UK's Miller, Butler's Mack revive friendly rivalry at USA tryouts

mfields@herald-leader.comJune 18, 2009 

Good friends and basketball buddies Darius Miller and Shelvin Mack spent last winter text-messaging and calling each other several times a week as they adjusted to life as college freshmen.

Their exchanges included some good-natured needling, but they were mostly words of encouragement.

After leading Mason County to a state title and being chosen Mr. Basketball, Miller was feeling his way through the maze of expectations at the University of Kentucky.

After helping rebuild Bryan Station into a powerhouse and distinguishing himself as one of the most complete players in the state, Mack was shining as a rookie at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Not that they were trying to one-up each other in playing time or scoring average.

"We're friends; there's no competition between us," Mack said. "I want the best for Darius, and he wants the same for me."

Mack was speaking by phone Tuesday night from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he and Miller are trying out for the USA Under-19 National Team.

Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh is the coach. Seventeen players are competing for 12 spots on the team that will play in the World Championships in New Zealand in a few weeks.

For Miller and Mack, there is no down time when it comes to hoops.

When Mack was in Lexington for a visit a couple of weeks ago, he and Miller played pick-up games at UK that included former Bryan Station star Jaron Brown and former Paul Dunbar standout George Baker.

"I never get tired of basketball," Miller said.

"I'd play basketball forever if my body would let me," Mack said.

A passion for the game is something Miller and Mack have shared since they were teammates on the high school summer circuit.

At Mason County and Bryan Station, they were friendly rivals, although their on-court meetings were jazzed with intensity.

Bryan Station beat Mason County in the 2008 season finale in Maysville but, one month later, Mason County won the state title.

They had different experiences as college freshmen.

Mack, a 6-foot-3 guard, had an immediate impact at Butler. He started every game and averaged 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists for a Top 25 team that lost to Louisiana State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 26-6 record.

Miller, a 6-foot-7 swing man, had an up-and-down season in what turned out to be a turbulent ride for second-year coach Billy Gillispie. Miller averaged 5.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists for the Cats' NIT team that finished 22-14.

That seems like forever ago in UK basketball history.

Gillispie is gone, replaced by John Calipari.

UK's roster has undergone an extreme makeover, with high-profile recruits John Wall, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins replacing Kevin Galloway, A.J. Stewart, Matt Pilgrim and Donald Williams.

Miller got the latest news on Monday in a text message from Jodie Meeks.

"He told me he was staying in the (NBA) draft, and he wished us good luck next year," Miller said. "I wished him the best, too."

With Meeks gone, will Miller be the guy to fill the role of perimeter scorer?

"I'm just going to do my best and whatever coach wants me to do," Miller said.

Mack says he thinks his pal will thrive under Cal.

"The new system fits Darius' style better, and he'll be able to show more what he can do," Mack said.

"And UK should be really good. They've got a great recruiting class coming in."

Butler is expected to be strong, too. "Everybody is returning," Mack said. "We should be pre-season top 15."

Before that, there's plenty of off-season basketball.

If Miller and/or Mack make the U19 National Team, they'll leave for New Zealand on June 25 and return home in mid-July.

Regardless, Mack will need his passport in August when Butler travels to Italy.

Miller, meanwhile, will return to Lexington and adjust to a whole new world of UK basketball under Calipari.

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