As UNC Greensboro's Spartans celebrated an upset victory Thursday at College of Charleston, a text popped into coach Wes Miller's phone.
It was a congratulatory message from Mike Dement, the man Miller replaced Dec. 13 when Dement was fired as UNCG's coach.
"That was one of the first texts I got," said Miller, who at 28 is the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I basketball. "I probably talk to him a couple of times a week. He'll always be a guy I respect and learned a lot from as a coach, and more importantly he'll be a friend.
"This is not an ideal situation for anybody, but we all understand that. It's a great opportunity, even though it's not the way you'd want it to happen."
Miller, who played on North Carolina's 2005 national title team and worked at Elon and High Point, is making the best of a tough situation heading into today's 7 p.m. game at The Citadel.
With his team off to a 2-8 start after a 7-24 season last year, Dement was let go by UNCG, which moved Miller from assistant to interim head coach. Miller's first seven games: East Carolina, at Duke, VCU, at Richmond, at Miami, Davidson, at College of Charleston.
But even as UNCG (3-14, 1-4 Southern Conference) lost its first six games in that stretch, there were signs of progress culminating with the breakthrough win at C of C, snapping an 11-game skid.
"It's really simple," Miller said. "It's getting better on the defensive end of the floor. I can't remember the last time we held a team under 40 percent shooting for a half, much less a game (the Cougars shot 36.7 percent)."
It's not like the Spartans are bereft of talent. Trevis Simpson, a 6-4 sophomore, is a leaper who averages 16.4 points. Drew Parker, a 6-1 sophomore, is the top 3-point shooter in the SoCon, hitting 53.3 percent.
Like The Citadel, the Spartans' main issues are on defense, where UNCG ranks last in the SoCon in scoring defense (79.9 ppg) and 11th in field-goal percentage defense (49.3 percent).
But now, UNCG, which has endured losing streaks of 11 and 15 games the last two years, has a chance to win two straight.
"The way these guys responded has been amazing," said Miller. "They've been through a ton of adversity, personally and emotionally. It took some time for them to adjust, but not to give great effort and be a team. That's what I'm most proud of."