Miller, Vargas will start on Kentucky basketball Senior Night

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 29, 2012 

Kentucky senior forward Eloy Vargas was trapped by LSU's Johnny O'Bryant, left, and Eddie Ludwig. Vargas needs 12 points to reach 100 for his two-year career at Kentucky.

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader

That Darius Miller played on Kentucky teams which set or equaled Rupp Arena records for winning (50 and counting) and losing (two in 2008-09) streaks speaks to his, uh, eventful college career.

Two coaches, one NIT, 40 teammates by one reporter's count, one Final Four appearance and, if all goes according to plan, a national championship this spring marks Miller's time with the Cats.

"I was blessed," he said.

In contrast to Miller's impossible-to-ignore Kentucky career, Eloy Vargas has been as invisible as a 6-foot-11 player can be. If he found his — to be generous — cameo role frustrating, he wasn't saying on Wednesday.

"I'm good," he said. "Because every time we win, everybody wins."

That selfless quality figures to be the theme on UK basketball's most individualistic occasion: Senior Night.

Miller and Vargas — two players seldom at center stage — take bows at center court Thursday night before Kentucky plays Georgia in the home finale. Vargas will be making his first career start, Miller his first since the Alabama game on Jan. 21.

Vargas, who needs 12 points to reach 100 in his two-season UK career, remains hopeful of making a splash.

"This is when the fun begins, now," he said, meaning the regular season's final week and then the upcoming Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. "You never know what's going to happen. It's going to be a long season. We have, like, five more weeks."

UK Coach John Calipari likened Vargas to two earlier rags-to-riches basketball players. One, Josh Harrellson, sprung from obscurity after the NCAA ruled Enes Kanter ineligible and became the talk of the 2011 post-season in helping the Cats make a surprising run to the 2011 Final Four.

"He was the first Jeremy Lin," Calipari said of Harrellson, "and he was ready for it."

While noting that Vargas was spotted on the treadmill at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, Calipari said that NBA people have asked if the native of the Dominican Republic might possess an untapped potential like Harrellson. Vargas' problem is his Kanter, Anthony Davis, dominates as a possible national Player of the Year.

"Hey, Swen Nater played behind (Bill) Walton," Calipari said. "He will be a pro. It may not be in the NBA. Or it may be the NBA."

A visa problem will prevent his mother, Anna Julia, from attending Senior Night, Vargas said.

Meanwhile, Miller comes to Senior Night as something of a throwback: a four-year player who matured into a key contributor. Most notably, he grew from a player who famously refused to shoot a decisive jumper at Ole Miss last season to Mr. Clutch. Three times in the past four games, he's gone scoreless over the first 30 minutes or so and then made the big plays that helped give Kentucky victories. For instance, UK noted that he's made six of six free throws in the final three minutes of regulation or overtime of games decided by six or fewer points this season.

Calipari noted that Miller had made only one of 13 free throws after the opposition called a timeout.

"I told him, 'You know why? You sit there and think too much,'" Calipari said.

In the Vanderbilt game last weekend, Miller made his free throw after a timeout, then playfully reminded Calipari of the achievement.

Such has been Miller's fate for UK. No matter what he's done, it's never been quite good enough. "I know my teammates and coaches have always shown support," he said. "They've been there for me in good times and bad."

Miller has gained a reputation for being a "glue guy." Calipari defined the term. "It means he does everything the team needs him to do," the UK coach said. "He completes everybody. He does not compete. He completes."A reserve role might rankle a senior. Not Miller.

"It doesn't mean a lot to me," he said of a starter's role. "I've had the same opportunities as everybody else has had. We're all focused on one thing: that's winning the national championship no matter what the roles are."

Calipari noted that his teams are a meritocracy. There's no reward for longevity nor deference to seniors.

"If you have that kind of program, you don't have that kind of competitive fire within," Calipari said. "Sometimes you're not going to reach the heights you could reach, in my opinion."

Another Calipari opinion elevated Miller to the highest rank a reserve can reach.

Said the UK coach: "If he's not the sixth man of the year, you have to show me who it'd be."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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