UK basketball notebook: Experience might be Miller's edge in draft

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 23, 2012 

Maysville will have more than one reason to celebrate on July 4. That will also be "Darius Miller Day" in the Ohio River town.

Of course, former Kentucky player Darius Miller hopes that this Thursday, the night of the NBA Draft, will also bring a reason to celebrate.

"We prayed over it," his father, Brian Miller, said of the NBA Draft. " ... I pray that the person who wants him gets him."

Miller has worked out for Cleveland, Boston, Miami, Memphis, Chicago and Washington.

While acknowledging the feelings of anxiety and anticipation that come in the days leading up to the draft, Brian Miller voiced optimism.

"He'll be a first-round pick, for sure," he said. "He's been showing in every workout what he can do."

Miller brings perhaps unprecedented experience to the NBA Draft. In four UK seasons, he played for two coaches and with 40 teammates. He came off the bench. He started. He heard Coach John Calipari repeatedly urge him to do more. He joined the program's career 1,000-point club. He famously passed up a chance to take the clinching shot at Ole Miss as a junior. He became UK's Mr. Clutch as a senior.

"He's been in every situation you can possibly be in," the elder Miller said.

Two of Miller's freshman teammates this past season — Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — are expected to be among the first players selected in this year's NBA Draft. Another teammate, Terrence Jones, is projected as a lottery pick. Yet a fourth, Marquis Teague, will also go in the first round, according to mock drafts.

Miller and another teammate, Doron Lamb, are projected as being picked late in the first round or in the second round.

Meanwhile, all prospects, excepting Davis, must wait to learn their basketball fate.

"Any time you see your son live out their dreams and fulfill their goal, yes, I'm a little anxious and nervous," Brian Miller said. "I'm excited for him and I'm glad. Out of all the people trying to get there, he has the possibility to get there, if that's the Lord's will."

As for Darius Miller Day, the former UK player hoped to minimize the fanfare, his father said.

"You know how Darius is," Brian Miller said. "He's humble. He said, 'They don't have to make it a big deal.' "

Miller will be grand marshal of Maysville's July 4 parade. A big deal will be made.

"I'm glad and proud," Brian Miller said. "He's just a good kid. His character is good."

1996 vs. 2012

If UK's championship team of 2012 played UK's championship team of 1996, which team would win?

A reunion this weekend gave the 1996 players the chance to claim superiority.

"We'd probably dominate," said Antoine Walker, newly retired and exploring the chance to resume the task of achieving a UK degree. "We were too deep. I think we would have worn them down. We came in waves."

Derek Anderson, who staged the reunion to raise funds for his charitable foundation, also noted depth as a key factor. Starters against starters made for a compelling matchup.

"Then who's going to guard the second five?" he said.

Citing players like Nazr Mohammed and Cameron Mills, Walker said of the 1996 UK team, "We had so many guys not playing big minutes that could have."

Ron Mercer applied telling perspective on any 2012-versus-1996 debate.

"It's good for our school to argue about who is the best championship team," he said. "That's a good argument to have."

The Derek Anderson Foundation works to fund college scholarships and assist homeless children and battered women, Anderson said.

To raise funds, the players signed autographs at the Chrysler on Nicholasville dealership Friday evening. Other players who attended the reunion were Walter McCarty, Tony Delk and Anthony Epps.

Walker, who played in the NBA's Developmental League last season, sounded like a reluctant retiree. "I still love the game," he said. "I still want to play."

Age and an ankle injury that required surgery ushered Walker to the exit. He said he'd spoken to the UK coaching staff about returning to school.

Though retired as an NBA player, Mercer said he continues to play pickup basketball with former Vanderbilt and Belmont players on a weekly basis.

One and well done

When talking to prospects at the recent Top 100 Camp, it didn't take long for a reference to UK to lead to the so-called one-and-done player. The idea of playing one season of college basketball and then advancing to the NBA held much appeal.

Emmanuel Mudiay, the top point guard in the high school class of 2014, put it best. When asked about UK Coach John Calipari, he said, "He's been doing an excellent job over there, sending everybody one and done. I'm sure a lot of people want to go there just for that. He's just getting his players ready for the pros, really.

"If that's where I go, I think he'll make me a better defensive player and better overall player."

Jordan Mickey, a forward in the Class of 2013, on UK: "They put players in the league and they win championships. That's the ultimate goal."

Top sellers

Fanatics.com, which bills itself as one of the world's leading online retailers of officially licensed sports merchandise, sent these lists of the top-selling sources of memorabilia:

■ Top-10 selling NCAA teams for regular season: 1. Alabama, 2. LSU, 3. Oregon, 4. Michigan, 5. Ohio State, 6. Notre Dame, 7. Florida, 8. North Carolina, 9. Texas, 10. Duke.

■ Top-10 selling NCAA teams for March Madness: 1. Kentucky, 2. Ohio State, 3. North Carolina, 4. Kansas, 5. Alabama, 6. Florida, 7. Michigan State, 8. Texas, 9. Michigan. 10. Duke.

■ Top-10 selling basketball players merchandise for regular season: 1. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina; 2. Seth Curry, Duke; 3. Austin Rivers, Duke; 4. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State; 5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky; 6. Anthony Hickey, LSU; 7. Mason Plumlee, Duke; 8. Thomas Robinson, Kansas; 9. Kris Joseph, Syracuse; 10. Draymond Green, Michigan State.

■ Top-10 selling basketball players merchandise for March Madness: 1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky; 2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky; 3. Thomas Robinson, Kansas; 4. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina; 5. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State; 6. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; 7. Austin Rivers, Duke; 8. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse; 9. Seth Curry, Duke, 10. Terrence Jones, Kentucky.

Alley-oop

The New York Times published an obituary on former NFL receiver R.C. Owens on Wednesday. Owens' leaping ability led to a simple strategy: The quarterback throws the ball high and Owens outleaps defenders for the catch.

Thus the term "alley-oop" became part of the sporting world's lexicon. The term has long become associated with basketball (think of last season's lobs from Marquis Teague, Darius Miller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that Anthony Davis dunked.)

The Times noted that the phrase "alley-oop" derives from the French for the cry of a circus acrobat who is about to leap.

The Irish Effect?

Kentucky fans are presumed to be the best in the world. Expounding on the theme of "The Kentucky Effect" at Big Blue Madness last year, UK Coach John Calipari noted how "countless millions around the world" followed the Cats.

Yet, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated suggested another group of fans was the best.

Sportswriter Grant Wahl noted how Irish soccer fans reacted in the final minutes of a 4-0 loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 tournament. He wrote about how "the 25,000-strong Green Army sang a hauntingly beautiful rendition of The Fields of Athenry," an Irish folk ballad.

This led Wahl to observe that a consensus opinion had been born: "There are no fans in the world more passionate, supportive and just plain fun than the Irish."

Olympic reunion

Longtime NBA player, coach and TV analyst Doug Collins will be in the Lexington area later this summer. Another chapter in his basketball background, perhaps easily overlooked, will bring him here.

Collins, who coached the Philadelphia 76ers last season, will be the keynote speaker for the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball reunion banquet on Aug. 25 in Lexington. He was a starting guard on that U.S. team, which came to symbolize heartbreak and injustice. The U.S. lost the gold-medal game to the then Soviet Union after the referees gave the Soviets three chances to make the winning shot in the final seconds.

Collins will join his former Olympic teammates at the reunion, which will be held Aug. 23-26 in the Lexington area.

Proceeds from a banquet at the Griffin Gate Marriott will benefit Georgetown College's Academy for Character in Sport. Georgetown alum Kenny Davis was the captain of the U.S. Olympic team.

Former Rupp Runt Larry Conley will emcee the banquet.

Tickets are $125 or $1,000 for a table of 10. More information is available at http://courageinmunich.com.

Happy birthday

To former UK players Brandon Stockton (he turns 28 on Monday) and Ravi Moss (he turned 28 on Thursday) and Antwain Barbour (he turns 30 on Wednesday) ... To former athletics director Larry Ivy. He turns 69 on Tuesday. ... To former Georgia and Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton. He turned 49 on Thursday.

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

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