Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 31, 2012

AARON SNYDER: Miller doesn't care about Miller time

ASHLAND — Kentucky will beat Louisville tonight because the Wildcats are as unselfish as a pair of shoes sitting in your closet.

You may choose not to wear them today, but that’s OK. They don’t get mad at you. They don’t hold a grudge against the pair you pick. They’ll be right there for you when you want them, fitting just the same.

Kentucky is the flashiest brand of shoe on the market right now. All the cool kids (and the ones really good at basketball) want them.

The Wildcats weren’t so hot when Darius Miller, the state’s Mr. Basketball, chose to play for Kentucky. Of course, it was still Kentucky, but it was a Kentucky program coming off three straight NCAA Tournaments of receiving seeds of No. 8 (with Tubby Smith), No. 8 again (Smith) and No. 11 (with Billy Gillispie).

And then, it was an unenviable berth in the NIT in Miller’s freshman season. It doesn’t get much lower for Kentucky, and much to the pleasure of Cats fans, it didn’t get any lower. In fact, it took a high striker game-like jump and John Calipari was swinging the mallet.

Who stuck through the ride? Miller.

Whose name isn’t announced in the starting lineup despite being Big Blue through and through? Miller.

But the senior, and 2008 graduate of Mason County and a senior member of the Royals’ state championship team that year, couldn’t care less than a pair of shoes in your closet.

These Wildcats, as electrifying and super talented as they may be, are here at least partly because of Miller’s intangible leadership qualities. Yeah, he provides some tangibles too, and he could even be an NBA Draft selection in June, but he’s as unselfish as they come. Therefore, the rest of the team is unselfish. There is a distinct and direct link.

“It’s a tremendous honor having coached Darius Miller,” said Mason County coach Chris O’Hearn. “I was just very fortunate to have not only a great player but a great human being. He’s such an unselfish guy on the floor, and that certainly carries over to his personal life.”

O’Hearn frequently talks to Miller, mostly through congratulatory text messages after each win, and he watched a few of Miller’s games in person this season. O’Hearn was in New Orleans to witness Miller and the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament three weeks ago, but he’ll be tuning into CBS from home tonight at 6.

“(Miller) is a true Kentuckian. He’s done everything the right way since he’s been at UK,” O’Hearn said. “He’s a four-year guy that’s going to graduate on time, and he’s gotten better as a basketball player every year.”

Miller is averaging 10 points per game and shoots 37.8 percent from three-point range. He averages five fewer minutes than he did as a junior (from 31 to 26 per game).

In four NCAA Tournament games, Miller is 17-of-29 shooting.

“His jump shot is so much better and much more consistent,” said O’Hearn, who added that he has been inquired by NBA teams about the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder.

Miller might be the one player who truly understands and appreciates what is about to take place in tonight’s Final Four matchup.

“I think this is the biggest game in the history of our state,” O’Hearn said. “That’s saying a whole lot.”

O’Hearn’s prediction: “Kentucky. I’ll be surprised if it’s under 10.”

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