freshman Stanley Burrell, Matta's departure was an early lesson in the way big-time college basketball works.
"At first I felt betrayed about it," Burrell said. "But at the same time, I know we've got to move forward. I understand the game is a business now. There's a lot of money involved. I really can't knock that he made a decision for his family. I'm still excited about coming here.
"I was closer to Coach Miller than Coach Matta in the first place. I'm not that down about it. I'm excited that (Miller) got the job."
Burrell said he already has heard rumors that he will follow Matta to Ohio State. He doesn't have that option, unless XU releases him from his letter of intent, but he said he wouldn't make the move even if he were free to do so.
"I'm not going anywhere," Burrell said. "I wouldn't want to leave here, especially with Coach Miller stepping in. If it was a different coach, I might be trying to sit back and think about what I want to do, but with Coach Miller stepping in, I really want to stay here."
Moeller High School product Josh Duncan, also an incoming freshman, said he was "kind of shocked."
Duncan said Matta was one of the main reasons he chose XU.
"But he left," Duncan said, "so I just have to adapt to the change and move on."
Despite the hard feelings over the way Matta handled his resignation, the XU players said they're looking forward to working with Miller.
"He knows the game really well," Doellman said. "Over the course of the season, he won about five games for us, getting on us in the locker room on how we weren't playing to our capabilities.
"... We're going to turn things around, and it will be all right."
Dustin Dow contributed.
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