Culture has driven the Abilene Christian men’s basketball team to two NCAA tournament appearances in three years and a WAC championship appearance in their first year.
Despite facing a five-game losing streak midway through WAC play, the Wildcats came back strong to make an appearance in the WAC title game.
Former ACU guard Reggie Miller was a leader for the Wildcats at the point guard role. Heading into Vegas, the Wildcats were the 6-seed. And with that, had to win four games in four days to head back to the NCAA Tournament.
Well, ACU rattled off three wins in three days before losing to No. 1 seed New Mexico State. 66-52.
“Some teams are going to be bigger, better, faster and stronger than us but our culture is what wins us a lot of games,” Miller said. “People don’t really understand that. You have to watch a couple of our games to understand how connected we are as a team.”
Miller helped pave the way for the success of Wildcat basketball in his three years. Miller received Southland Conference All-Defensive Team honors in 2020-2021 and was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year for Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball Magazine. What earned Miller the accolades were his 158 steals in three years.
“The first day I got to ACU, the coaches told me numerous times that ACU is about building real relationships,” Miller said. “That kinda stuck with me and that’s what we focused on. We had a culture to protect that the guys before us started and we continued to move on with.”
ACU head coach Brette Tanner emphasizes building relationships with his players even if they decide to leave. Several Wildcats decided to transfer this past offseason. And when those players committed, current Wildcats flooded the comments section of their posts congratulating them.
“I still talk to those guys,” Tanner said. “I’m still in communication with those guys who transferred. Those are great kids and I don’t think any one of them wanted to leave. But, it was a good business decision that we made neutrally. I’m excited for all of them and their futures and so are our players.”
One player who decided to leave and come back is Joe Pleasant. Pleasant hit the two free throws to help 14-seed ACU defeat 3-seed Texas, 53-52, in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Pleasant took his talents to Wichita State last year and is now back at ACU. The forward averaged under three points and three rebounds in his lone season as a Shocker. In 2020-2021 as a Wildcat, Pleasant averaged 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23 minutes a game.
“He missed what we had and that’s not a knock on Wichita State because I’ve got friends on that staff,” Tanner said. “He missed what we have and there’s not a lot of people that have what we have. I don’t mind saying that publicly. You talk to people close to our program and they will tell you that’s why we win games is because of our culture.”
‘Moody Magic’ is about to return to campus once renovations of the coliseum conclude in August. Not only is Moody home to Wildcat basketball, it is also home to daily chapel. Moody plays a major factor into the culture of ACU basketball. The renovated arena will allow students to fully grasp the magic that Moody has to offer.
“Moody is awesome,” Tanner said. “We’ve been in there and we’ve seen it and the players got their first tour of it last week. Anybody who’s never been here who comes to a game is going to say, ‘Oh this is a nice place’. But, if you were here before, this is an amazing place. The things when I got here, we needed this, this and this but we have it all now.”
Miller is now a graduate assistant at the University of Texas-El Paso where former Wildcat head coach Joe Golding coaches. Miller said he believes the culture of Wildcat basketball is what gave their team success in his three years and believes in the direction of the program. He and several other Wildcats strongly advocated for the hiring of Brette Tanner as the new head coach, And Miller and company didn’t disappoint as advocates. ACU won 25 games in 2021-22. As for Miller, he leaves with 69 wins under his belt in his three seasons in West Texas.
“I could say a lot of different things but the most important thing is the culture of the program,” Miller said. “If we stick with the culture of the program, this program is going to go places it hasn’t been before strictly off the culture.”