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Rossi: At NCAAs, Pittsburgh's dudes (and dudette) abide

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 11:06 p.m.
North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, a Bellevue native, instructs his players during practice for an NCAA first round game Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Dayton, Ohio. North Florida will play Robert Morris in Dayton on Wednesday.
North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, a Bellevue native, instructs his players during practice for an NCAA first round game Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Dayton, Ohio. North Florida will play Robert Morris in Dayton on Wednesday.

DAYTON, Ohio

Whatever kind of town ours is, Pittsburgh is not thought to be a basketball city. And Bellevue's Matthew Driscoll would say to that: You're wrong, dude!

Five coaches, all with regional ties, essentially making them all Pittsburghers, have guided teams to the NCAA basketball tournaments.

Moon's John Calipari is chasing history with Kentucky's undefeated men. Brookline's Suzie McConnell-Serio has added to her historic resume with Pitt's women. And arguably Western Pennsylvania's most famous basketball family, the Millers of Chippewa, once again has two of its boys in the Big Dance.

Sean Miller might finally get Arizona back to the Final Four. But he still might have a hard time remaining the most recognized college coach in his family.

Archie Miller is going places, yinz.

He is the Next Big Thing in the college coaching ranks. Dayton's not-so-neutral-site game against Boise State at UD Arena on Wednesday night could be Miller's last with the Flyers.

My guess is there are a couple of Next Big Things coaching at this wonderful facility, because Andy Toole's days with Robert Morris are probably numbered.

Toole has done a better job with the Colonials than any of our region's coaches have with their teams in the past year. He gets it, and I don't mean as a strategist.

Admitting he probably didn't soak in his tournament experience at Mellon Arena as a player with Penn in 2002, Toole has implored his players to “enjoy and embrace this opportunity.” Robert Morris didn't do that in the NEC title game last year, Toole said.

These Colonials are an intriguing combination of loose and focused. Even if they bow against Driscoll's North Florida team Wednesday night, Toole's stock is officially rising.

He thinks similarly of Western Pennsylvania's basketball stock. A native of Red Bank, N.J., Toole admitted Tuesday he “didn't know much about Pittsburgh” as a basketball town before joining Robert Morris as an assistant in 2007.

Me either. That is equally embarrassing and unforgivable considering I've spent all but four years of my life in the area.

I've heard Duquesne once was a basketball power. I've been informed Pitt should be better than it is. (Actually, I didn't think so until Jamie Dixon's squad missed out on two of the past four tournaments that matter.)

However, when it comes to any appreciation of college basketball, I've always thought first about coaches. I know Pittsburgh can produce those. I just don't necessarily know why that is true.

“Most of the people you're around every day, whether they're mill workers or their families were mill workers, or they've been doing something 25 or 30 years, (those) men and women — it's a proud place about work, work ethic,” Archie Miller said.

Spoken like a son referring to his father John's legendary 29 years at Blackhawk High School.

“So I think, coming from that area, year-round competition and work ethic, it's sort of in your fabric,” Miller said. “So it's no surprise that a lot of people from Western Pennsylvania are successful in the coaching fraternity.”

Driscoll would probably be the life of that fraternity's party.

He possesses the energy of a man half of his age, 50. He is the heart-on-his-sleeve basketball lifer for whom it is easy to root, even if that means rooting against Western Pennsylvania's only team in the men's tournament.

At his wildly entertaining media session Tuesday afternoon, Driscoll talked — at seemingly 100 words per minute — about the Shamrock Shake's connection to the Ronald McDonald House and his perceived failings as a husband and father. He asked me for a Primanti Bros' sandwich before sharing his believed secret of our college basketball coaches' success.

“I think you really learn how to be a people person,” Driscoll said.

“(Calipari will) tell you the same thing. If you don't have dudes, you're not a very good coach. If you can't relate to them and can't have a relationship with them, but in the same breath discipline and coach them, then you're not going to do the things you want to do.

“My point is it's not the X's and O's. It's the Jimmys and Joes. And make sure those things are all entwined.

“And I think you learn that growing up in Pittsburgh.”

You're right, dude.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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