ATLANTA — When the public address announcer at the Georgia Dome was to announce the name of the Most Valuable Player in the SEC Basketball Tournament, Darius Miller fell back into a state of uncertainty.
"I didn't really think it was going to be me at first," said Kentucky's junior forward.
It was the only time the former Mason County star was unsure of anything all day.
Maybe, since Feb. 1.
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For the record, the 6-foot-7 junior was named the MVP of Kentucky's 27th SEC Tournament title, scoring 15 points and capping a strong closing kick to the season with an exclamation point on the assertion that Miller is not the same Miller he was a month and a half ago.
"I think it probably goes back to the Ole Miss game," he said Sunday.
You remember the infamous Ole Miss game, Feb. 1 in Oxford. Kentucky's next-to-last possession, up by a point, Miller turned down a wide-open shot in the right corner with the shot clock ticking down. The Cats ended up turning it over on a violation. Ole Miss ended up scoring. It didn't help, either, that Miller scored just three points that night and grabbed just one rebound.
"My man," said John Calipari afterward, "didn't take the shot."
But then Miller acted like a man. He took responsibility. He used his Twitter account to apologize. He repeated the apology to the media the next game. He held himself accountable.
"I think it was a turning point for me," he said. "I just tried to come out and be a better player."
It didn't happen right away. But when the Cats played Mississippi State two weeks later, Miller contributed 13 points and nine rebounds. It was the start of a nine-game streak in which he has scored double-digit points in every outing.
"I bet of all the big shots we've made lately," said Calipari the other day, "Darius has made half of them."
He scored a career-high 24 points in UK's win over Florida in Rupp. He contributed a solid 15 points to the Cats' regular-season finale win at Tennessee.
"I didn't have that consistency earlier in the year," Miller said. "I'd be good one game, then bad the next."
Here, Miller scored just 40 points in the three games, but they were the right 40 points.
Take Sunday. UK led 34-29 at the break, but Florida had been a strong second-half team in this tournament. Miller opened the second period with five quick points. He made a little hook shot 30 seconds into the half. Just 28 seconds later, he scored again while being fouled. The made free throw put UK up 39-29.
Then later that half, after back-to-back Gators buckets, Miller buried a three-pointer. A little more than a minute later, he drained another triple. Suddenly, Florida faced a 14-point deficit, down 51-37. The way Kentucky was playing defense, that was too much to overcome.
"I think he's a great player," Florida's Chandler Parsons, the SEC's Player of the Year, said of Miller. "He's a mismatch when they put him at the four. He's quick enough, and he has a good hand on where he can go by bigger guys. And then when you put someone smaller on him, he's versatile enough to take them to the post.
"So he's a very good player. And they run some stuff that really lets him do his thing out there. And I think that he's gotten a lot better."
Miller would agree.
"I've gotten a lot more comfortable on the court," he said. "I think that's it. Like I said, I've just tried to be more aggressive on the offensive end and on defense. That's helped me a lot."
To the point where Sunday, when the MVP moment came, the player who turned down the shot in February stepped up and accepted the trophy in March.
"It feels good to win an award like that," he said, "especially in a conference like this."
Especially when you have come as far as Darius Miller.