Quincy Miller "This is the best thing that's happened to me"

Quincy Miller "This is the best thing that's happened to me"
Jan 05, 2011, 11:51 pm
It was never a case of Quincy Miller not taking the game of basketball seriously – he did. But like so many gifted youngsters with the world at their feet, standing on the cusp of greatness, he simply didn't know how good he had it. He didn't understand how quickly it could all be taken away. Few ever do.

A native of Chicago, Miller may have been the poster child of his class for this character dynamic. Having burst onto the scene as a junior and continued his assault on the class rankings well into last summer, the 18-year-old made almost as many waves for his confident, bordering on brash nature, as he did for his exceptional play on the court. But then harsh reality reared its ugly head.

For Miller – a consensus top-5 player in the class of 2011 who has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant for his combination of size and skill – his moment of clarity came less than a month ago. On December 10th, playing in just his fifth game with his new school Westchester Country Day (NC), the 6-foot-9 small forward felt a pop in his left knee. Though player and team remained hopeful for the best, the final diagnosis was in stark contrast to the otherwise optimistic expectations: torn ACL.

Not surprisingly, despite his oft described tough exterior, Miller became emotional upon learning the extent of his injury. No McDonald's All-American game. No Jordan Classic. No Nike Hoop Summit. No more high school basketball. Nothing but time and an arduous seven-month long rehabilitation process that has tested many athletes, far more experienced in the injustices of life than a teenager.

It was then that Neeton Moore, Miller's AAU coach with D-One Sports, sat down with the broken star and painted a very black and white picture. Moore didn't pull any punches, he didn't cut corners and sugar coat things for the youngster. He spoke to Miller man to man and the response has been striking.

“This is probably the best thing that's happened to me, even though it is kind of a negative,” Miller says in an explicit tone, almost saturated with perspective. “It's going to give me time to watch what other high school guys do, what I was doing, how I can change and get ready for college. It's going to enhance my work ethic to be even greater than it was before.”

“I think he's developed a sense of humility so to speak about the talent he has,” adds Moore. “He knows not to take it for granted because it can be taken away so quickly.”

Following a successful surgery, Miller began physical therapy within days of the procedure, regaining a full range of motion within the first week, he says. From there, and with his newfound dedication to his craft, the focus turned to improving as a basketball player by any means necessary, without stepping onto the court.

In preparation for the rugged, physical play of the Big 12 he is set to face next year as a freshman at Baylor, Miller is working to gain strength in his upper body. He is watching tape and attending his team's games, observing closely the happenings on the court and in practice. In short, he's becoming a student of the game.

“With him having to sit out and view things through a different lens, he sees the things he could have done on the court and he sees the mistakes that other guys make,” says Moore. “He's become almost more of a coach in many ways.”

While there's no substitute for consistently playing a high level of competition, certainly a player of Miller's talent stands to gain a considerable edge by observing under proper tutelage and developing into a more cerebral athlete.

Few freshmen enter the college game having spent considerable time studying the game in the manner that Miller now has the opportunity to do. Few have the time to work on their bodies, to get stronger and improve their physical limitations. It's an opportunity the blue chip recruit isn't taking lightly.

Brian Clifton – CEO of D-One Sports – has watched Miller blossom from obscure prospect to projected future pro and has seen the developmental process as close as anyone. The change in the young star's mindset, Clifton says, was almost instantaneous once he came to grips with the reality of his injury.

“It's his level of maturity and his desire to prepare that has changed. It's all starting to make sense to him,” he says. “It's giving him a greater appreciation for [basketball] and making him take a more business minded approach to the game. He's not sitting around being down about things, he's looking at what he needs to do and he's doing it.”

Just in case the counseling and advice he is receiving from the coaches around him isn't enough, Miller is assuredly heeding the words of a former teammate with a similar meteoric rise in the basketball world: John Wall.

Wall and Miller were teammates on D-One two years ago, the same year the current Washington Wizards rookie exploded onto the national scene, elevating himself from relative unknown to the #1 recruit in the country.

The two players formed a close friendship, one that continues today and one that has been fruitful for the younger Miller, manifesting itself into a mentor-student relationship in the last year. Wall has provided a constant stream of guidance since departing for the University of Kentucky last year, preaching to Miller the importance of viewing the game through the lens of a professional, years before he begins being paid as one. Not surprisingly, Miller's realization of his own potential coincided with the rise of Wall's stardom.

“I think when Quincy was able to go on a couple of trips and compete against guys playing at a high level and see them changing their lives through basketball, I think those guys had something in common that maybe he didn't have at that time,” says Clifton. “Most kids grow up idolizing big time basketball players, but they don't get the luxury of those guys walking into the gym and saying ‘hey, this is how it's done.' Quincy was able to see it living and breathing in front of him.”

Miller's tunnel focus has extended beyond improving physically in the wake of his injury, but to his ultimate goal of the NBA. It can wait.

Faced with the possibility that he could be forced to spend two seasons at the college level before entering the draft as part of the new NBA collective bargaining agreement negotiations, Miller doesn't seem to be fazed. Rather than focusing on the potential of being locked out of pro basketball a year longer than he may intend to be – something he does say isn't fair to those select players who are ready to make the jump – Miller maintains his only concern right now is ensuring he is ready to contribute at Baylor.

“If the NBA comes, it comes, but right now I'm just worried about being a great college player and helping my team win games,” he says. “I want to be one of the best defensive players in college. I want to be a go-to guy at Baylor. I want to be one of the best.”

There will be more questions than anticipation when Miller arrives on Baylor's campus for the 2011-12 season. The limitless expectations will be replaced by the hopes of an entire community for a clean bill of health. There in the center of it all will be a college freshman, hardened by experience, refined by dedication, but not without his trademark swagger. Think Miller is concerned with people writing him off?

“I definitely think people are going to sleep on me, but they're going to wake up.”

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