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Darius Miller contributes as U.S. tops Iran in FIBA tourney

By LARRY VAUGHT
larry@amnews.com

Kentucky sophomore Darius Miller says he was more excited than nervous when the United States opened play in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday.

However, his excitement certainly didn’t hurt his play as he had four points on 2-for-2 shooting, four assists, five rebounds and six steals in 15 minutes, 43 seconds of play in a 106-55 win over Iran.

“That is what I can do. I try to do a little bit of everything. We are all great at everything, so I am trying to help out in different ways,” said Miller after the game as he rode the bus back to the team hotel.

“This was even a little better experience than I expected. It was great to play with these guys. We played really good as a team and shared the ball great. It was just a great experience for me to represent my country like this.”

Miller thinks the United States, which next plays France in the preliminary round, can win the 16-team tournament even though the USA has not won the last four tournaments. The United States’ last championship came in 1991.

“I definitely think we can because we are playing so well as a team,” Miller said. “Nobody has a problem with playing time or anything like that. We all know we have a lot of great players and nobody is going to play 40 minutes. We just try to be great teammates and cheer for each other. Nobody is going to get mad about playing time when you are representing the USA.”

Miller does think his experience last season at Kentucky when he had to come off the bench and never knew how many minutes — or when — he would play has helped him adjust to his role.

“I think last year did help me with that. We are all trying to focus on being ready to play when our name is called, but I have been through his before and it’s probably easier for me than someone who was used to starting and playing more,” Miller said. “I just want to keep working on everything to become a better all-around player and do a little bit of everything to help us win.”

That’s why he had no problem only taking two shots while playing both the small forward and power forward positions for Jamie Dixon, the head coach at Pittsburgh.

“I try to let the offense come to me. We have a lot of great scorers. I don’t need to score a lot. We have balanced scoring and need guys to do more than score. That’s why I am trying to do everything else I can,” Miller said. “I am playing both inside and outside. It just depends on who we are playing and how we are playing, but it doesn’t really matter to me.”

He says he has finally adjusting to the 18-hour time difference in New Zealand after having problems at first.

“New Zealand is a beautiful place. We are in a nice city by the ocean. It’s a great view and I am trying to take it all in as much as I can,” Miller said.

It helps that he’s rooming with Lexington’s Shelvin Mack, who plays at Butler. The two have known each other for years.

“I think it made it a lot easier at first for both of us, but now we are kind of becoming good friends with the rest of the team. We are all friends and getting close,” Miller said.

He’s also learning to understand Dixon and his no-nonsense approach.

“I enjoyed practice, but it was rough and intense. They let us knowing we were coming to win the gold medal and that to do that we had to pick up our intensity. This is important and they made that clear to us,” Miller said.

“I think coach Dixon is a great coach. He is patient with us and is trying to teach us as we go. He’s done a great job in the short time he’s had, but it’s clear he wants to win.”

Miller thinks playing almost daily will help the United States.

“I want to keep playing all we can. Playing games is the best part. That also cuts back on the practice time, but with our depth it helps us the more we play because other teams may wear down,” Miller said.

“I am enjoying it a lot just being here. It has been a great experience being this far away from home and not lot of people get to experience something like this. This is why I am trying to take it all in, but the main priority is bringing back that gold medal.”

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