Calipari asks for more out of Miller

Coach waiting for his wing man to take charge

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 21, 2010 

Kentucky's Darius Miller (1) reached in to steal the ball away from North Carolina forward John Henson. UK Coach John Calipari expects more out of his junior wing, despite Miller compiling career highs of 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

His father has a catchy way of describing how wing Darius Miller contributes to Kentucky's success.

"He's a stat stacker," Brian Miller said after his son's 14 points, three rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals helped UK beat Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night.

The problem is Kentucky Coach John Calipari wants that stack much higher.

"He goes for 14 (points) and five assists, 5-for-5 from the line," Calipari said after the game. "And I'm saying he's better than that. That's how much I believe in him."

So why isn't Miller's stack much higher?

Calipari seemed to question Miller's confidence when he said, "He's kind of, like, stuck, you know, on the floor at times instead of being aggressive and confident enough," the UK coach said. "Just go after balls. Don't expect someone else to get them. You have the mindset to go get them yourself."

Assistant Coach John Robic also recently suggested Miller might not believe he's capable of such things.

Substituting for Calipari on the UK coach's radio call-in show last week, Robic said, "A lot of it, I think, is just confidence."

Miller said his confidence level is fine.

"I don't really think confidence has a part in it," he said. "I just have to figure it out and keep playing and keep getting better."

Brian Miller, who played for Morehead State, understands how coaches must push players. But he, too, rejected the thought that a lack of confidence was the problem.

"If it was confidence," he said, "Darius would not be shooting 48 percent from the field and 53 percent from three."

In the movies, the coach would say the right thing or call a special play and — voila! — the dominating player emerges. But in Calipari's bottom-line world, there's only one answer.

"Demonstrated performance is the only way," the UK coach said. " ... Because if it comes from me to build you up, the first time I jump on you, I can take it away. (It) can't be about me."

The elder Miller wondered if fans overreact to the repeated calls for more production from his son.

"You've always got to drive them to do better," he said of the coach-player relationship. "A lot of people take it the wrong way. Like he's not doing anything instead of seeing he is producing, yet he could be doing more."

For all the rhetoric about Miller under-performing, his numbers are better than ever this season. His averages of 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds are career highs.

His shooting accuracy has never been better than this season's 47.9 percent (53.1 percent on three-pointers). He's also on pace for career-highs in shots taken (7.1 per game) and made (3.4), free-throws attempted (3.2) and made (1.7), assists (2.0) and blocks (1.3).

When a reporter playfully suggested he might mimic teammate Josh Harrellson and tweet a what-do-I-have-to-do-to-please-this-guy message, Miller laughed and shook his head. "I guess he expects a lot out of me," he said of the UK coach.

When Calipari calls for more from Miller, he generally talks about zeal. The junior from Maysville failed to dive on a loose ball or passionately pursue a rebound.

"He can't stand there and watch a ball one-bounce from you and hope somebody else grabs it," Calipari said. "He needs to play. He is doing some good things. Again, I want him to be special. I don't want him to be just out there making free throws, threes now and then. You be the man! And he's capable of that."

When a reporter asked Miller what he thought Calipari meant by being "the man," the UK player said he wasn't sure. But he said he'd be comfortable in a lead role.

But is there room for three main men?

For now, it seems freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight take lead roles for Kentucky as go-to guy and point guard, respectively.

Interestingly, Miller averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds on the exhibition series in Canada when injury sidelined Jones.

Brian Miller noted his son never has forced shots nor tried to nudge a teammate off center stage.

"You look over his history, he's always been a team player," the elder Miller said.

Although Miller denies fan criticism or a coach's call for more aggression irritates, his father acknowledged his son got frustrated at times.

"When you put it out there for everybody to read or everybody to hear, yeah, that's going to be frustrating to a kid," Brian Miller said.

One theory blames a familiar psychological target: the mother. It holds that Miller's personality mirrors his mother Nicole's quiet dignity. Brian, an aggressive take-it-to-the-rack player in his day, laughed and said his son shared personality traits with both parents.

"Nicole is laid back and kind of quiet," he said. "But if you touch her the wrong way, you better watch out.

"That's the way Darius is. It takes a little to get to him. If you bother him too much, you've created a monster. Then you see the Brian Miller come out in him."

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