As a senior, Darius Miller could be forgiven if he thought this season was his time to shine as a Kentucky basketball player. Then again, it's a player so selfless he makes the well-worn phrase Miller Time seem like an oxymoron.
After scoring a season-high 19 points off the bench in UK's 87-63 victory over Portland Saturday night, Miller shrugged at not starting. So what if he's started 72 games for UK?
"I feel I still have an opportunity to do what I do," he said of being the Cats' Sixth Man. "I'm not worried. We don't have time to worry about that."
He had no Sixth Man heroes or role models. He may not know the noted basketball role began when former Kentucky All-American Frank Ramsey played for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s.
UK Coach John Calipari did not even bother to counsel Miller about accepting a substitute's role.
When asked how much Calipari tried to cushion the decision, Miller said, "Not a lot, really. I think he knew I'm not worried about it."
Calipari saluted Miller's selfless attitude.
In listing the important developments this early season, Calipari began with "Darius MIller accepting that he has to come off the bench for the time being. That is huge for us.
"And I told him in front of his team, just understand, when this thing is all said and done, there's no one that's going to fight for you more than me and our staff."
For not the first time this season, Calipari said Miller's play merited consideration of a starting assignment. Besides the 19 points, the most Miller's scored since getting 24 against Florida on Feb. 26, 2010, Miller had season highs with five rebounds and four three-point baskets.
Calipari is not the only person who values Miller's contributions. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recently volunteered to give up his starting spot in favor of the senior from Mason County.
"I look up to Darius," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "His leadership. He's the key to this team."
Typically, Miller did not take a bow. He noted Kidd-Gilchrist's ability not to be "cocky" despite "all the hype" that comes with high school stardom.
"The feeling is mutual," Miller said.
Davis in post
Perhaps more than ever, UK tried to establish freshman Anthony Davis as a low-post scorer. Results were mixed.
"He missed free throws," Calipari said of Davis' three-for-eight inaccuracy at the line. "It's hard to post a guy if he misses free throws."
The missed free throws detracted from a robust stat line: 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks.
"This is part of Anthony's growth," Calipari said of the missed free throws. "It's called mental toughness. I missed one. I'm not missing the next one. You move on. You have a toughness to you.
"Right now, he's just growing into that. He misses one, it leads to another, another. He misses four in a row. Wait a minute. You're one of our best shooters. How's that happen? It's all mental, and that's the toughness he has to grow into."
Senior Eloy Vargas played a season-low three minutes.
"Just trying to get Kyle (Wiltjer) and get this rotation and try to figure out these guys first," Calipari said.
Two out of three
Portland Coach Eric Reveno broke down basketball teams into three key categories: Athleticism, toughness and skill.
"We had to break it to our team that Kentucky's a little more athletic," he said facetiously. "We had to beat them with toughness and skill. We were not able to do that consistently."