Kentucky's Miller one player who understands rivalry's passion

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — Darius Miller flashes a knowing smile.

He bobs his head up and down and smiles again as a national reporter relays the well-worn story of the Louisville and Kentucky fans/patients slugging it out at a dialysis center.

As the reporter finishes the story, Miller smiles and shakes his head again.

"That is pretty crazy," he says Thursday before Kentucky gets set to take on Louisville in the Final Four.

But Miller knows the types.

He's been around them his entire life. He's grown up watching the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry firsthand, feeling its heat, its passion, its intensity.

"There's nothing that you could say that would really surprise me as far as Kentucky and Louisville fans," said Miller, the 2008 Kentucky Mr. Basketball who led that year's Mason County Royals to the Sweet Sixteen title.

Miller is in the unique position of being the only Kentucky native among either teams' top players.

Louisville has a few little-used players with Kentucky ties.

Kentucky has stars from places like Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois.

Those guys don't fully comprehend why two men getting life-saving dialysis might throw punches. They don't understand why longtime neighbors don't talk this week because they're flying the wrong-colored flags on their respective front porches.

Miller gets it.

But he doesn't necessarily want his teammates to get it.

"I don't even tell them, really," he said. "I don't try to feed into it or anything. That just puts more pressure on the team. That's something we don't need. All we need to do is come out and treat it as if it's basketball.

"If somebody asks me about it, I'll be like, 'Yes, it's a big rivalry for people in the state.' But they don't need to worry about that. They just need to worry about playing basketball."

That's the part Miller is going to try to focus on, too. He'd like to have a solid game against Louisville before he graduates.

In four previous games against the Cards, Miller scored a combined 14 points.

In UK's most recent win over the Cardinals in December, Miller had seven points and four rebounds, but turned the ball over eight times.

So Miller wants to focus on basketball and leave the crazy to the fans.

But as a Kentucky kid playing for Kentucky, he understands the pressure this game holds. He understands what this game means for all involved.

He gets the heat, the passion.

He even enjoys it a little bit.

"It's been nice for me to grow up in the type of environment like that, being able to see it my whole life," he said.

Miller can't name any one Cardinals-Cats contest that specifically stands out over another.

"I've been blessed to be able to see a lot of UK-U of L games," he said when asked about the best game in his lifetime. "Just the atmosphere that's in it is amazing. It's a heated rivalry. There's been a lot of good games. I can't really pick out one."

Maybe this next one will stick out for him a little more.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:,

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