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Vaught’s note: Laura McDonald is a Kentucky fan who lives and works in New York. She watched Kentucky win the national championship in New Orleans in April and Thursday was in Newark, N.J., for the NBA draft.
By LAURA MCDONALD
Darius Miller has always been a little different from the others.
They’re from big cities like Chicago, New York, and Indianapolis. He’s from Maysville, Kentucky … population just a shade under 10,000. They were the elite of the elite prospects, all recruited by John Calipari. He was a big-time recruit too, but his commitment to the Wildcats seems like it was eons ago under former coach Billy Gillispie. They’re freshmen & sophomores, he’s a senior … you can go on-and-on.
You can call Miller the foundation, the glue, or the hometown hero, but no matter your choice of words, Miller will go down as one of the best teammates in Kentucky’s history. Miller deferred minutes, shots, and stardom all senior season in order to help the wildcats win their 8th national championship. When deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced Darius Miller as the 46th pick in the NBA draft he was incredibly the sixth Kentucky player selected on the evening. For most of Big Blue Nation, it put a cap on a yet another historic night as they tied UNLV’s 1977 record for most players selected in the draft. Once again, most of the attention and accolades will fall on his teammates, as Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist became the first duo drafted 1st and 2nd from the same school. For Darius Miller, his road to being selected was long and a testament to his character.
In high school, being named “Mr. Basketball” in the state of Kentucky carries a lot of weight as you’re sharing an honor with greats like Rex Chapman, John Pelphrey, Wes Unseld, and Allan Houston. Despite the great names who ruled the high school scene in Kentucky, a “Mr. Basketball” had not been selected in the NBA draft since 1994 … until now.
Some of Maysville’s 10,000 residents undoubtedly held some angst against the Wildcats, or even worse, cheered for Tennessee. Before Darius Miller led Mason County High School to the state championship and was named Mr. Basketball in 2008, a guy by the name of Chris Lofton did exactly the same thing. The only problem is Lofton was never offered a scholarship by Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith. Instead, he ended up attending Tennessee where he not only averaged 19 points in eight career games against Kentucky, but he was named 2007 SEC player of the year and captured the hearts of many in Maysville. After Tubby Smith snubbed Lofton, many wondered if Miller would suffer the same fate. Although Miller considered Tennessee, when Billy Gillispie took over he made Miller’s recruitment a priority and eventually landed the pride of Mason County.
While Lofton reached superstar status at Tennessee, Miller’s career at Kentucky could be described as solid or steady. He averaged 8.2 points per game, played for two different coaches, and had to come off the bench for most of his senior season. However, Miller will never be forgotten by Big Blue Nation because he was the ultimate teammate and glue-guy. He deferred to his highly recruited, younger teammates, but when it came down to crunch time, Miller was always there to nail the clutch shot. Without Miller, there is no 8th national championship banner hanging in Rupp Arena.
After watching 45 players including five from his own team get selected ahead of him, Miller finally got to realize his dream as he became Kentucky’s first Mr. Basketball to get drafted since 1994, when his name was announced at the Prudential Center at 11:16 pm. Amid all the excitement, the first thing on Miller’s mind was one of his teammates as he tweeted “N.O!!!!!!!! With my Lil bruh!!!!” in reference to getting to play with his “Lil bruh” Anthony Davis in New Orleans.
Even in today’s me-first society, Darius Miller is evidence that sacrifice still pays off in the long run. National championship … check, get drafted … check. When all the excitement dies down next week and his accomplishments truly sink in, where will you find Miller? He’ll be your grand marshall for Maysville’s annual Fourth of July parade, making his hometown gleam with pride once again.