BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the Kentucky team picture, wing Darius Miller appears to be standing eyeball to eyeball with big man Josh Harrrellson.
"I was on my tiptoes," a smiling Miller said during the SEC Media Day on Thursday. "Just being silly."
Then he added, "I look pretty tall."
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Of course, Kentucky hopes Miller stands tall this coming season. He and fellow junior DeAndre Liggins are prime candidates to be go-to guys, that basketball term that connotes the player to make clutch plays when the team needs it most.
For Miller, it's a new role for a player who supported other star players.
"I'm confident in myself to make plays," Miller said. "The last two years, I definitely didn't have to."
Scotty Hopson, who three years ago joined Miller as two standout players on the Kentucky high school scene, finds himself in a similar situation at Tennessee. Curiously, Hopson was the Vols' second-leading scorer and took the most shots last season. But that doesn't necessarily translate into being the main man.
"While Scotty was a leading scorer, he wasn't necessarily the go-to guy," Coach Bruce Pearl said. This year "Scotty's not deferring to anyone."
Miller acknowledged that he deferred to other players in his first two seasons at Kentucky. That's not a bad thing given his playmates: SEC scoring leader Jodie Meeks in 2008-09 and five first-round NBA Draft picks last season.
"With five first-rounders, you can catch yourself sitting back and watching," Miller said.
When asked how often he found himself enthralled by a teammate's play, Miller said, "Quite a lot. Most of the fast breaks John Wall got. He's one of the fastest players I've ever seen. When he takes off, it's kind of hard not to watch."
Of course, Wall's not around this season. Neither are low-post anchor DeMarcus Cousins, steady and productive Patrick Patterson, and fearless Eric Bledsoe.
Miller reminded reporters that all UK players — not just him — needed to compensate for the loss of so much talent this season.
"I look at it as a challenge," he said. "I'm ready for that. Hopefully all my hard work (during the off-season) pays off."
Even Miller's most ardent fans might wonder whether he has the tenacity to grab a game by the throat and dictate his will on an opponent. Although he's no fiery leader, Miller is no stranger to take-charge impulses. He all but carried Mason County to victory in the Kentucky state championship game as a senior.
But UK Coach John Calipari again suggested that the transition from complementary player to center stage can be difficult.
"That's a hard deal," the UK coach said of the transition facing Miller and Liggins. "Will they be a catalyst. When the game's on the line, will they make plays?"
Talking about taking charge is one thing. But Calipari has made no secret that he thinks actions speak louder than words. Or as he again put it, taking charge is about "demonstrated performance."
As Kentucky fans know all too well, Hopson has demonstrated an ability to perform in the clutch. Despite missing his previous five three-point shots, he hit a trey down the stretch to save faltering Tennessee in a 74-65 victory over UK last season.
"Making that shot showed I've grown as a basketball player," Hopson said. "A lot of times when I was younger, I'd get down if I missed shots.
"Now I know it's not the end of the world. There are more shots to come."
Hopson again took center stage when Tennessee faced Michigan State in an exciting Elite Eight game in March. With 12 seconds left, a play designed for Wayne Chism broke down. So Hopson found himself with the ball on the wing. He took the shot. It missed, and Tennessee lost 70-69. But no lasting damage was done to Hopson's psyche.
"That's what I do best," he said of the jumper. "Not being afraid to fail led to my success" in other games. "Players who want to be great embrace that position."
Miller spoke of accepting that role. He denied that the transition to star might be difficult.
For those who wonder whether he has what it takes to take charge, Miller said with a smile, "I really can't say too much. We'll see when the season starts."