Kentucky coach John Calipari appreciates what the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball from Mason County has done, too.Ã?Â¿He’s accepted a role coming off the bench as a senior after starting 69 games the previous two seasons. He’s also grown into a role as a team leader despite his normally mild demeanor on and off the court.
“He’s a wonderful young man. There is no question about that. I’m just really proud of the strides he has taken as far as being assertive as a leader,” Calipari said. “It’s hard. You tell someone to lead, it’s hard you have to almost coach them through it. Teaching guys to lead is part of what we are supposed to do as coaches, because if you think they know how to lead they don’t; they know how to lead for themselves but not lead a team. He’s done it in a quiet way. Aside from that, I’m proud of what he has become as a basketball player.”
Miller and the Wildcats open NCAA Tournament play Thursday night in Louisville against either Western Kentucky or Mississippi Valley State. The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight in 2010 before losing to West Virginia and fell to Connecticut in the Final Four in 2011. That was quite a turnaround from Miller’s freshman season under then coach Billy Gillispie when UKÃ?Â¿collapsed, did not qualify for the NCAA and lost at Notre Dame in the NIT.
“My freshman year was kind of rough going to the NIT. We were kind of disappointed with how we finished, but the past couple of years I have had great teams and great teammates,” Miller said. “IÃ?Â¿never planned on leaving or anything like that. I always planned to graduate from here, but the first year was tough at times. I think it was rough for everybody on the team, but we stuck with it and ended up great.
“All of us that were here were worried about what would happen when coach Cal got here.Ã?Â¿I am happy he chose me to stay. I have learned a lot from him. IÃ?Â¿have been here a while. I don’t know if IÃ?Â¿could narrow it down to one thing. IÃ?Â¿think IÃ?Â¿have grown up a lot. IÃ?Â¿feel like IÃ?Â¿am a way better player than I was. I am a way better person than I was. I think IÃ?Â¿have just grown up and matured.”
Miller, the SEC tourney MVP last season, impressed Calipari immediately with his “feel for the game” and athleticism.
“He had that middle game, he could shoot the ball a little bit, he was a good handler. I knew he had to get in shape and do all those kind of things. The way I coach and the way he plays, the only thing I had to get out of him was the eye of the tiger, a little bit of viciousness, an aggressive intensity which has been a process, that doesn’t happen overnight,” Calipari said.
But it has happened. Calipari insists Miller will play in the NBA and he certainly has been at his best in clutch situations for Kentucky this season, one reason Miller has not minded the role of sixth man in his senior season.
“IÃ?Â¿have the same opportunities as everybody else has. We are all focused on one thing and that is winning a national championship no matter what the roles are,” Miller said. “My freshman year to my sophomore year was opposites almost. I am just happy we changed so fast. We went from NIT to chance at a championship in less than a year. I feel like we have a pretty good chance this year. We are doing special things and hope that continues. I have been here for a while and have a lot of good memories and met a lot of good people, but there would be no better way to end this than by winning a national championship.”