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Not much about the UK basketball program looks the same as when senior guard Darius Miller arrived on campus in 2008.
On Thursday, Miller will step on the Rupp Arena court for the final time.
“I can imagine it being emotional for me,” Miller said Wednesday. “I’ve had a lot of good memories, met a lot of great people, great coaching staff. I can imagine it being emotional for me.”
Miller came to UK as a Billy Gillispie recruit. After his freshman squad struggled its way to a NIT appearance, Miller faced a transition to a new coach.
“My freshman year was kind of rough,” he said. “I felt like we had a pretty good team. We had pretty good talent on the team.
“The past couple of years have been a great experience. We’ve had a really good team, really great teammates and coaching staff. We want to finish out this last game here on a win I’ll be extremely happy.”
While he said the coaching transition worked out for the best, Miller admitted he was nervous with John Calipari first game to UK.
“I think we were all worried about what was going to happen,” he said. “We had been pretty close, so we were wondering if we were going to get split up. I’m happy I got to stay, and he chose me to stay. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Of the 19 players on the UK roster during Miller’s freshman season, only six returned for his sophomore year and only two of the returnees were not seniors.
The roster turnover didn’t stop after Miller’s sophomore season. With a plethora of Calipari recruits leaving early for the draft, Miller has played with 40 different teammates in four seasons.
“I’ve met a lot of great guys and a lot of great players I got a chance to play with,” Miller said. “I still talk to everybody to this day. I feel like they’re my brothers.”
Miller averaged 5.3 points per game as a freshman. He increased that average to 6.5 points per game as a sophomore and 10.9 points per game as a junior. This season, Miller has averaged 9.9 points in 29 games.
“(He had) a rough freshman year, (then a) new coach, comes in, a bunch of new players, adapts, changes his game somewhat, accepts other good players and then responds and gets better every year,” Calipari said. “He will be a NBA player, no doubt in my mind.”
Calipari has often talked about Miller’s need to play more aggressively. On Wednesday, he noted that Miller has been able to make improvements.
“When you let him know, he responds, and he’s responded for this team,” he said. “We’ve got six starters, and he’s started some of the games, but…if he’s not the sixth man of the year, you’ve got to show me who it would be. He’s awfully good.”
Miller hopes to carve out a role on a NBA roster when his UK career ends.
“I’ve dreamed about that since I was a young boy, a little kid, and I think I’ll have the opportunity to,” he said. “Hopefully it will go as planned, but if not there are other things I could do.”
When Calipari took the UK coaching job, he had a chance to work out with the players currently on the roster. Miller easily stood out in those practices, he said.
“He just had a feel for the game and had that middle game,” Calipari said. “He could shoot the ball a little bit, was a good handler. I knew he had to get in better shape and do all those kind of things, but the way I coach and the way he plays, the only thing I had to get out of him was the eye of the tiger, a little bit of viciousness.”
When Miller takes the court Thursday for senior night festivities with teammate Eloy Vargas, he will likely be thinking of the wide range of experiences from his UK playing time, beginning in those early workouts.
But don’t expect any tears from Miller.
“It might be a little emotional for me, I don’t know,” he said. “It should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we have a great game and come out with a win.”
Photo by Mark Boxley.