When Kentucky coach John Calipari suggested to Darius Miller he should enroll in a martial arts class over the summer the veteran forward laughed, assuming his coach was just spewing another one of his many off-the-wall ideas.
It wasn’t a joke, at least not the premise behind the suggestion. If Kentucky is going to get back to a second consecutive Final Four its most experienced player must blaze the trail for a roster that once again features four elite freshman recruits with no collegiate experience.
“(Calipari) has talked to me about it a couple of times and I feel comfortable with it,” Miller said. “I can’t wait to get the season started. I’ll just do the best I can. I just have to do my part and lead the team and get these guys ready for what they’re going to experience.”
“I’ve experienced a lot while I was here, a lot of ups and downs, so I have to let them know what to expect.”
Miller has never been the demonstrative type, at least not on the court. He has been the target of intense prodding from Calipari, who has repeatedly made the claim the 6-foot-7 senior could be one of the best players not only in the Southeastern Conference but in the country. Miller responded over the final six weeks of the 2010-11 season by playing his best basketball – even earning the SEC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player award – but it has been a constant battle getting the laidback forward to break out of his shell.
Hence, the suggestion to take up an activity that typically breeds self-confidence and awareness.
“We’ve seen him be the best in our league and then other times he’s not and it all comes back to aggressiveness and toughness,” Calipari said. “It’s just wanting to say, ‘I’m kicking this guy right here and he’s not guarding me.’ You have to have that mentality.
“I thought he had a wonderful year (last season). That has to be who he is because if (NBA scouts) see both they say, ‘Well, which one is he? Is he this one or that one?’ I see him as the guy that’s as good as anyone in the league.”
Miller, who averaged 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists as a junior, acknowledged that part of his responsibility is to make sure the Cats’ latest top-ranked recruiting class is up to speed by the time practices start in October. There are no questions about the talent of Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer but there is always an adjustment period to major college basketball.
That’s where Miller comes in.
“We have to take this time we have throughout the summer to get to know each other,” Miller said. “Most of us have never played with each other, so we have to do our part to get to used to each other’s games.
“(The freshmen) been around a lot of times and I already had a chance to talk to them before the season on their visits. We got to know them a little. They’re really good guys so everything is flowing together really well. I think it will be a really fun season for us. They’ve been working really hard since they got here. They jumped right in.”
Now Calipari wants Miller to commit to doing the same.
“Is he ready to put himself out there and project the way he needs to project to they see that?” Calipari said.
It’s time for Miller to make that choice.