Inside the University Gymnasium, the Golden Eagles basketball program is entering a new era. A sense of excitement and optimism fills the gym as balls bounce on the hardwood floor and players on the men’s and women’s teams race across the court.
The teams are led by two new coaches with impeccable credentials: Cheryl Miller and Jim Saia.
Miller is a basketball legend, Olympian and Hall of Famer who has been a successful coach and sports broadcaster. As the head coach for the women’s team, her goal is to improve upon last season’s record.
Saia is a skilled tactician who has turned around basketball programs at three universities during 30 years of coaching. He will direct a men’s team that reached the semi-finals in the 2016 CCAA Championship Tournament.
Miller and Saia are rebuilding their squads as new Executive Director for Athletics Daryl Gross seeks to elevate Cal State LA athletics to greater prominence.
As a teenager, Miller spent summers in the U.S. Olympic development program, held in the Cal State LA gym. “The first college I played at, literally, was Cal State LA,” she says. “I’m glad to be back.”
Considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Miller led USC to two national titles in the 1980s and was twice named National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament Most Valuable Player. In 1984, the dominating forward guided the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.
After knee injuries ended her playing career in the late 1980s, Miller embarked on a successful career as a coach and television reporter and analyst.
Miller was the head women’s basketball coach at USC for two seasons, taking the Trojans to the NCAA tournament both years. She also served as head coach and general manager of the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association, guiding the team to the league finals in 1998.
Prior to Cal State LA, Miller was the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Langston University in Oklahoma, where she led the Lions to a No. 18 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) ranking in two seasons as head coach. She brings a wealth of playing and coaching experience to the University—and a clear sense of purpose.
“Graduating and developing women of inspiration and substance is my goal,” Miller says. “Cal State LA is the perfect place for that mission.”
Saia is a deft recruiter and offensive mastermind whose teams have been known for putting points on the board.
He spent seven years as the top assistant coach at UCLA, recruiting talent that helped land the nation’s top-ranked recruiting classes in 1998 and 2001.
During his time in Westwood, the Bruins featured a potent offensive attack. His teams made five appearances in the NCAA “Sweet 16,” one “Elite 8” appearance and won three Pac-10 championships. Saia mentored 10 Bruins who went on to the NBA, including Baron Davis, Dan Gadzuric, Earl Watson, Jason Kapono and Jerome Moiso.
During his year as interim head coach at USC, Saia started two freshmen and a sophomore, including Nick Young, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. They became known as the “Big 3,” fueling a high-scoring Trojan offense.
Recently, he served for five years as head coach at Cal State San Marcos, where he started from scratch and turned the program into a basketball powerhouse.
Under his leadership, the Cougars won more than 30 games in back-to-back seasons, made repeated trips to the NAIA Championship and won back-to-back Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) championship tournament titles. Basketball Times named Saia National Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015. He was also twice named A.I.I. Coach of the Year.
“I came to Cal State LA to teach student- athletes to be successful on the court, in the classroom and in life,” Saia says. “We’re going to win championships and graduate young men who will embody the University’s mission of engagement, service, and the public good.”