Dec. 16, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Rudeness doesn’t become Daniel Miller.
This is a good, polite kid who respectfully answers “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir” to a question as naturally as a politician under fire says “No comment.”
He’s also a freshman — albeit a redshirt — which means that rude treatment is coming, especially heading into ACC competition.
But politeness, consideration, and youth should not be confused for vulnerability or, even worse in the basketball world, softness.
Miller is anything but and is getting harder and meaner every day.
Getting used to playing Division I basketball was a big adjustment, as it is for any freshman. Just running up and down the floor was a change of pace for Miller, who came to Tech after a high school career in which he might often was Gulliver battling the Lilliputians.
“[Running] was never anything I had to do in high school. They just put me in the paint,” said the 6-11, 258-pound Miller, who was a three-year captain at Loganville Christian Academy, which he led to three Independent Christian Schools of Georgia-Alabama (ISCGA) titles. “I was two feet taller than everybody else. It was automatic. I could come out and have 20 points a game just playing half a game. We’d be leading by 20 and all the subs would come in.”
It must have seemed like old times — at least defensively — when Miller made his collegiate debut on Nov. 12 against Charleston Southern. In 29 minutes he scored five points, pulled down six boards, swatted away seven shots (his collegiate high) and made three steals.
But, as he expected, the competition stiffened and things got harder.
“It’s a lot harder. You’ve got to work for everything. Every inch, you’ve got to work for it,” he said. “They’re a lot stronger down low, pushing you around, balls you think should have been yours you weren’t even close to getting to.
“It’s getting a lot better,” he added. “It started last year. I had to fight in the post all day with Gani [Lawal] and Derrick [Favors]. Now, this year, it also comes with running the floor. I have to be able to do that. it’s just fighting with these guys every day definitely helps.”
Head Coach Paul Hewitt has seen sufficient progress to start Miller in every game, one of four players to do so — joining junior guard Iman Shumpert, sophomore forward Brian Oliver and sophomore point Mfon Udofia. Miller is starting to come around.
“He’s becoming more assertive,” said Hewitt. “Daniel is a very good athlete. The more aggressive he gets in terms of attacking the basket, and really asserting himself offensively, I think you’re going to see him have a bigger impact in terms of determining the outcome of games.”
The native of Loganville, has started to make bigger contributions. He made a huge step up in Tech’s Dec. 7 game against Georgia. While the Jackets lost a hard-fought 73-72 decision, Miller proved was a force on both ends of the floor.
He scored seven points while grabbing nine rebounds, second-most in the game (Glen Rice, Jr. had 11). He also had two steals and two assists — he’s registered at least one of either in eight of Tech’s nine games and one of each in seven of nine. Three minutes into the second half, he displayed another element of his game that showed how comfortable he’s getting, when he lofted a perfect alley-oop pass, which Iman Shumpert hammered home.
“I’ve always been a good passer,” said Miller, who has three helpers on the year, but hadn’t had one since the Nov. 15 game at Kennesaw State. “I haven’t been the best at alley-oops. I was always the one getting them, not the one throwing them. Now I’ve got to work on doing everything because everybody at this level can dunk. I’ve got to be a role player. That’s what they need me to do. The play was to throw Shumpert the alley-oop and it was wide open.”
Further proof that Miller’s confidence and ability are catching up to where he needs to be was the way he went toe-to-toe with UGA’s Trey Thompkins, the Preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. While Thompkins wasn’t shut down by Tech, Miller obviously made him uncomfortable and nearly forced a turnover on UGA’s final possession, leading to Thompkins having to frantically call a timeout.
“I was really excited,” said Miller, who grew up a UGA fan and is from a pro-UGA family, as both his grandfather and father are alumni. “That was probably my biggest challenge so far. We’ve played some okay big men, but I had to man-up on him this time. He was a really good player. He scored a lot on us but I felt like I could compete with everybody after playing with him.”
“He recognizes that he can play against all of these guys,” said Hewitt. “I don’t think that was anything new for him. It’s just a matter of him going out and doing it every night now.”
He’s been doing it the last two game nights, as Miller has averaged 10.5 points on 66.7 percent shooting (8-for-12), with 9.0 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. He’s recorded and matched his season-high for rebounds (nine) and, against Savannah State, recorded his career-high point total (14) on his best shooting day (5-for-7). He did this while continuing to force turnovers (two more steals) and intimidate (three more blocks).
Miller continues to work hard in the weight room — stressing back and legs, so as to better box out — and has big plans for this weekend when the Yellow Jackets travel to the Bahamas to participate in the Battle At Atlantis, where they’ll face Richmond (a 5:00 p.m. ET tip-off).
“We’re going down there to win,” he said, then smiled and added, “I think it said on the schedule Sunday morning, which is the day after the game, the water slides open at 8 a.m. I know I’ll be there right after breakfast.”