Purdue coach Matt Painter was impressed with Kentucky’s Darius Miller two years ago when he helped the United States win the gold medal at the under 19 world championship. However, Painter is even more impressed with the UK¿senior now and is glad to have him on the USA team he’s coaching in the World University Games.
“You can tell he has definitely worked on his body. His body is a lot better,” said Painter, who was an assistant on the United States team two years ago, after practice at the team’s training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo. “He was always able to move his feet and could play the 2-3-4 spots and help guard them all. He’s physical and great at moving laterally.
“Offensively, he’s improved the range on his jump shot. He’s even more consistent on the perimeter now. Before he was kind of a streaky outside shooter. He had good numbers last season at Kentucky beyond the (3-point) arc and has shown consistency with us with the longer international arc. He will probably serve the same role with our team again. He may well score the ball a lot more. But we will play him a lot of different places, and he gives us so much flexibility with his defensive ability.”
Miller averaged 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game last year at Kentucky while shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point range. Miller averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game two years ago for Team USA and went 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the nine game. Painter says numbers alone, though, don’t tell Miller’s worth to a team.
“I think he gives you a lot more than his numbers,” the Purdue coach said. “He’s an unselfish guy who plays hard. He’s played with a lot of very good players at Kentucky and coming here and playing in this setting, nothing changes for him and that’s important.
“I¿always try as a coach to make sure those guys who do the dirty work and play defense and play hard know we are grateful for what they do and never take them for granted. They are very important and are what a team is all about. Darius is just a pleasure to coach. He’s a good guy and a very good player.”
Miller was even the team’s top shot blocker two years ago, something Painter says would be unfair to expect again. Miller had 12 blocks in the nine games.
“It’s so unpredictable when you play international basketball. Foul trouble, referees, injuries all play a role. Having him able to play two guard or the five (center), that is a bonus. We have a couple of other guys that are very interchangeable and give us a lot of flexibility. But there’s no way to predict blocking shots other than Darius has the ability to do that.”
Painter says there’s no way to place a value on the international experience that Miller and Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs, who was also on the 9-0 USA team two years ago, bring to this team.
“He’s played in a lot of big games at Kentucky, has international experience and has been in hostile environments,” Painter said. “He’s sacrificing a month of his life, which is a big deal for a 21 year old. As we get into playing games and traveling, you get tired. Having his maturity and experience will clearly help our team because it only takes one game to knock you out and keep you out of the gold medal game.”
Painter says he came into the World University Games tryouts with no preconceived notion that Miller would make the team just because of what he did two years ago. But he says it was also hard to put Miller’s play then out of his mind.
“As a coach you are always trying to learn new things and have an open mind to listening not only to coaches, but also players,” Painter said. “Those guys that are playing on this team are not 17-year-old kids. They have been through a lot. They know about game planning and listening to what you have to say.
“There were some clear-cut guys with the way they performed in tryouts who would not be cut (from the team). Darius and Ashton both did that.
“Darius has always been very coachable. I think he’s got a very bright future. He’ll get his degree and he’s a very well rounded kid. They separated themselves. They have both been through battles and know how to respond. That helps them, no doubt about that. They have experience winning a gold medal and what it will take to do it again. I take pride in being straight up and fair with players. It’s hard to have to make the cut, but you want to make sure all the right pieces are in place and he’s certainly one of those pieces.”
Painter expects Miller to be playing basketball “for a long time” because of his various skills.
“He will be a professional. The question is at what level, but he’s a very versatile player and he’s met all the challenges that have been thrown at him,” the Purdue coach said. “There are always guys who doubt you, but he has always proven them wrong. He just keeps coming at you and making improvements each year, and as a coach or professional scout, that’s what you want to see.”