March 10, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
First things first: Brian Gregory started off Monday’s media meeting by asking Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Where are we going to eat?”
There, a fairly wise man made a smiling reference to the fact that after the Georgia Tech’s regular season-ending win over Virginia Tech Saturday he said that if senior center Daniel Miller were to earn All-ACC honors from the media but not from ACC coaches, he would take the hacks to dinner.
There was no plausible deniability option as recorders and at least one camera were still rolling after his post-game press conference.
So, Tech’s head coach stepped up Monday and owned it. Just moments earlier, Miller had been named to the All-ACC third team by media but not by coaches.
So who’s smarter? Coaches, or the people who write about them?
Maybe we’ll leave that question alone.
But how does Bones sound, coach? Great steaks. Here’s the website: (http://www.bonesrestaurant.com/).
Wanna go lower key, like Miller? He’s not the Buckhead steakhouse, type, so how about Antico pizza (http://www.anticoatl.com/)?
For Miller not to earn All-ACC honors is disgraceful, and coaches deserve only modest credit for naming him for the second straight year to the ACC All-Defensive team. That’s obvious.
But for ACC coaches to not recognize Miller’s overall effect because he is not an elegant player, nor a gazelle, because he does not dominate offensively on a regular basis and he’s on a sub-.500 team . . . that lands in a book of criminality.
Coming off his finest season, in which he averaged 11.3 points while shooting 58.9 percent, 7.9 rebounds and just under 2.5 blocked shots per game, Miller needs nobody to testify that he is an impact player. In ACC action, he averaged 11.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.85 blocks.
As the Yellow Jackets closed their injury-riddled regular season with back-to-back wins at No. 7 Syracuse, and over the Hokies, he was borderline sublime.
Miller played against his essence again Saturday, and that was great for Tech even if it seems to tear asunder his selfless psyche he plays as if he has a right to use size and skill for benefit rather than to defer and become a passer/facilitator.
Front and center in the Yellow Jackets’ 62-51 win over Virginia Tech in the regular season finale at McCamish Pavilion, “Big Jake” put up 14 points, nine rebounds, three steals, three assists and a blocked shot.
In the Jackets’ upset win Tuesday at Syracuse, Miller had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists two steals and SIX blocked shots.
Jim Boeheim considered him a beast.
The big fella – he’s a smidge under 7 feet – fits the word ‘unassuming,’ and for going on five years two coaching staffs have begged him to be more aggressive, more selfish, with the ball in his hands.
“Daniel’s worked hard on that,” Gregory said after the Jackets registered their only double-digit ACC win of the season, not to mention their first back-to-back wins in conference play. “All his stuff, he deserves the credit for; we just gave him some direction.
“He’s changed his attitude and his demeanor and his mentality when it comes to being a great player.”
There are many reasons why Gregory lobbied for Miller to gain All-ACC recognition, and many of them go beyond any stat sheet – like versatility.
Miller had one rebound the last time the Jackets beat Boston College, Wednesday’s opponent in the ACC tournament, but that was largely because his opponent was a shooter more in the vein of Bill Laimbeer than a banger like Rick Mahorn.
So, ‘Big Jake’ said, “When a shot goes up I’m nowhere near the glass.”
Miller led Tech with 18 points that day, however, on 6-for-8 shooting.
That was a big deal because, well, Miller generally could not care less about scoring than he does. Seriously. It’s been a problem.
Back in his AAU days, future Tech teammate Glen Rice Jr. ran into Miller in a summer tournament, and the country boy from Loganville – who does not much mind being referred to thusly – whomped Rice’s more highly-touted team.
In the process, Rice hung the nickname.
With body language and a humble nature that might fit Opie of Mayberry fame, Miller thrashed Rice’s showtime group.
Unassuming + selfless = Miller.
He’s been working on his business, however, and results have paid off. He’s been more assertive with the ball this season.
“They’ve been trying to get me to do that since I’ve been here,” Miller said after shooting 6-for-7 Saturday. “I feel like I finally have started to do that.”
What exactly is he doing?
“More so I’m taking my shots when I have them instead of passing them up,” he explained. “Guys are looking for me a lot more so you have a lot more opportunity to score or make a play, whether it’s kicking it out to Trae [Golden] for the 3 or trying to score in the post.”
One of Miller’s kick outs Saturday led a 3-pointer by Golden – with 4:09 left in the first half – that gave the Jackets the lead for good, at 19-18.
The ball was dumped in, Miller read double-team, and fired left corner to Golden.
It is a big plus that Golden is returning to health. That makes a difference in Tech’s offense, and he offered proof Saturday with 14 points and eight assists.
The fact that he and fellow backcourt starter Corey Heyward have combined for ZERO turnovers in back-to-back games (like Miller) has had a heck of a lot to do with Tech’s two-game winning streak to be sure.
Even better, Golden’s burst is back. He’s getting to the rack after a groin pull shortly after midseason severely changed his game. A scorer has his mentality, and his burst, back.
Miller, on the other hand, has to think about scoring. He is the anti-ball hog.
The young man is a gifter; his 48 assists are third-most on the team behind Golden’s 90 and Marcus Georges-Hunt’s 65. And he’s a center.
This is a player who has started every game of his career. Only one Yellow Jacket in history has started every game of his Tech career: Mark Price.
Saturday was Miller’s 124th consecutive start.
Should the Jackets beat Boston College, Miller will have a chance to tie Price’s school record for consecutive games started – 126.
If Tech then pulls off an upset of Clemson, Miller would next have an opportunity to tie Malcolm Mackey’s school record for overall games started – 127.
Unlike Price and Mackey, who had plenty of post-season starts, Tech’s current center has never played more than one. The Jackets have gone one-and-done in all three of his ACC Tournaments and qualified for no postseason beyond that.
Miller has a shot at all of this because with Golden’s return to health, the return of the real Robert Carter Jr. and the Jackets being as confident and cohesive as all season, they’re a much more capable squad than at other more difficult times.
Gregory’s all-ACC campaign for a potentially forgotten young man was borne of not only familiarity, but sound reason.
In last week’s back-to-back ACC games in 67 combined minutes Miller – who unlike many centers is not asked to immediately turn and shoot upon receiving the ball but to make a decision whether to shoot or move it – had seven assists and not one turnover.
He had one turnover in the past three games, and two in the past five – all with opponents raking at him in close quarters. And Miller handles the ball more than every Tech player but the guards.
He is always thinking of others, and he’s excited – not that you can tell by external observation – that Golden is getting back to full hue with his drive game back from the dead.
“He creates a lot of shots for other guys,” Miller said of Trae. “He finishes well around the rim, or gets fouled. He’s shooting free throws well. If three guys are coming to block his shot that leaves others wide open for offensive rebounds. “
Sure enough, on three straight possessions after Miller kicked to Golden for that long ball and the lead, the big guy scored before the half as Tech expanded its lead to 29-22.
The first time, he scored off an offensive rebound when Golden missed on a heavily-contested drive. The other two times, he scored on passes from Golden.
What everybody but ACC coaches notices is not the small details but the big.
He’s scoring more.
His coaches have been on him about that for quite a while.
So why is Miller almost suddenly scoring more? His coaches wore him out.
“They keep yelling at me,” he said, “and I do it a few times and the ball goes in and it builds that confidence so I keep going to it.”
There, a simple summation from an uncomplicated young man. If only ACC coaches were similarly wise we wouldn’t be getting ready to eat big.
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